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Group wants sheriff to investigate animal shelter

Montgomery County says changes already have addressed more than a dozen urgent issues in report.

Details revealed in an independent review of the Montgomery County Animal Resource Center have prompted an animal welfare group to ask the sheriff’s office to investigate whether animals at the shelter were subjected to criminal neglect or cruelty.

An expansive Team Shelter USA report critical of the ARC — precipitating the shelter director’s firing last month — provides grounds for a criminal investigation, according to the Coalition for Animal Justice and its attorney.

RELATED: County animal center report: ‘Avalanche of negative consequences’

“I think that shelter report provides probable cause to believe that those companion animals at the Animal Resource Center were victims of at least neglect if not outright cruelty,” said Paul Leonard, the group’s attorney who sent the letter.

The Montgomery County Sheriff’s Office is reviewing Leonard’s Dec. 27 letter but has not opened a formal investigation, a sheriff’s spokeswoman said Thursday.

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The Team Shelter USA report listed dozens of issues at the ARC requiring “immediate attention.” The independent assessment outlined 30 “emergency action items.”

According to the report, kennels went without cleaning so long that dogs were forced to lie surrounded by their own feces, cats were kept in too-small cages and were withheld food to “limit the amount of feces,” and employees improperly stored vaccines and reused syringes.

RELATED: Animal shelter report: Food withheld from cats to ‘limit the amount of feces’

The report also suggests animals were euthanized due to inaccurate record keeping and for reasons other than failing health.

ARC’s “website states and staff reports that euthanasia is not done for space, which is not an accurate statement,” the report read. Also in the report: “All information captured about an animal must be true, correct and up to date in real time to prevent any fatal or legal errors. Animals are euthanized for space and many for illness and behavior issues as a result of their shelter stay. Saying otherwise has created an understandable culture of mistrust with the community that will take time and life-saving proof to rectify.”

Even before Team Shelter USA issued its final report, the county acted on the first action step: a suggestion to replace shelter leadership.

Immediately following the group’s site visit in late November, Montgomery County Administrator Michael Colbert named Bob Gruhl interim director of the ARC and a couple weeks later county commissioners severed former Director Mark Kumpf’s employment.

“We are diligently working to implement all 30 action items provided to us by Team Shelter USA, as well as review and evaluate all the additional recommendations throughout the report and create a plan to address them,” said Gruhl, the interim ARC director. “We plan to share regular information with the community and will provide another progress update next week.”

As of Dec. 22, the county had fully completed 12 other emergency items, including fast-tracking new staff positions, fixing a freezer, discontinuing behavior temperament testing of animals, allowing owners to look for lost pets without presenting a driver’s license and offering fee-waived adoptions.

Three other items have been partially completed while others are projected to be completed this year, Colbert said.

“We feel that 2019 is going to be a transformative year for our animal resource center,” Colbert said earlier.

Leonard, a former Dayton mayor and former Ohio lieutenant governor, is also representing a Kettering couple in a lawsuit against the county claiming their dog was wrongly euthanized at the shelter in 2016. He has also requested a criminal investigation into the recent disappearance of the dog’s body, which was ordered by a judge to be preserved at the shelter as evidence in a separate criminal case against the couple, Josh and Lindsey Glowney.

MORE: Frozen dog kept as evidence now missing from embattled animal shelter

The county declined comment on the letter Thursday, citing the pending Glowney case.

Last month, the director of an animal shelter in Newport, Tenn., was criminally charged with cruelty to animals in a case involving a malnourished dog, according to news reports. The director, Terry Starnes, was arrested and fired the next day by the Friends Animal Shelter board, according to the Knoxville News Sentinel.

In Ohio, a 2016 law made animal cruelty a fifth-degree felony with the possibility of a fine up to $2,500 and a prison sentence up to a year.

Locally, animal welfare advocates critical of the ARC have found common cause on Facebook while some formed the Coalition for Animal Justice last summer to push for change at the ARC, a facility they say has been responsible for putting too many animals to death without enough effort to return them to their owners or find them new homes.

A 90-percent or higher live release rate is in line with modern shelter standards, according to Team Shelter USA. The ARC combined rate in 2017 averaged 52.8 percent and improved some in 2018, reaching 62.7 percent through October.

“If the average citizen would have treated their animal — their companion animal — the way those animals were treated at the animal resource center, animal control would have cited them. They would be in court, they would be defending themselves against potential criminal charges,” Leonard said. “Government should not be an exception.”

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