City launches inquiry into allegations of abuse at St. George Animal Shelter

St. George Animal Shelter, St. George, Utah, July 22, 2013 | Photo by Michael Flynn, St. George News

ST. GEORGE – On Friday morning, St. George City Councilman Jon Pike confirmed that the city had launched an inquiry into allegations of abuse and neglect at the St. George Animal Shelter.

The allegations stem primarily from complaints made by pet-rescue workers and residents about the management of the shelter. Among the accusations of mistreatment are:

  • Allegations that dogs and cats have been put-down inhumanely by a process known as an intercardiac injection or “heart shot,” in which pentobarbital sodium is administered via injection, directly to the heart, without first sedating the animals.
  • Allegations that dogs in the shelter are not regularly allowed to go outside and are left to urinate and defecate within their kennels.
  • Allegations that dogs are not removed from their kennels for cleaning and that the kennels are hosed clean by the staff with the dogs still inside.
  • Allegations that dogs are not regularly supplied with bedding during their stay at the shelter.
  • Allegations that there is no funding for immediate medical care, and that sick and injured dogs are left untreated during the mandatory five-day-waiting period for owners to retrieve pets that have been collected by animal control and brought to the shelter.

The inquiry follows closely on the heels of Thursday’s city council meeting, which was crowded with residents hoping to discuss conditions at the shelter. Because Thursday’s meeting was a work meeting rather than a public meeting, the council had not planned to allow public discussion about the shelter, but rather they had scheduled the time to talk about the progress of the city’s community cat program and to hear a report from Best Friends’ Animal Society. Mayor Dan McArthur briefly addressed some of the concerns of the crowd, but did not open the floor for public discussion.

An unexpected crowd gathered at the St. George City Council’s work meeting. St. George, Utah, July 25, 2013 | Photo by Michael Flynn, St. George News

The Mayor did invite local resident Randy Fields to speak about some of the concerns of the crowd. Fields did not specifically address any particular accusations publicly, instead he spoke to the council in a more general way about the allegations.

“I think I’ve had conversations with most of you,” Fields said, addressing the council, “I think all of you were surprised to hear some of the stories about the shelter,” he said. “I wish they weren’t true.”

Fields called for a review of the operational procedures at the shelter and said that inhumane and neglectful activities have gone on for a long time.

“It’s not just no-kill,” Fields said, referring to a growing movement to convert the shelter into a no-kill facility. “If they are treated in an inhumane way, maybe dying is not the worst thing.”

St. George Animal Shelter, St. George, Utah, July 22, 2013 | Photo by Michael Flynn, St. George News

After the meeting, Fields and others remained in the council chamber and spoke more candidly about the allegations of mistreatment.

Lynn Burger, operational director of P.A.W.S., a privately-funded no-kill animal shelter in St. George, discussed what she described as neglectful treatment by shelter management. The big issue to Burger is the method allegedly used to put down dogs and cats at the St. George shelter.

“They do it illegally, actually,” Burger said, “they do what’s called a heart shot, where they take the needle and just stab them in the heart, and maybe they die and maybe they don’t die.”

Burger said that she had spoken with several eyewitnesses to the procedure; however, she said, none of them are yet willing to come  forward  for fear of reprisal.

“This is what we’re trying to confirm (to the city),” Burger said, “Because we know it’s happening and we can’t get anybody to confirm it.”

Fields described the allegations of neglect in the dog kennels in more detail after the meeting.“There are several key issues that have come out,” he said. “The first is the treatment of the animals; and the second is that they are not treating the animals while they are there.”

Dogs in the shelter are not regularly allowed to leave their kennels, said Fields, and are forced to urinate and defecate in them.  These practices make the dogs poor candidates for adoption because being forced to mess in their kennels makes them more likely to mess indoors. The method the shelter uses for cleaning the kennels makes the dogs mean and afraid of humans, said Fields.

St. George Animal Shelter, St. George, Utah, July 22, 2013 | Photo by Michael Flynn, St. George News

Kris Neal, who runs the city’s Trap-Neuter-Release program for feral cats, was careful to distinguish between the city’s animal-control officers, whom she said she believes do a good job, and the management of the animal shelter.

“The city does have very good animal control officers who are responsible for (animal) complaints, animals at large, and levying fines,” she said.

Neal said that the problem lies, not with the animal control officers, but with the shelter management, who are responsible for the health and well-being of the animals.

In many other cities, shelters are not managed by animal control. “In some cases, shelter management is even privatized,” Neal said.

Jon Pike spoke last week about the possibility of an impending review of operations and infrastructure at the animal shelter. Pike said he had heard about the allegations from concerned citizens. “I don’t want to prejudge,” he said. Pike had recently taken a tour of the shelter and said he was unhappy with what he saw there. He pointed to the lack of bedding and the presence of defecation in the kennels. “I would like to see a review done,” he said.

Friday morning, Pike confirmed that an inquiry into practices at the kennel was underway.

“There is and will be, starting immediately, a review process, and it will be comprehensive,” Pike said. “It is beginning today, at least in regards to gathering information.”

The city council and the mayor are very interested in the matter, Pike said and went on to outline changes he would already like to see take place at the shelter. Pike said he had heard that the kennels were being hosed with the animals locked inside. “I want that changed immediately.” He said he would also like to see raised bedding areas in the kennels, and possibly renovation to improve ventilation to deal with the odors.

Pike also addressed the allegations of improper euthanizing techniques, ensuring that, in the future, when euthanizing is necessary, it will accord with the law. According to current city code, animals must be euthanized in a painless and humane manner. The Utah Animal Welfare act also stipulates that animal shelters must follow local ordinances when euthanizing strays.

“It pains me to think of someone doing that,” Pike said of the “heart-shot” method of euthanizing, “whether it was legal or not, to me it is unthinkable and unethical. I hope we get to the bottom of that particular allegation very quickly.”

Pike isn’t permitted to discuss personnel issues with the public at this time, however he made it clear that he was not prepared to tolerate unethical behavior from city employees. “These animals are people’s pets,” Pike said, “we should do everything we can to take care of our animals. They’re our friends.


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  • Blutarsky July 27, 2013 at 10:06 am

    I am disheartened by the way that humanity treats our planet and fellow creatures.

    We don’t yet know how the Universe was created, but our role as caretakers and stewards seems blindingly obvious to me.

    All life on this planet is related…literally. Any act done to any creature affects all.


  • Alice July 27, 2013 at 10:23 am

    I am so glad they are going to do investigating and make some changes right away. I had no idea that this kind of treatment of the animals was going on. Shame on them, and shame on me for not knowing and not taking an active participation in making the changes. I am so glad that Jon Pike is actively involved in this. Good for him!

  • wade freitas July 27, 2013 at 11:26 am

    as part of a rescue here in st. george and working with this shelter you need to look a little closer, don’t accuse inless you want to help.
    #1 these shelter workers have so much compassion for the animals
    #2 they don’t have the resources to do what you want
    #3 fight for the resources and not the witch hunt
    #4 don’t shoot the shelter because you can’t help, volunteer and see what is going on before you accuse anyone.
    #5 if you live here and volunteer to help and are seeing what is going on then try to help, if your not here and not trying to help then don’t put in your to sense because you don’t know.

  • Teri July 27, 2013 at 11:33 am

    If the allegations are true, then this needs to stop immediately and the people involved need to be fired and brought to justice as this is not only unethical, but illegal. As far as needing beds for the shelter, it appears that they are already signed up on Kuranda Dog Bed’s website for donations: This would make an excellent community project.

  • CC July 27, 2013 at 12:09 pm

    “Lynn said that she had spoken with several eyewitnesses to the procedure; however, she said, none of them are yet willing to come forward for fear of reprisal”.

    My advise is hopefully there can be a Labor Law attorney for the City or State that can represent the witnesses. There are Labor Laws and EEOC Employee Rights to protect whistle blowers and not lose their jobs. It is against the law for the employer to retaliate against whistle blowers. Employers can not terminate or harass any employee who has come forth in this case or any case where there is something illegal going on at the workplace. If P.A.W.S or Best Friends Society would step forward to get a legal advocate or Employment Labor Law attorney to help any employees working at the center to speak up without fear of losing their job or retaliation I’m pretty sure there will be so much more dirty treatment that our poor abused pets have gone through at St. George Animal Shelter.

  • CC July 27, 2013 at 12:33 pm

    If you really want to help get some people together and make a movement plan. visit the shelter, bring a camera and take photos of the animal that shows injuries or kept in a dirty unfit kennel. The next day someone else goes with the same camera take photos of the same animal to see if things have changed, either improved or not. Get the name of the Animal Control Officer who is in there that day. If you see the animal is injured or sick, try to file a report by informing the Animal Control Office. You must also document the day, time and what you witnessed during your visit. If all is well, there is nothing to be afraid of, but if the shelter is not following the ordinance by law, then we got a problem that should be investigated. In the meantime, I will start dropping in to visit my dear little friends at the shelter and hope I don’t find any of them mistreated! As a guardian to my dogs and cats, I know that I would never want them to be mistreated and I know that I have rescued several lost animals that had such a loving heart. They will love you forever and ever. They are our best friends and we have got to save them from any abuse!Anyone interested?

    • Robin July 28, 2013 at 12:52 am

      That reply below was suppose to go up here!!! Sorry! Never done this before!

  • wade freitas July 27, 2013 at 12:33 pm

    teri and cc, do you live here and have you volunteered for the shelter or even been to the shelter?
    i would like to know if ” Michael Flynn ” has even been to the shelter? i would love for him to see what is going on before just spouting off about it in articles. if you volunteer for the shelter and have been active in the shelter for years than lets hear it otherwise you are not putting anything into this but a witch hunt for your own good, stur your own pot.

    • Robin July 28, 2013 at 12:46 am

      You bet! This has GOT TO STOP! What can we do?

  • yesman July 27, 2013 at 1:24 pm

    Wade, I have visited this particular shelter many times! I don’t know about their methods of euthanizing, but all of the other allegations are 100% accurate. Not only have I witnessed them first hand but a “control officer” has verbally shared the practices of this shelter to me. I would like to know who I should contact directly to help support these claims.

    • Robin July 28, 2013 at 12:55 am

      Good for you! Tell them what you know!

  • wade freitas July 27, 2013 at 1:43 pm

    visited or volunteered? 1 time 2 times 600 times over the last 5 years? 100% accurate is a big statement.
    why is it that everyone hides behind there “cc, teri and yesman” what are you hiding from? tell people who you are so they can see what you stand for. i’m not hiding and would like to make the shelter better but not say its bad its bad but not even know what is going on.

  • Craig July 27, 2013 at 1:55 pm

    Instead of finger pointing, why not volunteer to walk dogs. Volunteer to help clean the kennels. Buy some beds and donate them to the shelter. Some of you may think you know what is going on based on this article or what so and so said. If that was the case, why are you only now speaking up?

    • Mary Bemis July 28, 2013 at 8:45 pm

      Craig, many volunteers have stopped going up to walk dogs and or to volunteer in any capacity due to the conditions these animals are kept in. It breaks everyones hearts and with nothing being done for so many years, and yes many letters have been written, many complaints have been sent in, all to no avail. That is why we have now put the pressure on, anytime you get the media involved, people’s eyes are opened and everyone who really cares will rise up and work to make changes. For years many of us have tried to donate Kuranda beds (look them up) and have been turned down. I am one who knows what has been going on, I am one who has been in the forefront of this campaign to clean the shelter up, create a more humane existence for the animals, I have lived her for 21 years, worked in rescue as a volunteer for many, many years, so I know of what I am putting to paper. The ones who are behind this campaign are ordinary citizens who have tried for years, we are not only now speaking up. It is only now that they have started listening to us.

  • wade freitas July 27, 2013 at 2:45 pm

    this comment makes me laugh because where are the owners and why did they drop them off to be put in a 3’x6′ concrete kennel after being in a home for up to 15 years?
    “These animals are people’s pets,” Pike said, “we should do everything we can to take care of our animals. They’re our friends.
    really, spend some time up there when owners bring there dogs up there and see these dogs wondering why there been left in a kennel and watching there owner walk away. how heartbreaking for the dog and us as we try to rescue them.

  • Jan July 27, 2013 at 3:07 pm

    Anyone mistreating any animal needs to be FIRED IMMEDIATELY.

    Maybe we could treat them the way they have treated these poor animals. pen them up, let them urinate on themselves and let’s hose the pen down while they are locked in. No outside walks, etc. and I bet you money these peeps would clean up their act so fast or better yet they could become a JANITOR and really do the cleaning.

  • My Evil Twin July 27, 2013 at 3:55 pm

    Sniff? Sniff-Sniff? Anybody else smell the rotten stench of politics in this “suddenly hot button issue,” just before an election? Where have all these folks been all along?

    • Mary Bemis July 28, 2013 at 8:57 pm

      My Evil Twin, we have been here many many years and have tried for as many years to make changes at the SG shelter. Of course politics is involved, we have had a mayor with many different city council members working with him who have all but ignored the shelter all of these past 20 yrs, many letters have been written, many complaints filed. What a perfect time, we find out who the new ones coming aboard would help us in this issue and they are the ones who will receive our votes, oh, by the way, Jon Pike who is running for Mayor is totally on board and our Mayor of 20 yrs has not used his powers to bring this shelter up to the 21 st century. If the officials who are in charge of these operations never go tour the facility, make periodic unannounced visits, which is exactly the case, leading to infractions not being witnessed by them, only we who volunteer or are involved in rescue, are able to witness, then report it and nothing gets done, then WELL, drastic measures are then called for. Sniff-sniff, does any of this sound remotely familiar, do you need a clue…….think Washington D.C.

  • yesman July 27, 2013 at 4:13 pm

    One could more easily question the validity of the accusations if it were only one person complaining about this shelter. But apparently, there is a large number of people who share the same concerns about the treatment of animals at this particular shelter. Would it matter if the accusations only happened once, twice, or 600 times? Cruelty, neglect, and abuse are still cruelty, neglect, and abuse no matter what the language. Do organizations like H.A.R.T., and other volunteers help with the “non-adoptable” pets also? Or just the “adoptable” ones? I only wonder because there is an obvious difference in boarding and practices between the two areas of the shelter. Nonetheless, the City will carry out an investigation and their findings will either require a change in practices, or their findings will allow the shelter will carry on as it is.

  • Washaway July 27, 2013 at 5:47 pm

    I have personally volunteered at this shelter because of the conditions there. Not 1 or 2 times but 1-2 times a week. They need volunteers to help walk the dogs. I was doing the best I can till I broke my leg. The officers their are wonderful and I have not witnessed any of the allegations I have been volunteering there for a year now.. Sometimes there are poop in kennels but I have never seen them squirting out kennels with dogs in them. Volunteers have nothing to do with sick animals in quarentine or the euthanasia process so I can’t comment on that. The building is old and can use some upgrades. As far as bedding goes sometimes it can be a safety choking hazard for destructive dogs who chew. I believe this could be an “as needed” situation depending on the dog. I can only hope things are investigated and improved upon if needed and please remember

  • Annettie Cannavale July 27, 2013 at 6:08 pm

    I really hope this isn’t true, and if it is, that the persons responsible are punished both to the full extent of the law and publicly. Anyone who abuses a helpless animal is scum of the earth, the lowest of the low.

  • Clarice July 27, 2013 at 9:17 pm

    The person who is managing the shelter should be fired because the are obviously NOT an animal lover and not interested in the well-being of the animals at the shelter. A new, qualified, person who has experience, love for animals and good track working references, should be hired to manage the shelter and changes would be implemented immediately. This looks like such a lovely shelter that can really prosper if the correct management who care for animals is appointed to run the shelter.

  • Stan July 27, 2013 at 9:21 pm

    Yes remember me come November , Jon pike has his new platform, if there is something mid treatment @ the shelter they should be dealt with, but what a coincidence that VOTE FOR ME FOR MAYOR is in front if this

    • JayDub July 27, 2013 at 10:36 pm

      Not a coincidence…Jon Pike is showing good leadership. Lets do remember this come November.

  • Debra McNeff July 27, 2013 at 9:24 pm

    I’m glad this is being brought to the public’s attention, no matter why! An open debate and discussion is exactly what this country is founded on, so good everyone who has commented. I agree with Wade and know he knows what he is talking about. This is not the first time the issues and conditions at the shelter have been addressed to the powers-that-be; however, it’s fallen on deaf ears. Now is the perfect time to