Ingham animal shelter moves on after scandal
A scathing report about lax oversight and "deep organizational dysfunction" at the Ingham County Animal Control shelter has resulted in the firing of its director, led to his deputy resigning and law enforcement weighing whether crimes took place.
This month, a police sergeant started temporarily filling in for the former director, who was fired days earlier following an investigation into its controversial treatment of dogs, including two deaths, at the mid-Michigan facility. Meanwhile, officials seek a permanent replacement.
Some animal advocates who have long complained about mismanagement that pushed away supporters in recent years want more action to ensure mistakes aren’t repeated. But with a new building planned and more animals arriving, they also believe changing the top brass is a step in the right direction.
“I’m very positive we are going to make our shelter shine again,” said Connie Kapugia, a former volunteer who lives in Eaton County. “We need proper management.”
The board of commissioners voted late last month to terminate animal control and shelter director John Dinon after county officials released their findings into the care of five dogs held there between June 23, 2017, and April 23. The probe was sparked by an investigation this year the Michigan Humane Society that Dinon requested.
The animals were housed at the shelter for pending court cases related to alleged dog fighting, authorities said. Two, both pit bull mixes, had to be euthanized after critics said one was neglected and the other suffered from a seizure.
One, “Dreamville,” experienced “unnecessary suffering” for more than two weeks after staff failed to take an X-ray that would have uncovered a rope segment in its stomach, the report found. The other, “Jay Jay,” died after internal hemorrhaging and being found comatose, according to the Michigan Humane Society, citing a Michigan State University necropsy.
Three other dogs, “Skully,” “Jonah” and “Bebe,” were emaciated and had whipworm, humane society investigator Deborah MacDonald found.
Those dogs, who also survived, appeared to have been affected by whipworm, MacDonald noted, and regular weighing and monitoring would have alerted staff to their problems sooner.
She also cited many factors contributing to all five dogs' conditions, including lax oversight, incomplete medical records, lack of open communication between departments, inadequate training for staff processing animal fighting cases.
Investigating a shelter is not typical, MacDonald said Friday. "The fact they came to us and asked for an investigation says that they realize there was a problem there. We hope to see change, to see things improve and we’re there to provide assistance if it's needed."
The investigation launched by County Controller Tim Dolehanty found that the facility, which state records show processes nearly 3,000 animals each year, was “especially busy” last summer tending to canines seized as part of dogfighting raids.
Many of the staff “acknowledged deep organizational dysfunction,” while some believed Dinon and hisdeputy director, Anne Burns, who has resigned, were “not responsive to their suggestions and reported issues,” the county report said. The workers also “uniformly believe there is a need for training.”
Dinon did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Burns could not be reached.
Before the county report was released, area activists called on the shelter leaders to resign.
“We knew something wasn't right," said Christy Lawrence, co-founder of Advocates for Reform at the Ingham County Animal Shelter. "Donations were way down, morale was low, volunteers were leaving, (animal control) staff was down."
Animal advocates and community residents shared their concerns with commissioners during another meeting last month, when the panel voted to direct the county controller to suspend Dinon and Burns with pay, pending the probe.
Following the release of the results, the board decided during a special meeting July 31 to terminate Dinon. Burns chose to retire effective July 30, the county reported.
Commissioners also agreed to forward the county and MHS reports, as well as a yet-to-be-finalized one by the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development, to police for review, vice chair pro tem Robin Naeyaert said. Those reports also are slated to go to the Michigan Board of Veterinary Medicine.
Reached last week, Jessy Sielski, a representative for the Agriculture Department, would only confirm its investigation is ongoing.
At least two volunteers who spoke during the public comments portion before the vote July 31 urged cautionabout blaming the leaders for shelter conditions. One said policies should be improved but staff did not ignore animals’ needs.
“The citizens are outraged that this went on,” said Jamie Hillman, founder of the advocacy group Save the Lansing Michigan Pit Bulls. “The citizens want a change.”
County Sheriff's Sgt. Andy Daenzer, who has worked with canine units, leads the shelter for now. Kate Turner, its customer service and community outreach manager, is slated to serve as a deputy when the board appoints another interim director, the county said. A timeline has not yet been set.
As the search launches, county officials are preparing for a new, larger shelter building near the 55th District Court.
“I stopped into the shelter yesterday and adoptions were going crazy," Naeyaert said on Aug 2.
Though some volunteers who left the shelter still had reservations, at least a few have told Hillman they would “absolutely” consider returning if improvements were made, she said.
"Change will come. It might take a little bit," Hillman said. "The community will embrace this change and come out either with fundraising or volunteers and help make this a good thing.”