An Ashe County animal control officer has been fired after not responding to a call that would have “justified emergency response from animal control,” and then later lying about the incident to county officials. While it may appear that Ashe officials have taken care of the problem by firing one ACO, it could be argued that the incident sheds light on a generally regressive attitude toward animals and their humane treatment by Ashe County employees.
The incident occurred on Sept. 27, when Animal Control Director Joe Testerman and his two AC officers were trying to capture a dog in response to calls from neighborhood residents. Testerman said the dog behaved aggressively toward the officers, so even though he had a catchpole, he decided to “capture the dog by shooting it,” according to a report he made later to County Manager Pat Mitchell. The dog was shot but escaped alive, and according to Testerman it “was later found dead on Beaver Drive not far from where it was shot.” Testerman’s only concern about the incident appears to have been that the dog “was shot by a rifle at close range were a side arm would have been a better choice.”
It turns out that the dog was “found” in the basement of a Beaver Drive residence, and “later” was the next morning. The dog had shown up there sometime before 7 pm the night before, alive and bleeding from his gunshot wound. The resident had called the sheriff’s communications center, and a dispatcher called ACO Jim Walters. Following is a transcript from the recorded call:
Dispatcher: Did you go out and shoot a dog this morning?
Walters: Uh, Dana shot it and we lost it.
Dispatcher: Well the lady says it’s back in her yard again. She didn’t know what to do with it.
Walters: Well …
Dispatcher: It’s, it’s not dead.
Walters: Okay, it’s not bothering anything, is it?
Dispatcher: Ah, uh, she didn’t say it was.
Walters: All right. Well, it probably wouldn’t be considered as an emergency. We’ll just try to get up there in the morning and pop it again.
Walters: I don’t want to shoot it with all these people home, you know.
Dispatcher: Yeah, yeah.
Walters: And, but I’ll call … I’m gonna be off tomorrow, but I’ll call Dana and tell him to go up there in the morning first thing and see if it’s there and pop him again and get it.
Setting aside Walters’ lack of concern about the animal’s suffering (he’s been fired, after all), what about the response by the dispatcher? A wounded dog is bleeding and, we can assume, suffering in someone’s basement and the dispatcher’s only response when an AC officer proposed leaving the dog there overnight was “Okay.”
Even if you don’t consider the animal’s suffering, what about the resident who has called the sheriff’s dispatcher about this wounded dog in her basement? Regardless of how deeply she may or may not have been affected by the suffering, she most likely called dispatch because she did not want a wounded and bleeding dog in her basement.
And in fact, shortly after the resident called, a neighbor called dispatch about the dog, stressing the fact to the dispatcher that the dog was bleeding and appeared to have been shot:
Dispatch: I talked to the animal control officer and he said that if it, hang on, he said that if the animal wasn’t causing any problems that they would just come out tomorrow and they would take care of it.
Caller: [unintelligible] is they’ve got it shut up in their basement and they said it looked like it might have been shot cause it’s bleeding.
Dispatcher: It’s what, I’m sorry, what did you say?
Caller: My neighbor called, it was another neighbor come down, because they knew that I knew one of the animal control officers and been in contact with him, and they said they’ve got it shut up in their basement as I said, but they said it’s kind of bleeding, looked like it might have been shot.
Dispatch: Yeah, it has been shot. They shot it, but they couldn’t find it.
Caller: Oh, OK.
Dispatcher: But they said they’d come put tomorrow and take care of it.
Caller: Oh, OK, thank you.
At some point, wouldn’t someone with a humane, compassionate outlook think: it’s not fair to anyone involved–the dog or the people–to leave this situation until tomorrow?
This incident may have never been heard about again, but the residents involved were so unhappy about the way the situation was handled that they complained about it to other people, and at some point the complaint reached Pat Mitchell, who investigated.
Despite the investigation, there’s still one question left unasked and unanswered: how did the dog die? Joe Testerman said in his report that the only injury they saw was the single gunshot wound, so presumably the dog bled to death in that basement.
UPDATE: There is actually another wrinkle to this story that I had forgotten. There was a reference to this incident in emails I received following a different public records request. A sheriff’s department employee told Pat Mitchell that she heard of the incident from her grandson, who told her about an AC officer “shooting a dog in front of a group of kids and then the dog getting in his friend’s basement and the father having to kill it.” (Which partially answers the question of how the dog died.) The sheriff’s employee said “Frankly, I disregarded this as I was sure no animal control officer would do that with 5 kids there.”
The emails, reports and audio files linked to in this post were obtained via a public records request.