Committee recommends suspension of animal control director and deputy director

Published: Jul. 12, 2018 at 5:12 PM EDT
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The Ingham County Law and Courts Committee passed a motion to request the suspension (with pay) of Animal Control Director John Dinon and Deputy Director Anne Burns during the investigation into the shelter. The Michigan Humane Society (MHS) was asked by Dinon to investigate the shelter after claims of neglect, abuse and starvation were brought to light. That investigation focused on five dogs. This meeting comes after News 10's Alani Letang was the first to uncover pages and pages of documents, emails and medical reports into how those five dogs were treated.

The MHS investigation concluded the shelter had a lack of communication, oversight and several other mishaps.

Four of those dogs were among over 40 pitbulls seized in a dog-fighting ring bust in Lansing in summer of 2017.

The Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development is also investigating. The county controller said they are also conducting their own internal investigation.

The motion was discussed at length and now goes on to the full board.

But before the motion was made, public comment was heard. Local animal advocates and shelter volunteers voiced their concerns about investigations into the shelter. People were calling for accountability and for Dinon and Burns to resign.

One speaker, who says she had been a longtime volunteer, fostering kittens for the Ingham County Animal Shelter. She alleges when she brought her concerns regarding an ill kitten to the veterinarian Dr. Karen Worthington, the vet allegedly told her "who's the vet here?" She also alleges that Deputy Director Anne Burns told her the staff was "sick and tired" of her being a "drama queen."

"No dogs should be starving to death in the custody of Ingham County," said one woman, referring to Dreamvil, a dog that was part of the Humane Society investigation and had to be euthanized. She spoke during the first round of public comments at the beginning of the meeting.

However, both sides were heard tonight. Some volunteers, very devoted to the shelter, say certain claims of neglect do not define the shelter.

Animal Control Director John Dinon spoke, and answered questions, after the first round of public comments. "A lot of dogs got taken away from some bad people. The vast majority of them went to new homes, and I'm very proud of that, and I'm proud of the great work that my staff did and my department did. We were not perfect. I wish we had done some things differently, in particular, I wish we had, as I said, euthanized Dreamville sooner. And I wish we had handled the vet exams differently," Dinon said.

Regarding the treatment of Dreamvil, Dinon wishes they had euthanized the dog sooner. "At the time I thought we made appropriate decisions, in retrospect, I do not think we made the best decisions." With hindsight in mind, he wishes they euthanized the dog sooner.

Dinon said he stands by his staff and acknowledges there are many things that he has to change.

The Law and Courts Committee had a chance to ask Dinon some of their questions and concerns. Some of them were: why didn't Dinon ask for help during that time of the seizure and also why weren't policies in place.

Commissioner Sarah Anthony said the request for suspension is an attempt to be aware of the issue.

"I'm clear that this is not a directive, this committee while we view direct staff, this is not a directive but rather this committee's attempt to be responsive and also to show where our intentions are," said Anthony.

Not everyone was on the side of the suspension. Commissioner Randy Schafer was very vocal throughout the committee's debate.

Commissioner Schafer said he felt this was not the time or place to conduct personnel matters.

"It is much better to go into executive session when we aware of complaints and to grill our staff, take the information we had and we can't discuss the personnel issues in public. So the whole point is this is our first meeting concerning the issue, we should've had many meetings way before, weeks ago," said Schafer.

LIVE: Local advocates voice concerns about Ingham County Animal Shelter. FULL COVERAGE tonight on News 10 at 11. STORY:

Posted by WILX News 10 on Thursday, July 12, 2018
"To restore public confidence in the management of the Ingham County Animal Shelter, County Commission candidate Walt Sorg called for contracting with Michigan State University’s College of Veterinary Medicine to conduct ongoing inspections of the shelter. Sorg said the inspections should be unannounced and at irregular intervals. The inspection teams would have full access to the shelter and its records.
“There’s a lot of dispute over current practices and whether there has been any abuse of animals. No matter what is contained in the internal investigation, some will be skeptical; relying on future state inspections to uncover problems would be equally ineffective,” said Sorg.
“MSU has one of the world’s finest veterinary medicine programs. Independent inspections by Michigan State’s experts would do a lot to restore confidence of the public that animals are being treated properly.”
Management of the shelter has come under criticism amidst allegations of animal abuse and neglect. The Ingham County comptroller is currently conducting an investigation into the allegations with a report expected to be completed within a matter of weeks. Following a two-hour public hearing, the County Law & Courts Committee voted 4-2 Thursday night to ask the comptroller to suspend the shelter’s director and deputy director for the duration of the investigation.
“Regardless of the outcome of that investigation, extraordinary steps must be taken to restore public confidence,” said Sorg. “Validation of the procedures and operations of the shelter by MSU’s experts would provide significant, credible assurance.”
Sorg said the number and frequency of inspections would be determined after consultation with MSU.
The 2018 budget for Ingham County Animal Control is $2.2-million.
Sorg is a Democratic candidate in the 3rd Commission District (south Lansing)."

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