Breckenridge Texan

Criminal investigation underway after malnourished dogs removed from city’s animal facility and one death

Criminal investigation underway after malnourished dogs removed from city’s animal facility and one death
January 21
18:52 2022

By Tony Pilkington and Carla McKeown/Breckenridge Texan

The animal control officer for the City of Breckenridge reportedly resigned earlier this month after several malnourished dogs were found at the Breckenridge Animal Facility, located at 601 N. Dubois. A criminal investigation into the incident is underway, according to local officials.

Breckenridge Police Chief Bacel Cantrell said that the situation is being taken seriously by the police department. “Anytime we get a complaint, especially within my department, we’re gonna handle it very seriously,” he said.

He said that in the first week of January he was home sick when he received a call from one of the department’s sergeants, who said that the shelter appeared to be in bad condition with regards to cleanliness and that some of the animals looked sick.

Chasity Blevins, a volunteer with the Stephens County Humane Society, has offered to check on the animals at the City of Breckenridge’s animal facility until a new animal control officer is trained. (Photo by Tony Pilkington/ Breckenridge Texan)

“So I said, well get up there, and let’s get that cleaned,” Cantrell said. “And I had them call Chasity (Blevins, who works at a local veterinarian office and is a former animal control officer) … and she come out and did an evaluation of the dogs and got a hold of the Humane Society — Kathy O’Shields — and she got some (of the) dogs.”

The police chief said that the animal control officer who was in charge of the facility resigned from the position and that the department is treating the complaint about the conditions at the facility as a criminal complaint. According to the Breckenridge City Ordinance on Animals and Fowl, “It shall be unlawful for the owner or custodian of any animal to refuse or fail to provide such animal with sufficient wholesome and nutritious food, potable water, veterinary care when needed to prevent suffering or humane care and treatment, or to fail to provide proper shelter or unnecessarily expose any such animal to hot, cold or inclement weather.”

At the time the problem was discovered, the facility was housing several dogs that had been picked up in the city by the police department, as well as two stray dogs that had been in the shelter since Nov. 3 and six dogs that had been surrendered to by a local resident on Nov. 26 and were part of an investigation by the the Stephens County Sheriff’s Office. The other dogs had been picked up by the police department for a variety of reasons and had not been at the shelter as long.

“There were some issues at the shelter,” said Kathy O’Shields with the Stephens County Humane Society. “The dogs have been vetted and are in the custody of the Humane Society.”

O’Shields said she has filed a formal complaint with the City of Breckenridge. City Manager Erika McComis required the Breckenridge Texan to submit a Freedom of Information Act letter/request in order to receive a copy of the complaint. She said that because it’s an open investigation, she will need a ruling from the Texas Attorney General’s Office before she releases it to the media. Although the request has been officially submitted to the City Manager, the Breckenridge Texan obtained a copy of the complaint from another source and confirmed its authenticity.

The complaint letter, dated Jan. 6, 2022, explains that the dogs “were emaciated and the veterinarian stated they are not being properly fed and are starving.” Additionally, the letter states that one puppy was in such poor condition that it had to be hospitalized.

Click here to read the complaint.

Because the six dogs that had been surrendered by the owners were already part of an investigation, there are photos of the dogs that were taken on Nov. 26 and photos that were taken earlier this month when the problem at the shelter was discovered. In a statement via text, Sheriff Kevin Roach said, “Due to the matter being under investigation. I am unable to release any of the photographs at this time.”

Although the Breckenridge Texan was not able to obtain copies of the photos from the sheriff, we were able to look at them from another source. There is a dramatic difference in the condition of the dogs, with the most recent photos showing emaciated animals, skin stretched tight across their bones, which are clearly visible under their skin. In the photos, the floor of the pen appears to be littered with feces and urine, and there is no blanket or bedding visible, just the concrete floor and a metal platform/bed.

The veterinarian who examined several of the dogs said they were “simply malnourished,” indicating that they did not suffer from parasites or disease that would cause them to lose weight, O’Shields said. Reportedly, the shelter had plenty of food that should have been provided to the animals, although the dogs appeared not to have been fed regularly.

Dr. Tom Echols, who treated several of the dogs, said that although he couldn’t comment on most of the details surrounding the situation because of the investigation, he could confirm that the dogs are much better now. Additionally, in commenting about animal malnourishment in general, he said that it would take several weeks for dogs to get in the condition the ones at the animal shelter were in.

The police department is waiting on a report from local veterinarians about the dogs before the investigation is complete, Cantrell said. Once those reports are received, the information, along with statements from everyone involved in the situation, will be sent to District Attorney Dee Peavy’s office, which will determine if charges will be filed, he said.

Local community members donated blankets to the animal shelter when the Humane Society put out a request because the dogs had nothing to sleep on. (Photo by Tony Pilkington/Breckenridge Texan)

McComis referred most questions regarding the situation, such as whether or not anyone else besides the animal control officer was responsible for feeding and caring for the animals in the shelter, to the police chief. She said she didn’t know if the shelter has working security cameras that could confirm how often the animals in the facility were fed, their cages cleaned, etc.

Sheriff Roach said that he went to the facility a couple of weeks ago to check on the dogs, after being contacted by the Stephens County Humane Society about the reported problem there. By that time, the police sergeant and another volunteer had already been to the shelter and realized there was a problem. When he arrived at the shelter, most of the pens had food in them but no water, Roach said.

“I called the (police chief) to let him know that these dogs are in poor health and intervention of some sort needs to be done,” he said.

At that time, Roach said, he and two police officers went through the facility and made sure that all of the dogs had food and water. He took photos of the dog at the request of the Humane Society. Later, he was informed that one of the six dogs involved in the County’s investigation had died earlier that week. “We started the process of what we can do to prevent them from getting any worse,” Roach said.

Although the one dog died at the shelter and one was hospitalized, none of the dogs that were found in poor conditions were euthanized by the veterinarians who were consulted, according to Cantrell, Blevins and O’Shields.

According to Roach, criminal charges were filed on Dec. 17 in connection with the original case that resulted in the dogs being surrendered at the shelter. He said two people were charged with two counts of cruelty to non-livestock animals, but as of Friday no arrest had been made in the case.

Since the City of Breckenridge effectively shut down the animal shelter in June 2020, most dogs that are picked up by the animal control officer or other police officers are kept at the facility for only five days. After five days, the dogs are either euthanized or taken by the Humane Society. Click here to read the city ordinance that was approved by the City Commission on June 2, 2020.

The Humane Society has several options for dealing with the dogs it takes, including placing them in foster homes, finding adoptive homes, placing them temporarily at a local boarding facility or allowing them to be picked up by other rescue operations that will find homes for them. In some cases, animals, such as the six dogs in the Sheriff’s investigation, are kept at the City’s animal facility for longer periods of time.

The Humane Society also assists with other needs the animals may have. O’Shields said that during the investigation, she was informed that there were no blankets available for the dogs to sleep on. So, the Humane Society posted a notice on their Facebook page requesting donations of blankets for the dogs, and the facility received many blankets from community members.

Cantrell said that the police department is taking steps to ensure that the animals in the facility are well taken care of in the future. Blevins — who works in a veterinarian clinic, is a former animal control officer and is a volunteer for the Humane Society — has offered to check on the animals in the shelter every day until new employees are trained, he said.

The City has hired a new full-time animal control officer who is scheduled to begin work in a week or two, the police chief said. Additionally, the City plans to hire a part-time animal shelter employee.

Other control measures being put in place include a physical log-in book for every officer to register when they go to the facility to care for the animals. “We typically check out on the radio when officer comes up here, but, you know, I want something written in ink now, so we have that,” Cantrell said. “We’re definitely going to take some steps to make sure we don’t ever get anything even close, remotely, to that ever again. Even though we’re back on track and everyone’s getting healthy…we’re gonna do better.”

Cutline, top photo: A few dogs were still in the Breckenridge Animal Facility on Thursday, Jan. 20, about a week after several dogs were removed from the shelter and determined to be malnourished. The remaining animals were dogs that had been picked up by the police department for a variety of reasons and had not been at the shelter very long. (Photo by Tony Pilkington/Breckenridge Texan)

 

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