Inhumane treatment investigated at Effingham Animal Shelter

EFFINGHAM CO., GA (WTOC) - Inspectors from the Georgia Department of Agriculture visited the Effingham County Animal Shelter Monday to investigate allegations about inhumane treatment of animals.

According to the inspection report from the department, the complaint "covered many areas of concern" including "Facility offers no heat or blankets, unclean enclosures, no food, diseases not being reported."

"State Department of Agriculture came out and did an inspection, an unannounced inspection," said Steve Davis, Effingham County administrator. "We passed this inspection with no violations."

While there weren't any violations, the inspector did ask for better temperature control in a building without central heating and air. The report requires the shelter to add a thermometer and a heat source to it's building for stay animals and animals on hold.

Heather Holmes, foster lead for Cherokee Humane Society in Acworth, Ga., works to rescue animals from the Effingham County shelter and find the homes across the state. She said she noticed the cold conditions during a visit earlier this year.

"It's freezing cold," Holmes said. "The doors are wide open. The slats in the side of the walls are open. This is for ventilation. I said, 'Well, where are the blankets?' I said, 'It's freezing in here.' She said, 'I don't like putting blankets in there because they pee and poop on them.' I said, 'And you have a washing machine, right?' She said yeah. Then she said, 'Well we didn't know it was going to be this cold last night.'"

Monday's inspection report animals had access to large dog beds and blankets to animals to get off of the concrete floor.

Several other viewers reached out to WTOC with complaints against the shelter, alleging misdiagnoses of illness or as feral as a reason to euthanize, improper disposal of animal bodies and animals being scheduled for euthanasia earlier than required.

None of those complaints were found or addressed in Monday's inspection report, and it's unclear if those complaints led to the state investigation.

A concern for Holmes that isn't cited in the report, the shelter euthanizes animals without sedation.

"It's my understanding that the ferals or the cats they can't handle, they'll stick them in their stomach, wherever they can stick them," Holmes said. "I've heard that the dogs when they're euthanized some of them howl and carry on while they're dying. The cats bounce around in their cages before they die."

According the Department of Agriculture, it's not a violation to not sedate an animal before euthanasia unless an intracardial procedure is used, which the department said is rare.

"There is no inhumane treatment at our facility at all," Davis said. "We're following all state guidelines on all treatment of the animals."

While it's not illegal, Holmes said it doesn't sound humane.

The American Veterinary Medical Association Guidelines for the Euthanasia of Animals: 2013 Edition notes "Sedation and/or anesthesia may assist in achieving the best conditions for euthanasia. It must be recognized that sedatives or anesthetics given at this stage that change circulation may delay the onset of the euthanasia agent." In a section specific to animal control, sheltering and rescue facilities, the guide notes two people should handle well-socialized animals "without pre-euthanasia sedation," but "when euthanizing distressed, dangerous, or fractious animals, a sedative or anesthetic should be administered prior to attempting euthanasia."

The ASPCA End of Life Care guide states, "Your veterinarian has special training to provide your pet with a humane and gentle death. During the procedure, your vet will inject your pet with a sedative followed by a special medication. The animal experiences no awareness of the end of life."

According to records Holmes received from the shelter, 1,974 animals were moved out of the shelter between Jan. 1, 2017 and Oct. 27, 2017. 963 of those were euthanized.

Davis said the shelter has a three-day hold policy on animals before they can be euthanized, and Holmes would like to see that extended.

She would also like the see the shelter do better networking with other rescue groups throughout the state to reduce the number of animals euthanized.

"I know there's no such thing as no kill, but something needs to be done," Holmes said. "These animals need to networked a lot better than what they are."

Davis said the state inspector visit validates the concerns submitted to the Department of Agriculture were legitimate, but said the lack of violation shows the shelter isn't doing anything wrong.

"I absolutely do, and it was good that they came out," Davis said. "They went around it. They took pictures. They inspected it, the areas, for cleanliness and all of the above. Plus they checked our records. We've got professional staff down there, and we document everything we do. We have nothing to hide at all."

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