Spencer County has no timeline for reopening shelter


CHRISNEY — After four months of closure, Spencer County is making moves to reopen Spencer County Animal Control and its shelter.

The county closed the department in October 2018 and terminated the director, Christina Payne, after reports surfaced of cats being euthanized through freezing. Former animal control employee Bridget Woodson came forward with the reports in August. She worked in the shelter. Last week, the new Spencer County Animal Control Board — now a nine-member board rather than seven — met to reorganize.

Spencer County Animal Control and the shelter it runs in Chrisney are not the same as the Spencer County Humane Society, located in Dale.

This week, the fledgling board was hit with news that Alley Cat Allies, an animal rights group out of Bethesda, Maryland, that got involved last year after the reports surfaced, is suing the Spencer County Animal Control, Spencer County Animal Control Board, Spencer County Board of Commissioners and Christina Payne. The lawsuit asks an Indiana judge to file an injunction forbidding the shelter from using inhumane and illegal methods of euthanization and to bar the shelter from reopening until the board adopts humane policies and best practices for the treatment of animals and trains all employees on those policies.

“Alley Cat Allies has made multiple attempts to help Spencer County embrace best practices and humane standards of care only to be turned away each time, so we were left with no other options but to file this lawsuit,” Becky Robinson, president and founder of Alley Cat Allies, said in a press release. “This is a necessary step to ensure that not another cat will be treated inhumanely after the shelter reopens. Spencer County must not be allowed to reopen the shelter without making fundamental improvements to ensure widely accepted basic levels of care for animals.”

Woodson is also named as a plaintiff in the lawsuit. She did not return a call for comment.

News of the lawsuit came as a surprise to Spencer County officials, Commissioner Tom Brown said, because the Animal Control Board has no plans to immediately reopen the shelter. The only official action the board has taken, he told The Herald, is reorganization.

Brown also serves on the Animal Control Board.

The previous animal control board condemned euthanasia by hypothermia — an action that is also illegal according to Indiana code — and updated its policies. The updated policies define euthanasia as “the act of inducing death by chemical means” and state that euthanization “shall be performed correctly and professionally by trained animal euthanasia technicians at animal control or a licensed veterinarian,” according to Herald archives. The policy also outlines procedures for getting sick or injured animals to the vet to be euthanized.

“We made a number of changes,” Brown said of the previous board, which he also served on. “When we get a new animal control officer, we will make sure they’re trained.”

Brown acknowledged that Alley Cat Allies, as well as several other groups, offered to help the county update its policies and practices.

“We thank them, but we don’t need that,” Brown said.

Alley Cat Allies began preparation to file a lawsuit with a tort claim notice in November. The notice was sent to the Spencer County Commissioners, Spencer County Animal Control Board and Spencer County attorney and notified them of Alley Cat Allies’ intent to file a lawsuit. Robinson said via email that the organization decided to move forward with the lawsuit now because of January news reports that Spencer County Animal Control would be reopening.

“We filed the lawsuit this week because the reopening of the shelter was imminent in Spencer County, as reported by the local news media on January 16-17, 2019,” Robinson said.

Brown said that while the county does plan to reopen animal control’s shelter, no official action has been taken to reopen, nor is there a timeline for reopening.

Still, Alley Cat Allies will go forward with its lawsuit.

“Regardless of when the shelter opens, we wanted to have an on-the-record confirmation that the county would use legal, proper and humane animal sheltering operations, policies, best practices and training for their staff, including life-saving programs and legal euthanasia methods for when euthanasia is necessary,” Robinson said via email. “All of these are within reach for every shelter in the country.”

As of Tuesday afternoon, Spencer County had not been served any documents regarding the lawsuit, the Spencer County Clerk’s Office said.

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