Calhoun County deputies to investigate animal cruelty allegations at county shelter
by Patrick McCreless
pmccreless@annistonstar.com
Dec 13, 2011 | 7679 views |  0 comments | 13 13 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Calhoun County sheriff’s deputies will investigate recent allegations of animal cruelty at a county-run animal control center, officials said Monday.

Deputies just need the people making the allegations to file official complaints with the Sheriff’s Office, they said.

Chief Deputy Matt Wade of the Calhoun County Sheriff’s Office said an investigation would likely begin today regarding the recent allegations of animal cruelty at the Calhoun County Animal Control Center. However, he added that no criminal charges had been filed because no one making the allegations had filed a report with the Sheriff’s Office.

County officials discussed the investigation Monday during a press conference at the Calhoun County Administration Office.

“There has been no formal report of criminal wrongdoing,” Wade said. “We’ll do an investigation, but that takes time – it’s not something you do in an afternoon. But those people need to come to us. Until we get a report, we can’t get subpoena power.”

Millie Harris, an Anniston resident and animal rights supporter, said at the meeting that a report would be filed with the Sheriff’s Office. At a Calhoun County Commission meeting last week, Harris presented a video in which people who identified themselves as former animal control center employees alleged animal cruelty.

“I can assure you, charges will be filed and these eyewitnesses will come forward,” Harris said.

The commission requested the investigation after Harris and other local animal rights supporters presented the claims last week.

“We will investigate any and all claims,” said Eli Henderson, chairman of the Calhoun County Commission. “We have nothing to hide.”

Henderson said the commission does not tolerate animal abuse of any kind.

“But there has been no substantiation for any of these charges,” Henderson said. “To my knowledge, I thought we had one of the top facilities in the state.”

The allegations were made by two former animal center employees in a video released last week which has since been posted on the Internet. The people in the video allege that in the past three years, animals at the center have routinely been euthanized with injections to the heart without first being sedated.

The Alabama State Board of Medical Examiners forbids injecting animals in the heart -– a process referred to as intracardiac injection -– without first sedating them. The board is responsible for licensing of veterinarians and for certifications to perform animal euthanasia in Alabama.

According to Rule 930-X-1-.35 of the board’s Alabama Veterinary Practice Act and Administrative Code, “intracardiac injections are acceptable but can only be used on unconscious animals.”

The policy further stipulates that anyone who violates euthanasia procedure can face disciplinary action from the board.

Whether performing the procedure without sedation constitutes animal cruelty under Alabama law and therefore requires criminal prosecution, is unclear, Wade said.

“We just learned about these allegations (Monday)” Wade said. “Is doing euthanasia against policy a crime or is it civil? We’re not sure yet. Right now we don’t even have a complaint.”

Tom Nelson, veterinarian and co-owner of the Animal Medical Center in Anniston, said intracardiac injection is the fastest way to euthanize an animal if it is performed properly. Nelson said the proper way to perform the procedure is by sedating the animal first. He added, however, that the procedure is typically performed on gravely injured animals.

Nelson said he found the allegations surprising, given his familiarity with the Animal Control Center. The center sometimes brings wild animals to Nelson, who is also a wildlife rehabilitator. The center’s employees also sometimes bring him injured animals that they didn’t want to put to sleep because there was a question whether the animals had owners.

“Every time I’ve dealt with them, they’ve been conscientious and had care for the animals,” Nelson said.

Henderson said the center was doing the best it could under current economic situations. Due to the sluggish economy, the commission had to cut the budgets of all county agencies by 2 percent in the current fiscal year. He added that the center is usually overwhelmed with animals, between 300 and 400 animals per month.

“That’s tough on us,” Henderson said. “And there is not nearly enough” interest in adoption among the public, he said.

Nelson said the stray animal population is a serious problem in the county.

“The whole nation has a problem with it, but it’s more of a problem in the South than in the North,” Nelson said.

Harris, who is president of a local spay-and-neuter advocacy group, agreed that overpopulation of animals must be addressed.

“It’s a terrible problem,” Harris said. “And once they get to the center, very little effort is made to get them adopted.”

Still, to Harris, nothing can excuse the treatment of animals at the center that some have alleged.

“It’s a tax-funded slaughterhouse,” she said.

Contact staff writer Patrick McCreless at 256-235-3561.

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