Although the community was shocked by allegations of animal cruelty at the New River Humane Society Monday, Commission President Matt Wender stressed that a new board of directors and great volunteers have already made significant changes at the shelter.
Former Director Lynn Carr, 55, of Oak Hill, was arrested Monday and charged with obtaining money under false pretenses, three felony charges of falsifying evidence and three misdemeanor counts of cruelty to animals.
The arrest was the culmination of a year-long investigation.
Fayette County Sheriff Steve Kessler describes the conditions under Carr: "According to the investigation into the general operation of this Animal Control Center, there was very little that was 'humane' about the operation of this shelter. Animals have been routinely kept in pet taxis or small cages for extended periods of time. Kennels originally designed to house a single dog were divided and used to house multiple dogs. Large animals were kept in spaces so small they did not have room to walk, turn around or even lie down to rest. Food was scattered on the floors of cages among dog feces and animals were forced to drink from a common bucket of water that kennel attendants brought each day — there were no individual water bowls in many of these cages. Sick or injured animals were reportedly placed in cages in a back room of the shelter, out of the view of the general public, and left there to die."
Carr resigned in February, but the hours she recorded working at the shelter were already being monitored.
"Although I knew she was being monitored, I had not idea there was inhuman treatment of animals," confirmed Wender. The animal abuse issues that occurred are what bothers me the worse. We hope that never happens again."
This this isn't the fist time the community has been shocked by mistreatment of animals. In March 2014 the county animal control officer shot a dog four times and decapitated it to send its head to Charleston for rabies testing.
The dog had bitten a child and the owners requested the dog be euthanized and had paid for the animal to be put down at a vet's office.
Wender said that was a defining moment for Fayette County and likely led to the investigation and arrest of Carr.
Although Carr was not involved in the decision to shoot the animal, "for the first time a large number of people began inserting themselves into the animal shelter, volunteering, questioning the board's decision and its make-up," explained Wender.
People began questioning why Carr's mother and brother were officers on the shelter's board of directions.
Since that time there is a new, larger board of directors, the bylaws were rewritten, employees have attended seminars on how to run volunteer organization, board term limits were set, the the shelter is run more like a business and more transparently, he said.
Wender, too, became more involved in the shelter, stopping by unannounced over the last year. He said he never saw animals abused. Volunteers and employees had already cleaned cages or were in the process of cleaning them.
Often when he stopped by, volunteers were walking dogs, he said.
"I believe that those now left in charge of the shelter do a good job. Those on the board now are without blame. They are there on a nearly daily basis and understand what goes on day to day," he said.
Kessler also stressed that the investigation does not condemn all those involved with the shelter.
"There are a lot of good folks who genuinely care about animals who donate time, money and resources to aid and assist in the operation of this shelter," he said.
The current New River Humane Society Board of Directors issued a statement Tuesday, explaining the current board was not aware of any animal abuse.
According to the statement, the board of directors is "instituting procedures that will keep this from ever happening again, and we envision this is a new day for the shelter as we work towards it being more fully a place of safety and care for animals most in need. We are in the process of hiring a director for the shelter who is committed to the greatest standards for animal care and integrity in management."
The current board of directors are Felicia McKinney, Betty Craft, Beth Powers, Kiley Price, Mary Moses, Clare Sulgit and Casey Gioeli.
The shelter now faces, not only the scrutiny of the public, but deep cuts to its operational budget.
This fiscal year, the shelter had an operating budget of $232,800 from the county's coal severance fund in addition to dog tax and adoption revenues, which go toward utilities.
The proposed budget for next year could cut the shelter back to $120,000.
The cuts are not related to the investigation, but are the result of the drastic decline in coal severance.
In the past several years, the shelter has had utility bills that far exceed its dog tax and adoption fees. Their additional overages have been paid by the county commission. Right now there are three Ferrellgas bills that total $4,000. The commission, already strapped, will likely absorb these costs.
Wender said if the proposed cut is approved by the commission, day report workers will be used to clean cages and help with daily work at the shelter to cut down on costs.
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