Petition calls for leadership change at Ingham County Animal Shelter

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An online petition started by the group Save the Lansing Michigan Pit Bulls, is calling for the termination or resignation of several top officials at the Ingham County Animal Shelter.

That’s in response to a disturbing report about the way its workers cared for dogs seized in a dog-fighting ring.

The Michigan Humane Society found that lack of oversight, training, and response to critical health issues contributed to the suffering and neglect of five dogs.

The petition, which was created almost a week ago, has garnered more than 2,700 signatures. The group is hoping to get to 5,000. Jamie Hillman helped form the petition through the group “Coaltion Save the Lansing Michigan Pit Bulls.”

It’s asking for the termination or resignation of Ingham County Animal Control Director John Dinon, Deputy Director Anne Barns, and shelter veterinarian Dr. Worthington.

“We need your support in making sure that no dogs are ever subjected to neglect and abuse at the hands of the Ingham County Animal Control & Shelter leadership ever again,” the petition says. “We’d like to call the victims of the #Michigan53 dog fighting bust survivors, but unfortunately some of them were never given the chance, and were subjected to further suffering at the hands of the Ingham County Animal Control.

In March of this year, Ingham County Animal Control contacted the Michigan Humane Society with a request to conduct an investigation at the facility relating to five dogs being held for pending court cases.

In August 2017, more than 50 dogs were seized in connection with a dog-fighting ring in Ingham and Eaton Counties after a series of police raids.

Ingham County Animal control took ownership of eleven dogs and of those, six were euthanized.

Animal Control officials said the dogs had to be held at the shelter for much longer than anticipated as the criminal cases worked their way through the justice system.

Because of this, two of the dogs seized in the fighting ring and a third dog, held as evidence in another case, contracted whipworms. This caused them to be emaciated. The dogs’ conditions led to allegations of neglect.

As part of the investigation, Deborah MacDonald, director of statewide response for MHS, interviewed staff and management, including three veterinarians with direct knowledge of the condition of the dogs.

She also reviewed photographs, emails, necropsy reports, notes and medical records.

MacDonald declined to comment on the findings of the report, other than to say the details speak for themselves.

MacDonald did say, however, that the report was given to the Ingham County Animal Shelter for review.

Five dogs were evaluated based on their medical conditions upon arriving to the shelter last year, and while they were under the care of volunteers and staff at the shelter. 

The report focuses on the three emaciated dogs and two other fighting dogs that were euthanized due to medical conditions.

MacDonald details several factors that she said contributed to the suffering and neglect of the animals.

Among them: No written procedure for monitoring long term court cases, no written procedure for documenting weight gain in failure to provide food and water cases, medical records that are incomplete or kept in multiple locations for a single animal.

6 News reached out to Dinon for comment on this story but has not heard back however last week, when we talked with him about the Michigan Humane Society report, Dinon said he takes responsibility for the issues raised.

Dinon went on to say that he has already begun working with staff to make changes “to address them and ensure we are taking appropriate care of the animals in our possession.”

Below is a full list of steps John Dinon said the shelter will be taking to address the concerns raised in the report:             

  1. I am meeting with Ingham County Prosecutor, Caron Siemon, and other Prosecutor’s Office staff to discuss how to get faster forfeitures of animals seized in criminal cases. This meeting is set for Wednesday, June 30.
  2. Animals held as evidence will be weighed at least weekly and have at least monthly fecal exams; weights and fecal results will be documented in medical records. This will be done by the animal care staff; an SOP will be written to formalize this procedure.
  3. Animals seized because they are thin or did not have access to food will be weighed at least twice weekly and weights documented in medical records.  This will be done by the animal care staff; an SOP will be written to formalize this procedure.
  4. ICACS will switch to using Purina body scoring system.  All animal care and ACO staff will be trained in this body scoring system.
  5. All medical records will be recorded in the multi-ops computer record system.  The medical records module will be modified to better facilitate entering data and narratives.  Lab reports and other medical documents will be scanned into electronic records.
  6. Dr. Worthington will pursue additional training on cruelty/forensic exams.
  7. ICACS will formalize training for new AC staff, with increased emphasis on animal observation and reporting procedures for thin, ill or injured animals.  An SOP will be written to formalize this training and reporting.
  8. Animal care staff will scoop feces from outside kennels between dogs to reduce parasite transmission.  County facilities staff will seal the concrete in the outdoor kennels to improve sanitation; this is tentatively scheduled for the week of June 4.
  9. Dr. Worthington and/or Sami Beckley plus John Dinon and/or Anne Burns will do a weekly shelter walk through to discuss ongoing medical cases, animal care challenges and to improve communication.
  10. ACOs will monitor the status of animals held as evidence for their cases.  ACOs will do a visual check of these animals at least weekly and will supplement this visual check by reviewing medical records and weight charts if needed.  Weekly exams will be documented and concerns about the condition of the animals noted during these exams will be communicated to the director, deputy director and veterinarian immediately.  An SOP will be written to formalize this procedure.
  11. ICACS will investigate shelter feeding programs offered by pet food companies or other options to provide a more uniform, higher quality diet for some or all of the animals housed at ICACS.
  12. If the animal population in the shelter exceeds the staff and facility’s capacity to care for them, ICACS management will pursue expedited disposition of animals and/or adding temporary staff to expand capacity for care.

On its petition page, Save the Lansing Michigan Pit Bulls said it cannot let Ingham County Animal Control go “unchecked and allow what happened to poor Dreamville, JayJay, Skully, Jonah and Bebe happen to any other animals that wind up in their care.

“It is time for current leadership, including Director John Dinon, Deputy Director Anne Burns and Shelter Veterinary, Dr. Worthington, be fired or resign,” the group said.

According to the group, the dogs’ suffering was for no other reason than the negligence of taxpayer funded agency, “which means that Ingham County residents were paying the leadership of the Ingham County Animal Control to neglect these poor dogs and ultimately break the law that they themselves are meant to enforce.”

Chelsea Van Camp, a member of the group, said learning about the dogs’ “needless suffering” broke their hearts. The petition, she said, was created to ensure nothing like this happens again at Ingham County Animal Control. 

“The only way to be sure that no animals will suffer again while in the care of the Ingham County Animal Control is by inflicting change from the top down. It’s time for a change in leadership,” she said. “Ingham County Animal Control is a taxpayer funded entity. The last thing I want to hear as an Ingham County resident and taxpayer is that the people put in charge are letting these animals starve to death due to negligence. It’s time for a change in leadership.” 

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