Horrific abuse in taxpayer-funded animal shelters a widespread problem

"You know, you can sweep stuff underneath the rug all you want, but one day that rug's not going to cover it all. Period."

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RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — 8News is taking a look at who is policing Virginia’s animal shelters. We have uncovered abuse in some community pounds and learned there is a double standard when it comes to holding some abusers accountable.

Animal control officers are the people responsible for taking care of the animals in their shelters, but our two-month investigation revealed that some of them are neglecting cats and dogs and getting away with it.

8News obtained heartbreaking video of an emaciated dog inside the Russell County Animal Shelter. The dog is unable to stand and lying in its own filth. A state inspector shot the video last October. According to the inspector’s records, the dog was deprived veterinary care as well as adequate food and water.

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The inspector found a second dog, described as very thin with a wound on its rear left limb so severe it couldn’t bear weight on it. It was also deprived veterinary care. Both animals ultimately had to be euthanized.

“I have never, ever seen as cold-hearted and cruel as that animal’s condition was. It’s uncalled for,” says former shelter worker Becki Wilson, who was on medical leave when the state came in and found the dogs.

Wilson says she is the one who tipped off the inspector about the abuse.

ae65622c70f843d0aa70562bb6c9ef30“I’m crying out not only for me, but for all the animals,” Wilson said. “You know, you can sweep stuff underneath the rug all you want, but one day that rug’s not going to cover it all. Period.”

Wilson lost her job and alleged in a lawsuit that she was terminated in retaliation for reporting conditions to the office of animal care.

The state shelter inspector’s report shows that an animal control officer admitted no veterinary care had been provided to either dog. He is still working at the shelter.

We’ve learned of problems at the shelter in Greensville County, too.

Volunteers tell us that a Siamese cat named Chloe was euthanized even though Angel Mullikin had arranged to adopt it.

“I spoke to a lady and she told me the cat was there,” Mullikin said. “It was available for adoption. I was a good fit. She asked me a few questions. I told her where I lived and how far I would be driving. So we arranged for 8 a.m. the next morning for me to pick her up.”

But when Mullikin woke up the next morning, she saw Chloe’s picture on Facebook in a photo album of shelter animals that had been put to sleep the night before. Mullikin called the shelter immediately.

d43008009d0b42e39a66af8f2066c8f6“I called down and talked to someone and they said yes, even with a respectable adopter that the Animal Control Officer euthanized all the animals the night before.”

Greensville County Program Director Reggie Owens oversees the shelter. He maintains the cat was euthanized because of a “miscommunication” between the animal control officer in the shelter and the field animal control officer who “didn’t understand the commitment to the adoption.” He added that since that incident, the county shelter has been working with rescue groups to avoid euthanasia.

There were allegations of abuse in Nottoway County, too, where just a couple of months ago police arrested animal control officer Raymond Merkh on felony charges of abusing animals.

According to police warrants, Merkh neglected to give emergency care to a sick kitten and a seriously injured Jack Russell terrier. The kitten had to be put down.

Merkh has pleaded not guilty and is set to go to trial in January.

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So, how is abuse allowed in our shelters? Who is responsible for stopping it?  Tuesday at 11, we talk with the state vet about his agency’s role in inspecting shelters and why more times than not, abusive animal control officers never face criminal charges.

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