No criminal charges will be brought against the Madison County Animal Shelter following a Virginia State Police investigation stemming from allegations that the shelter unnecessarily euthanized animals and did not treat them humanely.
In a report published Friday, the state police, along with the Virginia Office of Veterinary Services, wrote that they had found no evidence of criminal misdeeds during their eight-week investigation, but did note several “noncritical violations” related to medical records keeping.
A Nov. 1 letter Clarissa Berry, commonwealth’s attorney for Madison County, to VSP Special Agent Joseph Williams details the state police’s investigation and findings. Though her office does not plan to bring charges against the shelter or its director, she clarified this does not mean problems were not uncovered.
“This declination should not be construed as meaning that all is well at MCAS,” the letter reads. “There are changes that must be made to correct adverse findings by [the Virginia Department of Agricultural and Consumer Services] and ensure the continued safety of animals.”
When the state animal shelter visited in October, her inspection report detailed several non-critical violations related to incorrect medical record-keeping; housing sick animals along with healthy ones; and incorrect or lack of post-operative care to animals after surgery.
The investigation began in September after Tina Auth, a former employee, accused the shelter of mistreating animals.
In posts on Facebook that included images and videos of animals that had reportedly passed through the shelter, Auth said she personally had to take a kitten with a severed paw to the vet, saw a critically sick cat go untreated for 24 hours, witnessed kittens euthanized because there was no foster program and saw a dog get euthanized merely for growling.
“It took a toll on me,” Auth said in a September interview with the Progress. “It’s hard to sleep at night and go back to work when you know animals are dying needlessly.”
Public animal shelters in the state are overseen by the state department of agriculture and consumer services. The Madison County Animal Shelter is overseen by the county government.
According to its 2018 annual report, the shelter handled 297 dogs, 480 cats and some poultry and livestock. Of the dogs, 26, or 9%, and 236 cats, or 49%, were euthanized.
Other publicly-operated shelters in Central Virginia reported far lower instances of euthanasia even when they had much higher occupancy rates.
The Louisa County Animal Control and Public Safety Shelter euthanized 53 out of 1,503 animals that left the shelter in 2018, a rate of 4%, according to its report. The Charlottesville-Albemarle SPCA, which contracts with its local governments, euthanized 26 out of 1,434 animals, a rate of 2%. The Greene County shelter euthanized 1 animal out of 305. The Nelson County shelter euthanized 26 out of 351 animals, a rate of 7%.
According to records on Madison County’s website, the shelter is only authorized to hold 22 dogs, three litters of puppies and 35 cats.
Berry’s letter notes that the Madison County Board of Supervisors has been informed about the problems with the animal shelter and has plans to correct the issues. Additionally, the shelter’s manager, who is presumed to still be Cave, has proposed correction to the “non-critical” violations.
Her letter also notes that intake sheets used to document the condition of animals at the shelter do not contain enough information to either support or disprove the allegations. In the absence of intake sheets, it is unable to be proven whether or not the shelter violated state code.
“Regarding allegations of unnecessary euthanasia of animals at MCAS, no criminal conduct was found,” Berry wrote. “The Code of Virginia allows for an animal shelter to euthanize an animal upon either the expiration of a stray hold or immediately if brought to the shelter as an owner surrender.”
In a written statement to the Progress, Auth said she never thought charges would be brought and that what she saw as unethical euthanasia was not illegal. She said she is happy that speaking out appears to have brought change to the shelter.
“But the changes that have already taken place is so important,” she wrote. “Only ONE animal was put down the entire month of September! That alone is huge!”