With the gates to the shelter shut and a sign reading “closed to the public,” Whitney Knowlton, CEO of of Last Chance Animal Rescue, spoke to the crowd about the shocking discovery made Friday by shelter volunteers. No representatives from the Chesterfield County Sheriff's Department or the animal control division were present for the event.
On Friday morning, Deborah Farhi, a rescue worker and shelter volunteer, visited the facility and became concerned after she noticed that several dogs were missing. She asked an inmate working at the facility what had happened to the dogs, and according to Farhi, was told that approximately 22 of the sheltered animals had been walked across the street, shot and buried in the landfill.
According to Farhi, after hearing this, she and two other volunteers grabbed shovels and went to the landfill to dig for remains, in search of the truth. After digging the volunteers found the remains of two dogs and took pictures, later uploaded to the internet, as evidence of what they found. One of the photos showed a dog half buried with what appeared to be blood around it's ear. Another showed a bullet casing found on the ground by the grave site.
At the news conference, Knowlton she said her group had been in contact with outside authorities, including the Solicitor's office, because they felt it would be a conflict of interest for Sheriff Sam Parker to investigate his own department.
“We need to find out who did this and stop it from happening again,” Knowlton said. “We have requested the investigation of the Chesterfield County Sheriff's Department by SLED and the State Attorney General.”
According to Knowlton, she is concerned that animal control officers have been shooting instead of using lethal injection for euthanasia since the gas chamber was removed in September 2010. Knowlton alleges that only two vials of phenobarbital, a drug used in the euthanasia process, has been purchased by the shelter since September. She stated that two vials could euthanize approximately 14 animals, depending on their size, and that shelter records show more than 80 have been killed during this time.
South Carolina Title 47 is the state law pertaining to the operation of animal shelters. It outlines allowable methods of euthanasia to kill animals in shelters. According to the law, acceptable methods of euthanasia include lethal injection, carbon monoxide gas and shooting in an emergency situation. Shooting is only to be used to prevent extreme suffering of the animal or for the safety of people. The law also provides that individuals found in violation could face misdemeanor charges and upon conviction, be subject to penalties for each animal killed.
Knowlton asked the audience to spread the news about the happenings at the shelter and urged them to contact government officials and state representatives about the need for reform in animal shelter and animal control laws throughout the state.
When a member of the audience told Knowlton that county councilman Douglas Curtis was present, the camera's turned to the conversation. Knowlton asked Councilman Curtis if he would support the shelter as a county representative. Curtis said that though he couldn't speak for the council, he would support the shelter however he could. He also expressed his concern regarding the situation at the shelter and its impact on the community.
After Knowlton's media address, many members of the community spoke out about situation. Issues relating to the care of the animals, volunteerism and the communities own responsibility to spay and neuter their pets were discussed. One woman spoke about the negative comments online that were aimed at the community as a whole, others raised concerns about the volunteer groups in the shelter being impacted by the negative news.
The concern for shelter volunteers was also expressed to the Chronicle by Glen Gulledge of Chesterfield, prior to the news conference. Gulledge began volunteering with Paws and Claws a few months ago.
“It is important that people know the difference between animal control and Paws and Claws,” Gulledge said. “They didn't have anything to do with this and I hope that people understand that.”
Paws and Claws of Chesterfield County is the non-profit organization who volunteers daily at the shelter to feed, clean and care for the animals. They also open the shelter to the public on weekends for adoptions, do fund raising for the shelter and assist animal rescue wanting to pull animals from the shelter.
During the news conference, Paws and Claws volunteers had allowed individuals interested in adopting to enter the facility. However, towards the end of the news conference, a call from Sheriff Sam Parker re-opened the shelter gates for members of media and the public to come in.
Dorothy Hagerman came to the news conference with her teenage children and left with some newly adopted dogs. She stated that she had adopted from the shelter in the past and heard rumors of abuse, but was shocked by the images and news coverage. “I can't believe that someone did that to those poor animals,” Hagerman said. “They can't get away with this, it isn't right.”