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St. George animal shelter director on leave after complaints of mistreatment

Published August 2, 2013 8:08 am

Investigation • City Council passes resolution to implement changes.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

The director of the St. George Animal Shelter has been placed on administrative leave in the wake of allegations of animal mistreatment at the facility.

The St. George City Council, meanwhile, unanimously passed a resolution during its regular meeting Thursday detailing proposed changes for the shelter, including a no-kill policy.

On Wednesday night before the City Council, animal advocates alleged that under David Vane's administration, animals have been kept in kennels without outdoor access and left, in some cases, with untreated broken limbs, festering wounds and other ailments, said St. George Mayor Dan McArthur on Thursday.

One person claimed that a pregnant dog was allowed to give birth on a cold concrete floor, only to have puppies stumble into a water drain that was left open from a kennel cleaning; some puppies did not survive after being retrieved from the drains.

St. George animal activist Mary Bemis said a golden retriever was brought to the shelter with a broken leg that went untreated for days and then became infected. The dog was euthanized.

Lynn Burger, director of the St. George-based advocacy group P.A.W.S., said Thursday that former workers at the shelter described cruel euthanization practices. Witnesses reported that dogs were not sedated before the "kill shot," as is customary, Burger said.

"There were times that people could hear the screams of the dogs," Burger said.

The advocates told council members they received other information from volunteers and patrons of the shelter, McArthur said. Complaints first arose last week during a meeting about the city's cat-neutering program, he said. The police chief, deputy chief and city attorney met with animal advocacy groups on July 26 and began investigating allegations, McArthur said.

On Saturday, a volunteer reported that workers were hosing down the dogs' kennels with the dogs still inside, despite the council's instruction to remove the animals during cleanings, McArthur said. Over the weekend, Vane was placed on paid leave. He could not be reached for comment.

McArthur said the city has formed partnerships with such animal advocacy groups as P.A.W.S., the Best Friends Animal Society and the Homeless Animal Rescue Team to draft plans for shelter improvements.

With one council member absent, the unanimous 4-0 decision passed a resolution to:

• Appoint a police sergeant to run the shelter, answering to the police command.

• Continue the investigation into conditions at the shelter and review the policies, procedures and personnel.

• Produce recommendations for future changes.

• Direct shelter workers to remove animals from kennels during cleanings, with exceptions for dangerous animals.

• Install beds in each kennel; animals presently sleep on the floor, McArthur said.

• End on-site destruction or euthanasia of animals and refer patrons to licensed veterinarians.

• Require appropriate food for each animal.

McArthur said the animals all are fed regularly and adequately, but there were claims that some animals were given the wrong food — dog food for a cat, for example.

The council plans to continue discussions for further changes, McArthur said. There have been calls for the animals to have access to "enrichment toys," for a citizen's oversight committee and for mandatory spaying and neutering.

— Reporter Bob Mims contributed to this story