TAMPA — Three Hillsborough County animal shelter employees are on paid leave while human resources finalizes an investigation into what led to the mistaken euthanasia of a dog that was going to be adopted.
JoJo, a 1-year-old German shepherd, was scheduled to go home with a new family last month when he was killed before that could happen. Animal Services director Ian Hallett has previously said human error likely led to the error, though he said no details could be provided while the investigation is ongoing.
The three employees previously had been relieved of duties relating to euthanasias while still remaining at the shelter. Hallett said the decision was made Thursday to place them on leave.
Their forced leave has touched off a new round of criticisms from animal welfare advocates, who say the three are being made scapegoats. Employees have gotten more work and new protocols for handling animals, which is increasing stress and has many fearing for their jobs, according to some emails to commissioners this week.
"Why now? How did all of these outstanding employees suddenly get so bad?" asked Amy Howland, owner of Dogma Pet Rescue.
"They are overworked and stressed and they are only human, so making mistakes that could cost lives becomes possible."
The three employees are Sue Padgett, an animal care supervisor with 26 years in the department, and senior animal care assistants Debra Parker and Bradley Hansen. Parker has worked for the shelter for a little more than two years, Hansen for a little more than a year. Attempts to reach them Tuesday night were unsuccessful.
Hallett emphasized that the three employees are not being disciplined at this time.
"The administrative leave is simply procedural while the investigation is ongoing, and there have been no disciplinary determinations made," Hallett said. "So it would not be correct to characterize their case as a scapegoat."
Hallett has been on the job for a little more than a year himself, hired from a public shelter in Austin, Texas, to help implement commissioners' goal of sharply reducing the number of dogs and cats killed each year by increasing adoptions.
However, he has been under repeated criticism for problems with managing the spread of disease and poor communication of shelter goals and procedures. Managing a pet population held longer at the shelter to increase adoptions is considered one of the challenges of setting lower euthanasia goals.
Some of the criticism has been fueled by animal advocates unhappy with the change in direction at the shelter.
County Administrator Mike Merrill has said as many as four animals have been mistakenly euthanized at the shelter in the past year or so.
Bill Varian can be reached at email@example.com or (813) 226-3387.