Berkeley County animal shelter accused of refusing to care for animals

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. – Calling the allegations in the case “utterly ridiculous,” the Berkeley County Sheriff said there had been progress to improve conditions at a county animal shelter that made the ‘under close scrutiny after an animal protection group filed a lawsuit centered on the treatment of cats and dogs there.

The Bethesda-based Animal Care Group Alley Cat Allies Inc., alleges in a West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeal cases where various animals at Berkeley County Animal Control at 700 S. Queen St. have gone for days without necessary medical treatment. And the group alleges that the actions are a model in the establishment.

The nonprofit filed a mandamus lawsuit against Berkeley County Animal Control on November 24. The petition seeks to compel the animal control group to comply with state law which states that it is a crime to deny necessary medical care to an animal, according to the filing.

The depot by Alley Cat Allies details a dog at Berkeley Animal Control with a bulging, enlarged eye; a cat with a “grossly thickened” tongue and fever; one dog bleeding from a ruptured hernia and another dog with a broken leg.

Berkeley County Sheriff Nathan Harmon said he has been closely involved in overseeing operations at the shelter and improvements have been made to the facility’s processes and conditions. Berkeley County Animal Control is a division of the Sheriff’s Office.

Harmon said this week that the allegations in the Alley Cat Allies case about the periods in which animals have been left without care are “vastly embellished” and “utterly ridiculous”. Harmon, who said he and county officials had looked at every animal situation highlighted by the group, said he was beginning to suspect the organization’s actions were part of an effort to increase donations. .

“I’m beside myself in that these people haven’t contacted me” about their complaints, Harmon said.

In an emailed response to Harmon’s comment on Friday, the president and founder of Alley Cat Allies remained steadfast in her group’s allegations.

“Our investigation uncovered undeniable evidence of animal cruelty inside the Berkeley County Animal Control Shelter, which is why we are seeking a mandamus order from the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeal. Berkeley County Animal Control’s failure to follow the law results in extreme animal suffering and abuse. This is a case where the animal rescuer becomes the aggressor, ”Alley Cat Allies president Becky Robinson said in the statement.

What is Alley Cat Allies?

Alley Cat Allies strives to improve the lives of cats through innovative programs, according to its website. Among its efforts is the establishment of low-cost sterilization and sterilization programs in communities.

The group said in its filing that it owned land in Berkeley and Jefferson counties and was a West Virginia taxpayer. The group recently purchased 17 acres in eastern Berkeley County so they could continue their work, Robinson said in an online video interview earlier this week.

The dog with the bulging eye was a miniature pinscher. He had glaucoma, eye inflammation and a corneal ulcer, according to the petition. He remained at the shelter for eight days without necessary treatment before being adopted on September 2, the petition says.

The dog was taken to Veterinary Reference Associates in Bethesda, Maryland. Veterinary service records are included in the petition. The documents indicated that the dog, who appeared to be in pain, had a “superficial corneal defect” and an injury that could have occurred during an attack by another dog.

The dog’s eyes reddened and the animal was put on various medications. A diagnosis of the animal showed “non-visual” complications in both eyes, “severe eye disorder” in the right eye, bronchitis and possible tracheal collapse, according to the veterinary report.

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The cat with the enlarged tongue had pharyngeal swelling, fever and diarrhea, according to the petition. The animal was unable to drink, vomited and was at the shelter for 10 days without necessary medical treatment, according to the petition.

The cat, who was also skinny and had fleas, was taken to CARE Veterinary Center in Frederick, Maryland. There, the animal is said to have a fever of 104.2 degrees and a “slightly thickened tongue”. Due to the cat’s condition, staff recommended that it be euthanized, which was accepted by the parties concerned.

The petition said the dog with the hernia was bleeding so profusely in the county shed that it had to be removed from the holding areas several times a day so they could be cleaned. The dog was there for about 15 days without treatment, the petition says.

The dog with a broken leg was there for several days without treatment, and some cats at the shelter had their eyes closed covered in a sticky pus-like discharge, according to the petition.

Harmon said he was not sure if the animal’s conditions existed before they arrived at the shelter.

Robinson said his organization examined the conditions of the refuge as part of a secret investigation. Robinson said she believed the dog with the hernia had been euthanized. The dog with the broken leg was turned over to a rescue group and four cats with eye problems were turned over to Alley Cat Allies so they could be taken to emergency vets, Robinson said.

What is the trial about?

The petition states that Berkeley County Animal Control is the county government agency responsible for preventing the perpetuation of animal cruelty. It is a crime to deny medical treatment to animals in need of care, he said.

“These laws apply just as much to Berkeley County Animal Control as they do to any member of the general public whose violations are investigated by Berkeley County Animal Control, especially since it is the public office created to enforce them “, indicates the petition.

Alley Cat Allies has said in a court case against Berkeley County Animal Control that the center routinely withholds necessary medical treatment for animals.  This is a miniature pinscher with a bulging eye that has been preserved there.

He indicates that the refuge systematically withholds the medical treatment necessary for the animals “and, in doing so, each time commits a separate act of cruelty to the animals”.

Robinson stressed on Wednesday that she believed the shelter’s treatment of animals was a model.

“It’s a culture allowed in this agency,” she said.

Alley Cat Allies said his petition was the best cure for shelter issues.

Alley Cat Allies is seeking oral arguments in the case as it “involves issues of fundamental public importance”. He also asks the court to be awarded costs for legal fees.

A response to Berkeley County Animal Control’s petition must be filed with the Supreme Court by Dec.31, court spokeswoman Jennifer Bundy said on Wednesday. Then the court will decide how it wishes to proceed, such as whether to allow pleadings, she said.

What do departmental officials say?

Berkeley County Animal Control referred questions about the case to the Berkeley County Sheriff’s Department.

Sheriff Harmon said past issues at the shelter, including some he had expressed concerns about, involved adequate cooling during the hot months. He said the county had installed air conditioning units there to improve the situation.

Harmon said there are procedures in the way animals are treated at the shelter and that he sees no issues with animal care.

“It’s definitely adequate across the board,” said Harmon, adding that the staff there “were certainly not vets.”

Harmon said he was familiar with the swollen tongue cat and said some of the issues identified by Alley Cat Allies have been looked into.

Staff at the shelter perform a number of tasks, Harmon said, including taking care of stray animals and those that are at large. They also enforce county laws, such as nuisance complaints, including barking dogs, he said.

Staff can assess animals for medical treatment to determine if they may need to go to an emergency center, Harmon said. The sheriff said he had changed procedures to allow staff to have more flexibility to deal with such situations quickly.

Veterinarians also come to the shelter regularly to help with procedures, including euthanizing the animals, Harmon said.

Harmon said shelter staff are not medically certified, but are trained in “a more on-the-ground perspective,” such as being able to tell if an animal’s injuries may result from cruelty.

Attorney Anthony Delligatti, who represents Berkeley County Council, declined to comment on the case.

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