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Distraught pet owners want to know that Hernando County Animal Services is changing its procedures

BROOKSVILLE — The Velez family of Spring Hill, whose beloved cat Buddy was mistakenly euthanized this month, wants to know that Animal Services is changing its procedures.

In a letter to Hernando County Animal Services this week, the Velezes ask for assurance that policies will be in place so that no other pet owner will suffer as they did when they tried to retrieve the cat July 17 only to find the orange tabby had been put down the previous day.

Animal Services manager Liana Teague said a paperwork mix-up led to the mistake. Teague said Thursday that she will tell the family changes are coming.

Buddy's tale made local and national headlines. Various online comments have criticized Animal Services as well as the Velez family for not having Buddy vaccinated for rabies, which would have prevented him from having to be quarantined.

The Velez family letter details the events that landed the 5-year-old cat at Animal Services for biting a family friend. And it criticizes Animal Services staff for being unprofessional, saying some were rude when Maria Velez called to check on Buddy and dispassionate when they delivered the terrible news that the cat was dead.

"I hope you could imagine my family's shock and horror to hear that our beloved pet was put down," the letter states. "To add insult to injury, the people involved offered no sympathy or comfort to my 11-year-old son who was basically bawling in disbelief and grief."

The family apologizes in case the letter is perceived as rude, "but my family hurts over the treatment they received prior, during and after the tragic loss of our pet. Please investigate and initiate policy to protect against this mistake ever happening again."

Teague said her staff has brain-stormed several ideas to improve the safeguards in the system. The primary change will be a checklist for workers to complete before an animal is put down, including cross-referencing documents in an animal's record.

Eventually the checklist will be built into the office's computer system, but for now the checking will be done manually.

Another change is in response to the Velezes' complaint that no one told them they could visit Buddy during the time he was in quarantine. Specific mention of allowing visitors now will be put into the quarantine agreement.

To be sure all the needed information is coordinated, Teague discussed making sure all details on quarantined animals go through just one staff member.

Teague talked to her staff about the need for good customer service, although she said she has been assured that an employee spent more than a half-hour consoling the family after the news of Buddy's death was delivered.

"I don't know what you say. There's nothing you can say to make it better," Teague said. "You can't bring the cat back. You can't console the family. You can't help the staff."

Barbara Behrendt can be reached at behrendt@sptimes.com or (352) 848-1434.

Distraught pet owners want to know that Hernando County Animal Services is changing its procedures 07/30/09 [Last modified: Thursday, July 30, 2009 7:29pm]
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