KATC Investigates

Apr 4, 2014 7:43 PM by Tina Macias and Allison Bourne-Vanneck

KATC Investigation: Some injured animals possibly go without vet care at Vermilion Parish animal control

The Vermilion Parish Sheriff's Office is investigating the possibility of criminal wrongdoing at the parish animal control center, based on issues brought to light in a KATC investigation.

Our investigative team reviewed hundreds of documents and records and found that nearly 300 animals last year were killed earlier than parish ordinance requires, some even being killed the same day.

Parish law reads, "if any such dog or cat is not claimed within the four days after it is seized and impounded, it shall be disposed of in a humane manner."

And, today, the parish said that means the four-day waiting period isn't always applicable.

"Although the parish ordinance contains a general four day waiting period after an animal come into the facility, the purpose of the waiting period is to allow the owner of the animal an opportunity to reclaim it. In a small number of cases, the four day waiting period is not applicable," attorney Paul Moresi said in a statement. "For instance, if the animal has been surrendered by the owner, if the animal's physical condition requires it to be humanely euthanized, if the animal is deemed "vicious" under the ordinance, or if the facility is at capacity."

But, today, the sheriff confirmed that they are in the process of obtaining the same documents for their own investigation.

Possible animal cruelty?
And as their investigation begins, ours continues.

Our investigative team went through boxes of euthanasia records after the shelter told us they couldn't provide us with annual estimates.

We found about 1,300 dogs and cats were euthanized at the Vermilion Parish Animal Control Center last year, but those aren't the only animals that died at the facility.

At least 90 animals died of natural causes in 2013, including some that entered injured and never saw a veterinarian, which is required by state law.

The Guidelines for Louisiana Public Animal Shelters by the Louisiana Animal Welfare Commission requires that, "Veterinary care must be provided in a manner that prevents unnecessary or unjustifiable physical pain or suffering by the animals."

The animals
But we found animals like Harmony, a stray cat thought to be sick when she was brought in December 2012. The person dropping her off even wrote, "afraid for my animals - could be sick," on Harmony's intake form. Harmony held on for a month before dying of "natural causes." There's no record that she ever saw a vet.

And then there's Miracle, a white pug, that was thought to have been abused, was brought to animal control last year on Sept. 27. She died of "natural causes" three days later, and there were no records showing that she received any veterinary care.

"Hardly any of the dogs saw a vet while I was there," former animal control employee Thad Savoy said.
The former animal warden vividly remembers one dog with a broken back that needed a vet, but allegedly never saw one and died at the facility.

"(The center) kept the dog for a week and a half before we put it down, and the dog suffered the whole time it was there," Savoy said.

The law
And if that proves to be true, something should be done about that said Lafayette Veterinarian Dr. Arthur Dupont. He's a member of the Animal Welfare Commission, which sets guidelines for animal shelters and control centers.

"They should have been brought against the animal welfare board putting an animal down like that. Now, leaving him and suffering like that (is) illegal according to our guidelines of the American Veterinarian Association, and all that," Dupont said. "It's illegal they should see a veterinarian."

Not providing animals with veterinary care is considered cruelty to animals, according to Louisiana law. It carries a fine of $1,000 and six months in jail.

Record issues
State law also says if an animal receives veterinary treatment that record should be kept, along with records of every animal that is brought in, its breed, sex, age, size, length of time held, and date euthanized, died, reclaimed or adopted.

The shelter also keeps monthly summary reports, but those reports contained lots of incorrect information, which is why parish officials did not want to release those numbers to us.

The summary reports did not account for animals escaped from the shelter, leaving many animals unaccounted for in 2013.

And on a few occasions, euthanasia logs did not correlate with state-mandated drug logs, leaving us unable to verify that drugs were used on animals before they were euthanized.

Drug logs for 12 euthanasias performed on October 17, 2013 were completely missing from the animal shelter's records. The Louisiana Animal Welfare Commission requires drug logs to be kept current to comply with federal and state controlled substance laws.

Euthanasia rate
Vermilion's euthanasia rate was originally reported to rescue agencies as being upwards of 90 percent, but our investigation found that number was greatly inflated, due to poor record keeping at the shelter.
We also looked at other parishes' euthanasia rates, and found Vermilion's 58.4 percent rate fell in the middle of the pack in 2013, compared to other Acadiana parishes.

The lowest was St. Martin Parish at 23.6 percent, and the highest were St. Mary and St. Landry Parish at around 85 percent. See where your parish falls here:

Evangeline and Jefferson Davis parishes do not have parish-wide animal control shelters, and Acadia Parish says they haven’t finished compiling data for 2013.

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