Chorus of support builds as shelter story spreads

By LEANN BURKE
lburke@dcherald.com

ROCKPORT — A month after reports of Spencer County Animal Shelter staff euthanizing cats by putting them in freezers surfaced on Facebook, concerned citizens are still fighting for change to the Chrisney shelter’s operations.

Since former shelter employee Bridget Woodson posted to her Facebook page an account of Christina Payne, the Spencer County Animal Control officer in charge of the shelter, instructing Woodson to place live cats in garbage bags in the freezer for euthanization, the story has gone global, attracting the attention of animal rights supporters throughout Spencer County, Indiana and the country.

In the weeks since, concerned citizens have repeatedly attended government meetings to comment, and the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals — PETA — wrote a letter calling for local officials to take action.

About three weeks ago, Bethesda, Marlyand-based Alley Cat Allies, which works worldwide to protect cats, joined efforts. On Thursday, a group of five concerned Spencer County citizens attended the 10 a.m. Spencer County Commissioners meeting in Rockport, bolstered by Alice Burton of Alley Cat Allies and a letter of support signed by nearly 8,000 people across the U.S. stating support for the local people urging local officials to act. The group was able to voice their concerns to the commissioners.

Woodson, who attended the meeting Thursday, said she never expected the story to spread so far when she came forward in August.

“I’m glad to know there’s so many people out there who care,” she said.

Penny Hansen and Stacey Jones of Gentryville also attended the meeting. Both women volunteered with the shelter, and Jones continues picking up cats from the shelter for adoption events at area PetSmart stores.

“I was devastated,” Hansen said of when she heard the news. “I couldn’t believe that was happening.”

The allegations have been under investigation by law enforcement since Woodson’s post. The Spencer County Sheriff’s Department began the investigation, but handed it over to the Indiana State Police’s Jasper Post, citing a conflict of interest since the sheriff’s department and shelter are both county entities. The ISP handed their findings over to the Spencer County prosecutor, and the prosecutor’s office said the ISP and Spencer County prosecutor are planning a joint announcement in the next couple of weeks.

According to Indiana Criminal Code covering animal cruelty, torturing or mutilating vertebrate animals, including cats, is prohibited. However, the code also states that the section of law does not apply to employees of a humane society acting in accordance with the guidelines of said humane society.

In response to Woodson’s allegations — which were corroborated in screenshots of text messages between Woodson and Payne and screenshots of texts between Jones and Animal Control Board President Joy Zook — the Spencer County Animal Control Board reviewed its euthanasia policies in mid-August. According to the updated policy, euthanasia is “the act of inducing death by chemical means.” The policy also states that euthanization “shall be performed correctly and professionally by trained animal euthanasia technicians at animal control or a licensed veterinarian.”

An addition to the policy handbook, the board outlined euthanasia procedures, stating that severely injured or sick animals will take priority for vet visits. On weekdays, the policy says, staff will contact the vet to find out if the animal can be seen in a “reasonable amount of time,” though what constitutes a reasonable amount of time is not specified.

To the concerned citizens, that’s not enough.

“At the very least, I’d like to see everyone stand up and ask for Joy (Zook) and Christina’s (Payne) resignation,” Woodson said.

Ideally, Woodson said, the entire animal control board will be replaced. 




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