GALLIPOLIS – Officials with the Ohio Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals say they have launched an investigation into why 11 dogs were euthanized Feb. 14 at the Gallia County Animal Shelter.
According to Ohio SPCA’s Executive Director Teresa Landon, the Grove City, Ohio-based animal group has a launched a “full-scale investigation” into the deaths of the 11 dogs, saying they were alerted to the mass killing by the Friends of Gallia County’s Animals, a local animal group that, according to its Facebook page, “will promote the welfare of animals, strengthen the human animal bond, provide assistance and care to displaced, abandoned, or abused animals, and promote responsible animal ownership.”
“We have received information that leads us to believe that the dogs were killed by intra-cardiac injection without sedation,” Landon said. “If this is true, the dogs suffered a horrifying death.”
Intra-cardiac injection, otherwise known as a “heart stick,” is only legal if a dog has been properly sedated and is unconscious, Landon said.
According to a message sent to the Gallipolis Daily Tribune via Facebook by Susan Green — who identified herself as member of the Friends of Gallia County’s Animals — the euthanizations occurred “one day before a planned adoption event at Tractor Supply (and) only one day before Friends of Gallia County’s Animals were planning to pull dogs from the shelter to get to rescue.”
Green added that some of the dogs were already vaccinated and slated for foster care.
The Gallia County Commission, during its weekly meeting Thursday, addressed the treatment of dogs and conditions at the shelter with a small, but vocal, contingent from the Friends of Gallia County’s Animals, but did not specifically address the Feb. 14 incident. Before Gallia County Dog Warden Paul Simmers addressed the commission with his weekly report, Commission President David K. Smith asked the group not to query “the incident last week.” The commission then went into executive session with Simmers to discuss personnel issues.
“It is an ongoing investigation, so we cannot release some details,” Smith said. “The sheriff is basically in charge of it at this point to determine if any laws were broken. Once we get that determination, then we will act accordingly.”
Because no one has been charged, the name of the employee under investigation will not be released. But Smith said the employee in question is currently reassigned to the maintenance crew at the Gallia County Courthouse.
“Some people may question that, but he is an individual, he has family, he has obligations,” Smith said. “Until the facts come out, I’m not willing to cut all that. He hasn’t been charged. If he had been charged with an illegal act, obviously that would change things.”
Smith then pointed to a stack of papers several inches thick, saying it was a petition that contains the names of about 3,000 people who want something done about the dog deaths.
“I have not even been able to use my email for other business,” he said. “A majority of the names on the petition are not even Gallia County residents. They are people who are hearing things and are up in arms.”
Smith said he isn’t putting much stock into the petition because it contains the names of many non-U.S. residents.
“Someone in England – and there are names of people from many other countries on the petition – have no idea what the issues and problems are here,” he said. “(Friends of Gallia County’s Animals) have some legitimate concerns and we will do our best to address that at the appropriate time,” Smith said.
So far this year, 12 dogs have been euthanized at the Gallia County Animal Shelter – all of which occurred between Feb. 10 and Feb. 17, according to copies of the animal shelter’s canine weekly report provided by the commission office. The same report notes that only 20 dogs were “put down” all of last year.
“Our facility and our kill rate out there is totally different than what it was five, six years ago,” Smith said, “and (Friends of Gallia County Animals) gets a lot of that credit.”
Commissioner Harold G. Montgomery added that things were much worse many years ago.
“I think there have been years in the past where close to 1,500 dogs have been put down,” he said. “The dog carcasses were then taken every week to the landfill; they were covered by a tarp. There has been a lot of improvement since then.”
Nathan Weatherholt, a board member and founder of the Friends of Gallia County’s Animals, said Thursday’s meeting with the county commission was somewhat productive.
“They seem to be willing to work with us,” he said, “but at the same time, we didn’t get a lot of answers. “Our brainstorming session toward the end proved to be beneficial.”
The Ohio SPCA’s attorney, John Bell, sent a letter Feb. 19 to the Gallia County Commissioners, Prosecuting Attorney Jeff Adkins and Simmer demanding that euthanasia be stopped.
“We are specifically demanding that Gallia County immediately cease and desist from all euthanasia or destruction of dogs unless performed by an Ohio-licensed veterinarian,” he said.
The letter from Bell also requests copies of records related to the issues concerning the operations of the Gallia County Animal Shelter and Simmer’s office. Bell said if his demands are not answered within 14 days, legal action could be taken.
“Yes, we received that letter,” Smith said. “They were a little threatening.”
Smith said people have questioned whether or not Gallia County’s animal shelter is a no-kill facility.
“It is not a no-kill facility,” he said. “Never can I see how it can ever function as a no-kill facility.”
Smith said the commission is obligated by the Ohio Revised Code to take care of dog issues.
“Some (dogs) are always going to be the type that are not adoptable or for other reasons must be euthanized. Those are just facts,” he said. “I want to make it clear that we would love to be a no-kill (facility). We will work to being as close to that as we can.”