Wednesday, April 14, 2004

Warren shelter investigation ends

Attorney: Center wasn't equipped to house all animals

By Erica Solvig
The Cincinnati Enquirer

A 14 week-old Golden Retriever works her magic on Kelcey Tullis, 5, of Xenia, Ohio, at the Warren County animal shelter in Lebanon. The shelter has been criticized for its treatment of cats.
The Cincinnati Enquirer/GLENN HARTONG
LEBANON - A yearlong investigation into allegations that cats were prematurely euthanized at the Warren County Humane Association failed to draw any conclusion about the validity of the claims.

Instead, shelter attorney James V. Heath announced Tuesday that the investigation had found that the shelter was far under-equipped to handle to volume of cats turned in.

His investigation drew sharp criticism from those attending the association's annual meeting Tuesday night. The association's board of directors was discussing the matter late Tuesday.

"They got the monthly shelter activity report," Heath said of the former board members, who had raised concerns. "Those numbers would have shown the board that they had a cat problem. There just weren't enough cages to house the cats."

Using statistics provided by the shelter and assuming all cats were healthy, Heath calculated that the animal shelter off Ohio 48 would have been more than 2,500 adoption cages short in housing all the cats that were turned in last year.

Heath interviewed former board members, used a private investigator and analyzed shelter statistics.

Former board member Debbie Hockenbery said she was "extremely disappointed" that the investigation did not answer why empty cages were not used.

The shelter has been under investigation since last May, when four of the association's board members, including the then-president, quit over concerns that high numbers of healthy cats and kittens were being killed prematurely. There was also an allegation that several cats were still living after lethal injections, but were placed in bags and put in a freezer.

Mari Lee Schwarzwalder, the association's executive director, has maintained that the shelter has done nothing improper.

Officials hope that their newly expanded shelter, where Tuesday's meeting was held, will allow them to keep animals longer. The shelter killed about 74 percent of the 6,208 cats and dogs turned over to the shelter in 2002, higher than the national average of 64 percent.


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