After months of tensions, the Anderson County Commission unanimously decided Monday to hire a veterinary director, install cameras and create a new advisory committee to address concerns about euthanization of cats and dogs at the county animal shelter.
Public concerns about the how many animals were being put down and by what method reached a tipping point at the end of last year after allegations began circulating on social media about Brian Porter, director of the Animal Control and Care department
The department ultimately reports to county Mayor Terry Frank, who has asked the Human Resources department to conduct an investigation and has been working with the County Commission to address concerns.
“I recognize that there have been failures, whether that’s failures of communication or aligning our expectations with expectations of the community and I do apologize for that and I commit to working harder on it,” Frank told Knox News after the meeting.
The logistics of implementing the commission’s decisions are still in the works, such as the veterinary director’s role. Frank would like the vet director to be a graduate from an accredited college and licensed to practice veterinary medicine in the state.
The director could be hired on a contractual basis, and Frank hopes that the director will be able to be on site at least once a week and will review all policies and practices at the shelter. The mayor’s office is putting together a request for proposal for the job.
The shelter’s capacity is limited to 12 dog cages and 20 cat cages. In 2021, the shelter had an intake of 400 dogs and 615 cats. The euthanasia rates were 10% of dogs and 17% of cats. In 2016, the county took in 325 dogs and 276 cats. The euthanasia rates were 28% of dogs and 69% of cats. No kill-shelters strive to save 90% of animals that are taken in.
Commissioner Joshua Anderson raised concerns about the transparency of the numbers provided by Porter, such as how animals are counted when they come into the shelter, and what numbers are counted in the euthanasia rates, including whether it includes animals euthanized in the field.
“I’m hoping that bringing a veterinarian in that’ll kind of change that culture … good or bad, I would like to see some more transparency on all of that,” Anderson said after Monday’s meeting.
Porter performed euthanizations under an expired license for most of 2021. His state-certified animal euthanasia technician license expired in Feb. 28, 2021, according to a Tennessee Board of Veterinary Medical Examiners document issued May 13 and viewed by Knox News.
After Porter told Frank in December his license was expired, Frank halted in-house euthanizations and told Animal Control and Care staff the county would use only veterinary services to put down animals.
“On-premise euthanasia has not occurred at the Anderson County Animal Shelter since mid-December of 2021, and any humane euthanasia required would occur on-site at a licensed veterinarian’s office,” Frank said in a written statement to Knox News.
According to the policies followed by the county, a verification of death method is necessary to ensure that an animal has died after being injected intravenously or intraperitoneally (through the transparent membrane that lines the walls of the abdominal cavity).
Verification methods include waiting until rigor mortis has set in or the use of a cardiac stick, a needle injected into the heart to verify death, according to the county’s reference manual from the Humane Society of the United States.
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The manual says that in some cases an animal may not be left unattended until death has been verified and if time is of the essence, a cardiac stick is commonly used.
However, the manual does say a cardiac stick “must never be inserted into the heart of a conscious animal – the euthanasia technician must be certain that the animal has no blink or toe-pinch reflexes before the cardiac stick is performed.”
Porter has been accused of using a cardiac stick to administer euthanasia drugs, not just verify the drugs have worked, which would violate county policy.
“Director Porter strongly denies the allegations made against him,” Frank said in a written statement to Knox News.
The allegations have prompted an investigation from the county’s Human Resources department. At last week’s Operations Committee meeting, Commissioner Robert McKamey and Human Resources Director Kim Jeffers-Whitaker said that if anyone has more information about shelter operations, they can speak with HR to help with the investigation.
In addition to Porter’s expired license, commissioner Theresa Scott said during the meeting the Anderson County Animal Control’s license has been suspended as of Feb. 28, according to the state of Tennessee.
After the allegations surfaced, the County Commission has taken an active role in trying to understand how the shelter is run.
The commission’s interest puts a spotlight on the divided responsibility of the Animal Care and Control department between the mayor and commission. Though the office falls under the mayor’s authority, the department’s budget and donations are overseen by the County Commission.
The budget is approved for the year by the commission but can be amended throughout the year with the commission’s approval.
“We have made great strides with what situation we have over there, with what room we have over there. We as a commission want that animal shelter run as other than a little holding facility and that’s what we have,” Commissioner Chuck Fritts said during the meeting.
“We’re going to have to put some more funding into that place to change it into something more than just a holding facility.”
In addition to the operations of the shelter and the funding of the department, there’s also been concern over the facility itself, which has been a concern for the mayor for years.
Commissioner Tracy Wandell backed the mayor’s actions to address concern’s about the shelter.
“I don’t want to anyone to feel that our county is trying to not take care of our animals. I think the mayor stepped out many years ago and built that shelter we have. It’s not the best in the world but she made something out of nothing,” he said.
The current shelter was always designed to be temporary and was opened on Jan. 29, 2016, on Blockhouse Valley Road in Claxton.
The installation of cameras specifically brought up issue of the shelter’s current facility and location limitations. Access to WiFi is currently limited in the area, a general issue for Claxton, so the IT department may need to invest in better equipment for the location.
“If possible I think the newly formed advisory committee could help give direction on current needs and future needs for the Anderson County Animal Shelter. I do believe we will have need for a new shelter in the future,” Wandell said in a written statement to Knox News.