REPORT: Failures contributed to suffering and neglect of dogs seized in dogfighting ring

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Lack of oversight, training, awareness and response to address critical issues concerning the health and wellbeing of animals in a timely manner at the Ingham County Animal Shelter are just some of the factors that contributed to the suffering and neglect of five dogs that were seized in a cross-county dog fighting ring in 2017.

That’s according to a report by Deborah MacDonald, senior investigator and director of statewide response for the Michigan Humane Society.

Earlier this year in March, 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, MacDonald interviewed staff and management, including three veterinarians with direct knowledge of the condition of the dogs, reviewed photographs, emails, necropsy reports, notes and medical records.

6 News reached out to MacDonald for comment on the investigation but she declined, saying the information speaks for itself.

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 condition.

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

Some of the findings:

  • 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.
    • As a result, there is no complete medical record that has information containing observation, weights and treatments for an individual animal.
  • No maintenance plan to control internal parasites in long term holds
  • The use of an in house body condition scoring system in conjunction with the use of nationally recognized scoring systems being used by outside veterinarians
  • No training for ACOS and Animal Care Staff in the use of an agreed on body condition scoring system
  • Lack of open communication between departments
  • Lack of training for medical staff in regards to shelter medicine, processing cruelty cases, animal fighting cases, and supervisory responsibilities
  • Supervising veterinarians that perform surgery often lack the ability to be on the floor supervising and attending to daily animal care and are required to rely on staff to perform those duties
  • No system in place that requires ACOs to monitor the status of their animals as evidence
  • Inconsistent diet of donated food provided to long term holds and cruelty weight gains leading potentially causing digestive upset and diarrhea
  • Inadequate staff to handle large scale impounds
  • Lack of oversight, couching and monitoring on the part of upper management
  • Lack of awareness and response by the director to address critical issues concerning the health and wellbeing of the animals in the shelter in a timely manner.

Upon arriving to the shelter, some of the dogs appeared to have been in good, physical condition, according to the report.

However, after evaluations determined that each of them needed specific treatments, the report indicates that very little was done to address it.

John Dinon, director of Ingham County Animal Control, said he takes responsibility for the issues raised in the report.

As a result, he said he’s already begun working with staff to make changes “to address them and ensure we are taking appropriate care of the animals in our possession.”

In a memo to the Ingham County Board of Commissioners and ICACS Advisory Board, Dinon detailed a number of those steps. They include meeting with the Ingham County prosecutor to discuss ways to get faster forfeitures of animals seized in criminal cases and better record-keeping. The full list can be found below.

In one case, according to MacDonald’s report, a dog was symptomatic for 14 days with minimal treatment on issues it was having. Even though an x-ray was recommended by the shelter vet to confirm a “foreign body,” no x-ray was performed.

Due to the aggressive nature of the dog, it did not appear to be a candidate for “foreign body” surgery.

The report reveals that on two separate occasions, the veterinarian discussed euthanasia options with Dinon.

Once the “foreign body” was found, a decision should have been made to treat of euthanize the dog, according to the report. In addition, an x-ray would have helped with the decision making process.

The dog was euthanized several months later, after it started seizing and eight days after an x-ray was recommended.

“The delay in deciding to treat or euthanized resulted in unnecessary suffering,” the report says. “This dog lost 9 lbs. while in the care of Ingham County Animal Control and Shelter.”

In some cases, despite warning signs of deteriorating health, the dogs were not euthanized until after they began seizing.

The report does say, however, the decision to euthanize the dogs involved in the court case is the responsibility of the director, according to Dinon.

In September of 2017, Dinon cited the law on the books for his reasons.

“Under Michigan law, a dog that’s been trained or used for fighting or its offspring cannot be rehomed,” he said. “So if we were to rehome them, that dog, any of those dogs, I would be committing a felony.”

In some cases, dogs that had infected paws and pressure sores had no record of such in their medical files.

“There is nothing noted in the Health Record that indicates that these were recognized or treated,” the report said.

The report also found that diarrhea has been an ongoing problem in the kennel, which is where the dogs were being housed. While sanitizing outside holding areas is difficult, it can result in dogs continually being re-infected with things like whipworm.

One way to prevent that, according to MacDonald, is to implement a “maintenance program,” which she said, should have been put in place to ensure long term holds were not reinforced with things like whipworms as they can contribute to weight loss and diarrhea.  

Another recommendation made in the report, is for the shelter to eliminate situations where medical reports are not complete.

“For the shelter to define a policy for the maintenance of medical records that would assist in the review of an animal’s medical status and aid in calculating restution,” (SIC) the report said.

In 2017, A local group named “Save the Lansing Michigan Pitbulls” started a petition in an effort to save the dogs from being euthanized.

One of the group’s members, Christy Lawrence, was very outspoken about her concerns with how the shelter was handling the case.  She questioned the decisions under the direction of Dinon.

In November of 2017, ICAS announced that it sent four dogs, seized in the dogfighting ring, to a Detroit canine rescue group called Bark Nation.

Bark Nation specializes in rehabilitating fighting dogs and socializing them for adoption.

Several people were charged in connection with the dog-fighting ring. At least two of them pleaded guilty to the charges and were sentenced last year.

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.

 

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