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Putnam County Animal Shelter Euthanization Draws Ire

Local citizens are in a state of outrage over the unfortunate case of a dog that was wrongly euthanized at the Putnam County Animal Shelter.

When Eli, Taylor Withrow’s 10-year-old lemon beagle, ran away on June 21, he was found by a driver who took him to Putnam County Animal Shelter in hopes that he would be reunited with his owner. The shelter is required by law to hold a stray animal for five business days, not including the day of impoundment.

Withrow says that she repeatedly checked the Putnam County Animal Shelter’s Facebook page, but no photo of Eli had ever been posted.

On June 26, Withrow went to the Putnam County Animal Shelter to inquire about Eli in person, but she was told that no dog matching his description had been brought into the shelter.

Later that day, Withrow was contacted by Tiffany Skaggs, the woman who had found Eli and brought him to the animal shelter. Skaggs had seen Withrow’s Facebook posts about Eli’s disappearance, and reached out to her about the missing dog.

From June 26 through June 29, Withrow continued to ask the shelter about Eli, while Skaggs contacted Putnam County Manager Jeremy Young about the matter.

On June 26, Withrow engaged in a Zoom call with Young, the county attorney, and the shelter’s humane officer. It was then that she learned the tragic news: Eli’s paperwork had been mixed up with that of another dog, and he had been euthanized. The condemned dog was a pit bull that had been brought to the shelter on June 15. Withrow was told that the reason why the two dogs were mixed up was because they had similar coloration, despite the fact that pit bulls and beagles are very different breeds.

The Putnam County Commission is currently conducting an internal investigation of the animal shelter through a third party that is not connected to the county. According to County Manager Young, the director of the shelter has since been placed on administrative leave.

On June 30, the Putnam County Commission posted the following statement upon their Facebook page:

“The Putnam County Commission has been made aware of an incident involving a dog on stray hold that was mistakenly euthanized earlier this week at the Putnam County Animal Shelter. The Commission finds this situation unacceptable and has ordered an internal investigation into the incident. Appropriate action will be taken at the conclusion of the investigation to ensure something this devastating never happens again.”

The response to Eli’s tragic and unnecessary death has created a storm of comments on both the Putnam County Commission’s and Putnam County Animal Shelter’s Facebook pages. Many allege that the animal shelter has been mismanaged for years, and blame the County Commission for not stepping in sooner. Others are concerned about growing negative attitudes towards the animal shelter, fearing that the public might boycott the facility, which would lead to the euthanasia of even more animals. Several posters expressed confusion that the dog was euthanized in the first place, claiming that they were told that the shelter is a no-kill shelter.

Unfortunately, a lot of people have the erroneous impression that Putnam’s shelter is a no-kill shelter. When the Putnam shelter moved to the Red House facility in 2013, it seems that many in the community believed that the larger, improved building would enable the facility to become a no-kill shelter. However, that was never the case.

Why is there such confusion about the kill/no-kill status of the Putnam County Animal Shelter?

Years ago, there was discussion among local animal rescue groups about creating a no-kill shelter that would be operated by a private organization, separate from the county government. However, these plans never came to fruition. Perhaps the concept of a no-kill shelter in Putnam County became cemented in the public mind, and people assumed that the Putnam County Animal Shelter would halt euthanasia, except in cases of sick or violent animals. Again, this is a false conception.

According to the West Virginia Board of Veterinary Medicine’s Annual Report on Animal Euthanasia, a total of 39 dogs, 455 cats, and 2 other species were euthanized by the Putnam County Animal Shelter in 2020. In 2016, the numbers were even higher, with 1,495 cats and 803 dogs being euthanized. The year 2019 had somewhat better statistics, with 1,095 cats and 121 dogs being euthanized.

In memory of Eli, Withrow has created a petition on Change.org to turn the Putnam County Animal Shelter into a no-kill shelter. “I started this petition to ensure that nothing like this EVER happens again!” Withrow writes in the description of her proposal. “Please join me in fighting for Eli and all other animals without a voice!”

As of Monday, July 3, there have been 1,426 out of a goal of 1,500 signatures.

Those who wish to sign the petition may go to https://www.change.org/p/transform-putnam-county-animal-shelter-into-a-no-kill-haven

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