By BOB PALMER,
In a Greek tragedy containing an animal shelter awash in rain water and feces and the discovery of freezers filled with the bodies of dead dogs, Hercules and Zeus would rescue the unfortunate victims.
In Marion County last week, those mythological figures came in the form of two Great Dane mixes rescued from an abusive situation in the Pine Harbor area shortly after Thanksgiving.
The two, appropriately renamed Hercules and Zeus, have now played a key role in rescuing about 80 dogs at what was formerly known as the Dixie Humane Society shelter off SH 49. Brooklynn Bradley-LaFleur, president of the Humane Society of Marion County (the official name of the 501c3 organization) said the group’s board became aware of conditions at the shelter only after seeing social media posts by Gayle Robinson.
Robinson, who came to the shelter volunteering her help, went with then Dixie founder and director Caroline Wedding to pick up the starving dogs at Pine Harbor reported in the Nov. 29 edition of the Jimplecute.
“I followed her back to the shelter and she unlocked the gate and we went in to move these three big dogs,” Robinson said.
“Well, she had to empty pens to get pens ready for these dogs, because she had no pens. There were two and three dogs to a pen. So, I helped her get the biter and all the dogs secure in the pens and I started cleaning and started washing dog bowls and scooping up poop.”
Robinson returned to volunteer in coming days, taking photos revealing stark conditions
of dogs standing in feces, trash in pens and little protection from wind or rain. She reported the situation to the Jefferson Police Department. When JPD officers arrived at the shelter location, Wedding became irate and filed a criminal trespass complaint on Nov. 26 against Robinson. On Dec. 4, Robinson posted her shocking photos to her Facebook page.
Newly minted vice president of the Marion County Humane Society, Missy DeLong, issued a plea late Friday for help to rescue the 80 dogs at the organization’s shelter from the winter storm expected that weekend.
“This is an emergency situation,” DeLong said Friday in a telephone interview. An early winter storm Friday caught the Humane Society in transition as the board removed founder and former director Caroline Wedding from office. Wedding operated the shelter until last week.
Dogs at the Humane Society’s shelter east of Jefferson were seen that day with up to an inch of rain water in pens with excrement on the floors. In several cases tarps over the tops of pens were filled with water and appeared about ready to collapse on dogs underneath.
Jefferson Mayor Bubba Haggard ordered city crews to assist in Friday’s crisis after checking with City Attorney Mike Martin. Haggard and District Attorney Angela Smoak were among the volunteers that responded Friday night.
“Something had to be done,” Haggard said Monday. Haggard expects the Humane Society will reimburse the city for the expense. The mayor admitted he had not been to the shelter recently and was doubtful if any members of the city council had.
The scope of the Humane Society’s disaster began to emerge Monday. Jefferson police officers were seen at the shelter off SH 49 taking notes.
The revelation of the freezers containing dead dogs at what had purported itself to be a “no kill” shelter was perhaps the most alarming. Extreme filth inside two portable buildings on the shelter property filled the air with toxic fumes.
Shelly Godwin with the Marshall Animal Shelter said Wedding has brought dogs to her facility to be euthanized at a cost of $20 per animal. “She (Wedding) hasn’t brought anything to us in several years to be put down,” Godwin said. “Usually when she brought them there was something wrong with them.”
Bob Avery, HSMC legal advisor, said he was not aware of the freezers until this week and was not aware that animals were being euthanized. He is not aware of any medical or census records for the animals shelter. DeLong said she had not been aware of the dead dogs either.
Wedding did surrender funds from the Society’s bank account at Northeast Texas Credit Union Monday of which she was the only signator. Wedding signed over $4,800 to Avery who says the group now had more than $8,000 of funds on hand. They are operating out of a second account at Citizens National Bank reportedly with at least two signatures required on withdrawals.
The City of Jefferson paid Dixie Humane Society $13,000 for animal control services in October. Avery said he would not know where those funds went until he is able to examine the account.
“I suspect that most of the money went to operations,” Avery said. Wedding had left the property according to witnesses Wednesday. She told the Jimplecute that she only receives $300 a month from Social Security. “I have no money,” Wedding said Monday. Avery confirmed that she did not receive a salary from HSMC although she did live on the shelter property and had unlimited use of the humane society’s vehicle.
Both DeLong and Avery said they did not know how many board members visited the shelter during the months leading up to last week’s crisis. Progress has been made in caring for the dogs, according to those on the scene.
Dogs were observed Sunday evening in cleaner pens with dry blankets in their igloos in anticipation of the freezing temperatures Sunday night. Volunteers on-site reported all dogs had been walked, fed and given fresh water.
Jefferson Police Chief Gary Amburn said an investigation of the shelter continues but he does not anticipate criminal charges. Amburn said holding dog bodies in a freezer is a common practice at shelters.
A spokesman for a national no-kill shelter organization said the freezer procedure was a routine way to hold dog bodies until a disposal firm collects them. A spokesperson from Marshall Animal Shelter said Wedding would routinely bring animals to their facility to be euthanized until about two years ago.
About 20 dogs have been moved inside the former Jayne’s Farm & Feed Store building on US 59 where conditions are much better than at the shelter. Numerous volunteers help at the Jayne’s location.
Kimberly Parsons and Christie Woodson are volunteer coordinators at the Jayne’s facility coordination; Jo Zapata and Connie heads up volunteer efforts at the shelter location on SH 49.
Volunteers are able to walk most of the dogs, most days. Volunteers also feed the dogs, once or twice a day, DeLong said. Conditions at the animal shelter on SH 49 remain far from ideal.
Dogs were seen Wednesday late morning with piles of feces in their cages. Protection from wind and rain remained incomplete with perhaps a tarp over the top of the kennel, a violation of state regulations for the treatment of impounded dogs.
Reporters on the scene at the shelter Wednesday were told volunteers would arrive soon, but only four were present during their two-hour visit for the hard work of cleaning and moving pens.
Said one volunteer present Wednesday morning on a recent Facebook post to HSMC, “Those of us who have been working in the trenches–mucking pens/kennels, transporting, doing laundry, washing dog bowls and buckets, feeding, walking, and trying to comfort these dogs–know full well the extent of what is involved and the logistics of this enormous task.”
A new feeding schedule is expected to limit the amount of diarrhea the dogs are experiencing, reducing the feces problem in the cages.
HSMC, HERCULES AND ZEUS’ FATE
Although Zeus could be seen at the shelter, his two companions, Hercules and Miss Marple were not. Bradley-LaFleur said Hercules was “warm and dry,” but would not say where. What had become of Miss Marple was unclear.
HSMC officials could not deny or confirm reports by volunteers that Zeus and Miss Marple are set for euthanasia.
Where the shelter continues to exist or goes from here was also unclear. “There are no set future plans,” Avery said. When asked when the next board meeting of HSMC would be held, neither Bradley-LaFleur nor Avery knew. “Whenever it gets called,” Bradley-LaFleur said.
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