Saturday, April 21, 2018
News Roundup

Threats made after Hernando County Animal Services euthanizes a dog hours after it arrived

BROOKSVILLE — Public outrage over the euthanizing of a dog named Zeus at Hernando County Animal Services grew on Friday, with one man even threatening to bomb the office and kill employees.

Brooksville police Chief George Turner reported that officers were sent to the Animal Services office on the south side of the city Friday morning. Employees reported receiving threatening phone calls in retaliation for putting to sleep the young black-and-white mixed breed almost immediately after it had been turned over to the shelter last week.

Even the county's public safety director, Mike Nickerson, found threats on his phone Friday.

Turner released a recording of the profane threats in hopes of catching the man who made them.

The man calls Animal Services workers "callous and cruel'' in the recording.

"Everyone that works there I'm going to murder in retribution for this dog,'' he said. "There's going to be a bomb here. I'm going to kill everybody. You got the message?''

Nickerson and Jerry Haines of the county's human resources office will begin a formal investigation Monday into what happened to Zeus. In the meantime, residents — many of whom have had issues with the Animal Services office in the past — inundated county officials with calls and emails demanding action.

County Commissioner Jeff Stabins, who is known as a dog lover and whose dog Rusty even had a blog for a while, expressed anger and frustration that the same kinds of problems keep happening at the shelter.

Stabins this week approached interim county administrator Ron Pianta, asking for the county to consider a 72-hour waiting period that would prevent the Zeus incident from occurring in the future.

"There should be a minimum number of days during which time no healthy animal can be put down,'' Stabins said. "It's unconscionable to kill a healthy animal within an hour of its arrival … within the same day. That's a criminal act.''

The county's agreement with its partner at the shelther, PetLuv Spay and Neuter Clinic, requires a seven-day wait before euthanizing an animal. But there is an exception if the shelter is full, and Liana Teague, manager of Animal Services, said the shelter was full at the time Zeus arrived.

That was not how Animal Services volunteer Laurie Boynton saw things when she met Zeus and relatives of the dog's owner on the afternoon of April 13. She reported that there were 10 open pens and that no dogs needed to be euthanized that day.

Boynton raised a ruckus over the situation because she took a picture of the dog, and later that day posted it online because she thought the dog, described by those turning him in as a "love bug,'' was highly adoptable. In fact, someone contacted shelter volunteers the next day wanting to adopt Zeus.

But Zeus had been killed shortly after he was led away by kennel workers. They said he was fearful. Boynton said he was terrified because he had been dragged across the room by a kennel worker.

Boynton said Friday that she was appalled that anyone would threaten violence against the workers at Animal Services. But she and the other four volunteers who work there are planning to bring a list of complaints about the office to county commissioners at their meeting at 9 a.m. Tuesday.

Commission Chairman Wayne Dukes said he was concerned about what he was hearing from constituents concerning the actions at Animal Services in the case of Zeus, as well as other animals.

Commissioners John Druzbick and Dave Russell said they wanted to hear the facts from the investigation before deciding what to do.

With space at the shelter a premium, Druzbick said, "it's a tough call. It really is. Until I find out more information, I really don't know.''

Said Russell: "I'm not going to condemn anyone. Nobody should be condemned on our staff until the facts are available. It's a tough job over there. Nobody relishes taking an animal's life.''

Joanne Schoch, executive director of the Humane Society of the Nature Coast, said Friday she had not yet met with Animal Services officials. She said she was unaware of the details surrounding Zeus, but was interested in seeing what can be done to prevent a similar situation.

Schoch said people may not be aware that the agency has limited space and that the shelter must keep a minimum number of kennels open for emergencies.

"It's a sad reality, but no shelter has room for every animal that's brought in," Schoch said. "Pet owners need to know that there's a responsibility that comes with owning an animal, and you just can't leave your pet's life to chance."

Schoch said she would like to hold a public forum in the near future with Animal Services officials and representatives of local animal shelters and rescue operations, to be hosted by a third-party moderator. Members of the public would be invited to ask questions of the group.

Staff Writer Logan Neill contributed to this report. Barbara Behrendt can be reached at [email protected] or (352) 848-1434.

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