NewsChannel 3 Investigation: The critical violations at some local animal shelters

Posted at 8:00 AM, Nov 07, 2015
and last updated 2015-11-10 11:59:18-05

Norfolk, Va. - A poor inspection at the animal shelter in Accomack County led to an insinuation by the county administrator that the state veterinarian had been unduly influenced by activists, according to documents obtained by NewsChannel 3.

An animal-shelter inspector in June flagged several significant problems that required a written response from the county. County Administrator Steven Miner wrote to the state veterinarian: “I am concerned that your office could well have been used as a tool to affect political leverage over our operation,” Miner added that he didn’t object to the inspector’s findings “per se,” but added that the timing of the inspection was suspicious. The poor report came during scrutiny by animal activists, Miner wrote.

“Overall, I believe that your agency, whether by design or not, was made party to an effort to affect county operations,” he wrote. “Our shelter, our Sheriff and my Board are now squarely in the middle of an orchestrated effort to publicly embarrass and shame them.”

The letter was included in documents provided to NewsChannel 3 under the Freedom of Information Act. We asked for every animal-shelter report in our area this year where inspectors found significant problems, and we asked for the shelters’ responses to those reports.

A spokeswoman for the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services said an inspection was already planned for Accomack County when someone sent a complaint about the shelter. None of the paperwork details the complaint, but the letter from the county administrator reveals the fallout.

“[A]nimal activists were emailing elected Board members and making really awful comments about our County and our Sheriff, and TV cameras and news reporters began making inquiries,” he wrote.

The June report cited the shelter in Accomack County, which also serves Northampton County, for several deficiencies. The inspector noted the building was too hot, there was inadequate ventilation, and there was a heavy fly infestation. The inspector also documented how eight kittens died because of inadequate veterinary care, and that animals were not sedated prior to euthanasia. That report was one of 10 provided by the state showing significant problems at local public and private animal shelter across Hampton Roads. Most problems classified as “serious” were paperwork errors, like poor record-keeping, or missing documents. But many shelters also had conditions inspectors considered dirty, dangerous or deadly.

At his office last week, Miner backed away from his July the letter. He said the letter represented his “suspicions at the time,” but said a conversation with state officials later eased his worries. And, he said, activists have a right to complain. Accomack County Sheriff Todd Godwin wrote to the inspector that the problems had been fixed.

At Forever Homes Sanctuary in Virginia Beach, near Town Center, an inspector noted in February a dog named Delbert died because of inadequate emergency care. A spokeswoman for the shelter admitted to NewsChannel 3 a staff member kicked the dog so hard it later died. The inspector wrote that several animal enclosures were unsafe, and the facility was not adequately ventilated “as evidenced by significant odor and humidity.” The inspector also noted the shelter had no posted hours for the public, which is required. When NewsChannel 3 visited, there was a sign stapled to the door with shelter hours, but no one answered the door or the phone.

Ellen Lokey, a spokeswoman for the shelter, later called and said the facility isn’t typically open to the public except by appointment.

The inspector’s follow-up report in August shows that Forever-Homes workers fixed all the problems, and the inspector wrote that there were “no significant findings” during her visit.

In Sussex County, an animal inspector wrote that she found “13 dogs housed in the dilapidated facility were wet, soiled, and not protected from injury. The facility was not sanitary, not properly lighted and not suitable.”

In an interview with NewsChannel 3, the man in charge of the shelter agreed.

“The report is correct,” said Sussex County Public Safety Coordinator Eddie Vick. “We shouldn’t have had any animals in there.”

Vick said dogs are usually kept in a newer shelter next door, but sometimes animals are moved to the old and unsanitary building.

“That old shelter is not up to standard,” he said.

Vick said he took over shelter operations in July, after the report, and immediately shut the old facility. When NewsChannel 3 visited, we saw a sign on the front door prohibiting county workers from keeping any animals in the building. Vick said he wants to demolish the old structure and use the space as an exercise area for shelter dogs. He says he already has money budgeted to start that process.

Check out the documents below for a more in-depth view at our investigation.

Sussex County Animal Shelter Inspection Report

Inspection Response 7-17

Inspection Report

Forever Home Rescue and Rehab Inspection

County Response Letter

Accomack County Animal Shelter Inspection