More than a year after the termination of Killeen’s animal control manager, former volunteers are once again raising concerns about conditions and practices at the city’s shelter.
Their worries included concerns over the shelter’s cleanliness, as well as reports of the improper euthanasia of two animals.
The Killeen Animal Shelter has had a tumultuous history in recent years. In late January 2014, former manager Stacie Sherva was fired after allegations surfaced regarding poor sanitary conditions, injured animals left in cages without veterinary care or pain medication, and the adoption of sick dogs and cats.
Day-to-day management of the animal control unit, later renamed the Animal Services Unit, was overseen by Killeen Police Commander Lee Caufield until August, when Edward W. Tucker was named the division’s new manager.
But former volunteers, all of whom worked in the shelter after Sherva’s firing, still have concerns, some of which echo those that plagued the shelter in the past.
Chief among the concerns is the shelter’s cleanliness. Mary Chang said she began volunteering at the shelter in September, and said she became troubled by what she saw.
“It didn’t seem like anybody was cleaning out the pens regularly. There was feces all over, it was on the walls and the floors,” she said. “A lot of it looked old.”
Kendra Nightengale, a former adoption center assistant manager for the Texas Humane Heroes rescue organization, raised similar concerns after a visit to the shelter in December. She also said many kennels had a large amount of old feces and urine.
“As an animal welfare employee myself, I understand that animals are messy,” Nightengale wrote in an email to Killeen Animal Advisory Committee member George Fox. “But there was no excuse for the way the animals were living at this government-funded shelter.”
Caufield, who still oversees the unit, said in an email Friday that he was aware of concerns about the frequency and level of cleaning, and said the issues have been addressed.
“Depending on each employee’s daily commitments, the volume of volunteers available to assist, the number of animals currently being housed, and the volume of feces generated by different animals, this at times becomes a difficult task to keep up with throughout the day,” he said. “Upon review, we reinforced our cleaning policy with all employees, and implemented spot checks throughout the day by supervisory staff to ensure we maintain as clean of an environment as possible.”
In addition, records of an annual inspection of the shelter by a local veterinarian conducted Dec. 19 found the shelter and its facilities satisfactory.
Euthanasia practices reviewed
More troubling were the claims of another former shelter volunteer, Jerry Hale. Hale, who volunteered at the Killeen shelter in October while he was working toward becoming a licensed veterinary technician, said he witnessed the botched euthanasia of two dogs that left the animals suffering for hours.
“They were just jabbing (the needle) in any place they could,” he said. “They injected them in the stomach, and not intravenously, and they took hours to die.”
According to the Texas administrative code, intravenous injections are the preferred method of euthanasia for animals, though injection into the body cavity or organs also is considered acceptable.
Hale said both dogs were still alive when they were placed in plastic bags and moved to a freezer to await incineration.
“I went outside and I threw up,” said Hale, who said he now works as a veterinary technician in Austin. “It was awful.”
Word of what happened spread in the shelter, especially among the volunteers.
Caufield said Animal Services was made aware of the botched euthanasia claims in November, but officials never found anyone who witnessed it firsthand.
“In reviewing this issue, we were unable to locate anyone who had any information, other than inferring that someone had told them this happened,” he said. “Different replies had different timelines, and the story itself varied depending on the source.”
While Caufield said officials never positively confirmed the claims, he said the unit took precautions and took steps to review procedures and training.
“Despite the inability to confirm the event, as an act of caution, we had the shelter’s euthanasia procedures reviewed by a veterinarian,” he said. “We are also coordinating with the same veterinarian to review our current process and provide refresher training on procedures and protocols as set by the state.”
In a Wednesday email exchange between Fox and Killeen police Chief Dennis Baldwin obtained by the Herald, the chief noted the veterinarian reviewed the shelter’s euthanasia process, and agreed it “complied with state law,” and instituted additional “spot checks” to review it moving forward.
“Based on what has already been done, and what is yet to occur, it appears that the animal services unit is handling these matters properly,” Baldwin wrote.
Fox, who also was troubled by the reports from volunteers, asked that a camera be placed in the room where euthanasia takes place to record each procedure.
Caufield indicated the unit and its leadership remained committed to improving and addressing questions and concerns.
“In closing, it is important to note that with diligent attention, open communication and reasonable application, we seek to improve every day, providing future family pets to our community,” he said.
As the unit tries to move from under the shadow of the controversy surrounding Sherva’s firing, the work to revamp its processes and its public image continues.
That included new intake and cleaning practices, and added attendants to care for animals at the shelter. The shelter also partnered with local rescue groups to hold adoption events.
Records obtained by the Herald showed the shelter had 2,208 pet adoptions in 2014, an increase of 493 from the previous year. The number of animals euthanized dropped from 2,014 in 2013 to 1,662 in 2014.
The same data also showed the number of animal transfers decreased by 402 from 1,116 in 2013 to 714 in 2014. The number of animals fostered dropped by 10.
The city also increased funding to the unit. The 2015 budget for the unit saw a $112,000 increase from an estimated $754,000 for the previous fiscal year to $868,082 this fiscal year.