Questions over care of dogs at shelter

Published: Jul. 2, 2018 at 1:06 PM EDT
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Two weeks ago we told you about an investigation into the Ingham County Animal Control over the care of several dogs that were brought in after a dogfighting ring.

Monday night News 10's Alani Letang dug deeper into what led to that investigation.

News 10 has obtained hundreds of pages of emails, veterinarian medical reports, and documents that show how the investigation started, who is involved, and what was found.

The documents show claims of abuse, neglect even starvation at the Ingham County Animal Control Shelter.

There were enough accusations and concerns that an investigator from the Michigan Humane Society was asked by the shelter to be brought in.

What we read was report after report of red flags and concerns in how certain dogs were being taken care at Ingham County Animal Control Shelter of after seizing more than 40 from a dog fighting ring in Lansing the summer of 2017. At the time of removal, an Ingham County animal control officer stated: "all dogs were of adequate weight and appeared in good health."

But that changed quickly according to those exclusive documents, including statements from animal control officers and staff when they were questioned by the Michigan Humane Society this March.

The investigation was focused primarily on dogs who were seized in a major dog-fighting ring in Lansing last year, 2017. There were also other dogs.

"Since we're the agency that enforces the animal cruelty laws when there's an allegation of neglect against us we need to take it very seriously," said John Dinon, Ingham County Animal Control Director.

Dinon said they asked for the humane society to investigate after concerns and complaints about the animals care were brought their attention.

Dinon refused an interview regarding these documents but did speak to News 10’s Alani Letang a couple weeks ago. He said the shelter was overwhelmed with the number of dogs from the seizure.

"Basically last summer was a very busy summer handling a lot of difficult animals for a very long time," said Dinon.

But the complaints in the report weren't just that of too many dogs, not enough people. They show serious accusations of neglect and abuse.

Animal control officer Catilin Budzinski states on September 19th, 2017, about three months after the dogs were seized, reports of one dog, Dreamvil-- a black-haired pit bull, was very thin, believed to be consistently throwing up and having a possible obstruction.

After email exchanges with animal control staff and the shelter veterinarian Karen Worthington, reports stated: “Dr. Worthington would continue to monitor him.”

After just one week, Budzinski reported that she saw Dreamvil and that "he was emaciated. I was horrified that his condition was so poor."

She informed Director Dinon and Dr. Worthington of Dreamvil's severely deteriorated condition.

According to documents, Budzinski said when she talked to the staff who was in charge of feeding him some told her they were never told what Dreamvil’s feeding schedule was and others were not documenting it.

Director Dinon told Letang that he knows the shelter needs a better recording procedure.

"We are tightening up on our recording keeping, there was a lot of discussion about that dog that is not documented, the veterinarian and I talked many many times," said Dinon.

As far as that obstruction, Worthington stated that no X-ray would be done because “Dreamvil was not safe to handle.” And even if they did perform surgery, Dreamvil would not be safe for surgery aftercare due to what she felt was violent behavior, according to documents. Dinon agreed.

The director said, "now it's easy to look back and say that didn't happen so he should've been euthanized but at the time I stand by our decision."

Although several other staff members state in interviews with the Michigan Humane Society investigator Debbie MacDonald, they were hand feeding Dreamvil to get him to eat. Certainly not a sign of aggressive behavior.

"Most dogs, if you don't know the dog you don't hand feed the dog. You don't hand feed the dog until you know the dogs a gentle dog. most dogs can get very very aggressive over food, and that's a case where you have to be careful about putting your hands in your dog's food," said Dr. William Shultz, Shultz vet clinic.

No X-ray was ever done and Dreamvil went from weighing 45 pounds in August to 31 pounds one month, documents indicated.

Dreamvil was euthanized on September 27th, 2017. A necropsy was performed at MSU with findings that the dog was emaciated and had "rope segments" in its body.

The Michigan Humane Society's investigation concluded that an x-ray should have been done to decide how to treat Dreamvil and, "the delay resulted in unnecessary suffering."

And then there's Jay Jay, a tan pit bull who was reported in good physical condition on her intake.

Two months later, documents show the one-year-old pit bull suffered from a sudden seizure and became unresponsive.

Several hours later Jay Jay was euthanized.

After Jay Jay died, a necropsy report was done. Dr. Kurt Williams with MSU stated this "was a very interesting case". Dr. Williams stated he found blood in the abdomen which was indicative of some sort of rodent poisoning and more tests needed to be done.

The dog was screened for rodenticides and the test was negative. So it is still not clear why Jay Jay suddenly hemorrhaged, went into a coma and was forced to be euthanized.

Email after Email, Budzinski and animal control officer Jodie LeBombard showing concern over the care of the animals.

Budzinski stated in her testimony that she "often felt dismissed and brushed off." At one point the two animal control officers, Jodie LeBomBard and Budzinski, had asked for a meeting with Director Dinon and Deputy Director Anne Burn to address repeated concerns.

At the conclusion of that meeting, Dinon told them they didn't have an “accurate picture” and that if it turns out to be something shelter staff would take care of it.

In one email from Dinon to his deputy director, Dinon wrote that he "would prefer if we take Budzinski out of the communication between the vets about the treatments."

Budinski and LeBombard made it clear in their testimony and their emails that they weren't going to be left out as they continued to speak up about the care of other animals.

The investigation also looked at another two puppies that were seized from the dogfighting ring.

There were claims of neglect and starvation but the two managed to make it through.

In March 2018, animal control officer Caitlyn Budzinski again raises red flags regarding two pit bull puppies - named Skully and Jonah ---and their lack of care.

Budzinski stated the problem started when she attempted to fill out a vet check. That's when she noticed that the dogs were not labeled properly in their kennels.

"It should be noted that due to an error in kennel documentation in Multi-Ops, the incorrect animal id number was attached to kennel numbers 32 and 42,” Budzinski wrote in her report.

Budzinski told investigators she informed Dr. Worthington but "due to some pushback after reporting prior concerns with the timeliness of animal care and medical attention I did not report the condition to Director Dinon. "

Budzinski and animal control officer Jodie LeBombard reported the dog's conditions to the Deputy Director who then contacted an outside veterinarian (Southside Animal Hospital in Lansing) to conduct a cruelty/neglect exam on the two puppies who had been at the shelter for nearly 8 months.

Both dogs suffered from whipworm and were receiving treatment for it.

Dr. Joyce Heideman from Southside examined them. Her report stated "that both dogs suffered from long-term starvation,” and hadn't been fed in a while.

The reports said both dogs' stool had plant material and bark in, and not much else. Dr. Heideman stated she found non-food items including paint chips and plastic pieces in the teeth. Her assessment, the dogs were starved, the dog “was just eating whatever it could."

And on the Purina 9- point body condition scale, Jonah only scored a 1 out of 9 and Skully a 2 out of 9. We asked a veterinarian, Dr. William Shultz, about these scores and what they mean.

"It's a body score scale so it goes from a one to a nine, one being a really skinny dog and a nine being an overweight dog and you want your dog in the middle like a four or five scores. So if we don't feel a fat pad we know that dog is either unfed, malnourished or like a street dog has not been fed properly." Dr. William Schultz, Schultz Veterinary Clinic.

Dr. Heideman's report stated whipworm would not cause this level of emaciation.

She also stated that she is "comfortable testifying in court that these dogs were purely starved into their current condition,” and that these dogs were “just not fed, and there appeared to be no other underlying medical cause for their current condition."

Dr. Heideman also said Skully looked as if a "hatchet was taken to its nails, appeared to have been cut way beyond the quick."

Dinon told Letang in that a previous interview that an influx of animals made his staff and the shelter unable to keep up.

"You guys are an animal shelter this is what you do…is that really an excuse we could be using here why the dogs slipped through the cracks," Letang asked.

Dinon answered, "I don't think we did anything wrong, we had a lot of dogs. and you’re right this is our profession this is what we do and I think we did a great job. We investigated this case, we got a lot of dogs out of the hands of dog fighters,"

He also said many of the issues stem from an outdated shelter.

"We do the best we can we are in a tough facility, to do that. we are building a new shelter and one of the reasons we are is this is an old facility and it really has a lot of problems, it is inadequate," Dinon explained.

A new shelter is currently being built next to the old one in Mason, MI. It is expected to be finished next year.

Since the Michigan Humane Society’s conclusion, Dinon said the shelter has an improvement plan in place including computerized medical records, weekly walkthrough by him and the veterinarian and more training on cruelty exams and how to handle difficult animals.

Dinon said he also plans to not implement the following:

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 the expedited disposition of animals and/or adding temporary staff to expand capacity for care.

Some of the findings (from the report):

· Dog was symptomatic for 14 days with minimal treatment

· X-ray was recommended, but not performed

· A delay to treat or euthanize caused unnecessary suffering

· Dogs declined in weight

· Regular weighing and monitoring could have alerted medical staff to weight loss

· A maintenance program needed to be put in place to stop dogs from being reinvested with whipworm

Factors that contributed to suffering/neglect of animals (from the report):

· No written procedure for monitoring long-term court cases

· No written procedure for documenting weight gain

· Medical records that are incomplete, or kept in multiple places for the same animal

· No maintenance plan to control internal parasites

· Lack of open communication between departments

· Lack of training for medical staff on shelter medicine, processing cruelty cases, and supervisory responsibilities

· Supervising veterinarians require staff to floor supervise and attend to the daily animal care

· Inconsistent diet of donated food provided to long-term holds and cruelty weight gains

· Inadequate staff

· Lack of oversight

· Lack of awareness

We reached out to everyone involved in this investigation -- they did not want to comment. Director Dinon emailed us and said he did not have anything to add from that previous interview with him and that the rest of his staff is not authorized to speak to the press. We have also reached out to the Board of Commissioners, so far only one commissioner has responded stating he stands by the decisions the shelter made

As for Skully and Jonah, both of them have been adopted out.

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