An investigation into allegations of animal mistreatment at the St. George animal shelter has cleared the director of criminal wrongdoing — but the review panel said conditions for the animals need to improve.
Shelter director David Vane had been placed on administrative leave as manager of the shelter following allegations last month that animals had been deprived of outdoor time, left with untreated injuries and subject to cruel euthanization practices.
Following a recommendation from police investigators, City Manager Gary Esplin demoted Vane and re-assigned him as an animal control officer, according to a report released Thursday. Vane also was suspended for two days without pay.
Investigators interviewed a dozen witnesses: volunteers, current and former shelter employees and local animal advocates. They wrote that they found no evidence of sick or injured animals being denied veterinary care, but they questioned the day-to-day care of animals, particularly the practice of hosing down kennels while the animals were still inside and the denial of beds and toys.
"The reports of Vane spraying dogs in the face with water to stop them from barking are also disconcerting," wrote deputy police chief Richard Farnsworth, who led the investigation.
Investigators also recommended a full review of procedures for how animals are killed. Vane handled almost every fatal injection because it was "a very unpopular assignment," investigators wrote.
"Vane openly admits that he hates to euthanize animals but he did it because it is what was expected of him," Farnsworth wrote.
Animals were killed with an injection to the heart, which is standard veterinary practice. But Vane did not always sedate the animals beforehand, which is legal but considered by some to be inhumane.
Investigators advised the city to continue its temporary no-kill policy, at least until new policy is drafted to require sedation and shelter staff have been retrained.
They also recommended improvements to the kennels. Outdoor kennels have been installed to house animals while indoor kennels are cleaned, and dog runs are being built to enable volunteers and adoptive families to play with the animals. The city has ordered drain covers so animals may have treats and toys without them being washed down the kennel drains during cleanings. Drain covers also will prevent a recurrence of a reported incident in which two newborn puppies fell down a drain more than 10 years ago; one of the puppies died in the drain, investigators wrote. All animals have received beds.
Farnsworth chalked up a number of the complaints to personal clashes between Vane and the volunteers and activists who frequent the shelter. Investigators found "several times when Vane has said things to people that are unprofessional and rude." In several cases, Vane allegedly made "statements ... regarding pending euthanasia" to pressure rescue groups to take charge of animals — statements that have contributed to their belief that Vane "wants to euthanize animals," investigators wrote.
Many animal advocates described him as "caustic and difficult to work with," which has created public relations problems for the shelter and contributed to workloads for shelter employees because Vane has in most cases refused to work with volunteers.
But, Farnsworth wrote, many witnesses that work daily with Vane describe him as hardworking and dedicated to the animals.
"[Vane] knows how to read their body language and is very capable when dealing with even the most difficult animals," according to the report.
Even witnesses who personally dislike Vane attested to his capabilities as an animal control officer, investigators wrote.
The police department has taken charge of the shelter, and a sergeant has been appointed director.
Randy Fields, an animal rights advocate who was interviewed for the investigation and who donated the beds now being used by shelter animals, applauded the police department for showing "accountability, up and down."
"I think it’s time now to close the chapter on the past and hold the city in a position where they have a chance to demonstrate their sincerity going forward," Fields said.
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