2010-02-06 / News

Concerns raised about county animal shelter

By Scott Rawdon

KIRKERSVILLE – Nearly 100 people filled Kirkersville Town Hall Sunday evening to express concerns about the Licking County Animal Shelter. They allege unsanitary conditions and improper animal euthanization. Licking County Commissioners and shelter warden, however, strongly disagree.

Many of the Sunday meeting attendees were there in response to a YouTube video, which BARK Animal Rescue activist Bonnie Mansfield posted online. The video is a collection of security camera footage that depicts Licking County Animal Shelter Warden Jon Luzio dragging dogs by a catchpole to a gas chamber and dragging a dog’s frozen carcass along the ground to an incinerator. The video has been viewed nearly 5,000 times as of Wednesday. Mansfield said none of the video’s footage was altered.

“We want the gas chamber dismantled,” said Mansfield, who was one the Sunday meeting hosts. She said people also want more shelter operation transparency, including live video feeds at all times within the shelter.

“This is a very contentious issue,” attorney Mark Bamberger, told the crowd. He was clear, however, that there is no evidence the shelter has broken any laws. Any changes at the shelter would likely be achieved through political means as opposed to legal. He suggested concerned people contact Licking County Commissioners and other government representatives.

Mansfield said she’s been complaining to the commissioners for nine years. “Our complaints fall on deaf ears,” she said. Regarding the dogs shown being dragged in the video, “I’m not saying it’s illegal, I’m saying it’s inhumane!”

Johnstown Second Chance Humane Society President Paula Evans said the commissioners told her they wouldn’t micromanage the facility and Evans said the commissioners won’t respond to emails regarding the shelter. She said Luzio’s method of determining if a dog is aggressive is provocative and animals are placed into a gas chamber soon after being labeled as aggressive. “No animal deserves the kind of treatment they receive in there,” said Evans. She said animals are euthanized after being held for three days and office hours are not convenient for people wanting to adopt pets. Evans said multiple animals enter the gas chamber at once and Mansfield said the shelter is gassing elderly dogs.

Mansfield said she believes the shelter favors the gas chamber over lethal injection because the gas chamber is less hassle for the shelter staff. Tuesday, she outlined the changes she’d like to see at the shelter. “I would immediately start with all animals in the shelter being listed on the website with pictures,” she said. If someone is missing an animal, it should be easily found there. “I would start an aggressive adoption program, with hours open to the public on Sundays and evenings and beg the public to adopt these animals, and I would make it affordable!” Mansfield would insist animals be spayed or neutered before going to homes in most cases. Currently, she said an animal being adopted today wouldn’t be altered until May or June. “That’s three or four months!” said Mansfield. Cats and dogs’ gestation period is roughly two months. “I would make sure the care the animals receive is humane and consistent,” she said. Currently, Mansfield said animals aren’t vaccinated upon intake if “poundkeeper” Tina Crist isn’t there. “Sick animals are treated by a vet if Tina isn’t there,” she said.

“I would cater to rescue groups who offer help and I would be glad to get it!” said Mansfield. “We all know you can’t save them all and for the ones who are aggressive, truly aggressive, and a risk to the public should be euthanized; I would make sure they are euthanized humanely.”

Mansfield urged citizens to work for change. “You probably think I would say spay or neuter, but I think that’s a given,” she said. There are always going to be irresponsible pet owners that don’t spay or neuter. “I say you should know who you’re electing and make them accountable. Our county commissioners are not only irresponsible with the dog pound, but they are also irresponsible with other county departments,” said Mansfield.

The Licking County Commissioners strongly disagree with most statements made about them and the shelter.

“We’ve listened thoughtfully to any concerns,” said Commissioner Tim Bubb. “We continue to manage an excellent shelter.”

Commissioner Doug Smith said the commissioners have not ignored comments about the shelter. “I’ve read each and every email,” he said. Smith is, however, selective about the emails he answers because he doesn’t want to leave an email trail that could be altered. He said emails are archived. He prefers to meet with people face to face or phone them. Smith said he makes frequent unannounced visits to the shelter and nothing he’s ever seen has shocked him.

Bubb said he was aware of a complaint of excessive fecal matter found in a cage one morning. He said many of the dogs admitted are starving and eat a great deal. “They’re eating constantly. Sure, there’s a mess in the morning,” he said, but the cage is cleaned immediately. Bubb said the shelter admitted 150 animals during January. Of that total, 14 were reunited with owners, 47 were adopted, 50 were rescued, and 18 were euthanized. “That’s an extremely low number (euthanized),” said Bubb. “We’re among the lowest in the state. We find homes for most of these dogs.”

“I hope we wouldn’t micromanage any of our departments,” said Smith.

“We hire good people,” said Bubb. “We trust our people to do a good job.” Bubb said the You- Tube video takes random security camera footage and repackages it to further an agenda. He said Luzio generally uses a cart to take carcasses to the incinerator and the cart was broken at the time; Luzio had back pain and couldn’t carry the carcass. He said that’s been addressed and acknowledged that it appeared insensitive.

“Parts of the video are shocking, but it’s not in the context of all circumstances,” said Smith. “If there’s something illegal going on, we want to know about it.”

Luzio said the shelter accepts more than 4,000 animals per year and is forced to euthanize those not adopted. He said the Licking County Animal Shelter uses a sodium pentobarbital injection and bottled carbon monoxide, both of which the American Veterinarians Association and the Humane Society of the United States approves. Surrounding counties also use carbon monoxide. Young and smaller animals receive injections. Luzio said other animals receive a tranquilizing drug called acepromazine 20 minutes before the gas chamber, which is not legally required. He said the carbon monoxide is painless but the animals will “vocalize” as a reaction to the brain shutting down, not because of pain. The process takes about 45 to 60 seconds, said Luzio, who added that injecting vicious dogs is potentially dangerous and painful to the dog and risky for the person injecting the drug. “When it doesn’t go well, it’s a disaster,” he said.

Luzio defended his method for determining a dog’s aggression and said he can legally refuse to release an aggressive dog, even if someone plans to rescue it. “If they’re dangerous, we can’t allow them to go out.” He said the law only requires him to hold dogs for three days but he’ll hold adoptable dogs for 30 days.

Luzio said the dogs shown in the video being led to the gas chamber by catchpole previously bit one or more people. “Those were aggressive dogs,” he said.

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