A new allegation of animal mistreatment by the City of San Antonio's "Animal Care Services" is surfacing, and today the City is responding.
Shelter volunteer, Erica Zertuche posted these pictures on Facebook of a muzzled dog she says was mishandled by two Animal Care Services (ACS) employees after the dog’s owner surrendered him to the City's shelter. Her post says:
“I felt so bad for this dog today. The ACS staff handled it so roughly and were really mean to it just because it didn't want to move. They were cussing at it and they wrapped that leash around it's snout so tightly it's eyes looked like they were going to pop out! The whole time it just trembled in fear and as they drove off it just fell over. As I stood there and watched them they tried to be more patient with it but I wonder what happens behind closed doors and when nobody is watching?”
In an interview with Zertuche she says the incident happened just after noon on Wednesday, March 19th, and the animal was obviously very scared. “The dog was frozen and didn't want to get into the cage it was on a cart which they use to drive around. The dog didn't want to move. One ACS employee picked up the dog and it went limp, frozen. Then the worker aggressively shoved the dog in the cage. It’s not the approach you should take toward a fearful dog. They didn't try to comfort it. When they wrapped the leash around him he looked like he was going to suffocate.”
Zertuche said she burst into tears when she saw this. “I started crying, grabbed my finance and said, 'Let's go inside.' I took the pictures after the fact, I didn't think to grab my phone. I was in awe of what I was seeing because it happened so fast. Then I said, 'Wait I have to take a picture of this dog so I can identify the dog and the employees.'”
The dog, Zertuche says, turned out to be an Australian Cattle Dog (picture of dog in slideshow attached to this article) and the shelter told her, “It was euthanized because it had untreatable cancer and due to its age.”
Zertuche says she was hesitant to come forward about what she saw because she’s heard stories of other volunteers being banned from the City’s shelter for speaking out about incidents of animal mistreatment. She goes to the shelter to help do behavior assessments on dogs so they have a better chance at getting adopted, and says she did not want to jeopardize that role. Now she has agreed to speak to the City so it can investigate and hopes change will come as a result. Zertuche also wrote a letter to her city council representative, Ron Nirenberg, about the incident.
Volunteers first reported Zertuche’s claims to this author after publishing other articles about San Antonio’s Animal Care Services; including complaints of dogs being miscategorized, and miscommunications which resulted in dogs who had homes waiting for them, being euthanized. City records show ACS put more than 4800 dogs to sleep in 2013.
City of San Antonio’s Response
What happened to the dog Zetuche snapped pictures of? ACS Public Information Officer, Lisa Norwood says, “The dog was euthanized per the owner’s request.”
When this author inquired what will happen as a result of Zetuche’s complaint, Norwood responded via email, “the City does not discuss internal personnel reviews.”
When asked about the shelter banning volunteers from the premises for speaking out, Norwood replied, “Like many other businesses, Animal Care Services has a patron code of conduct which is posted in our lobby. That policy is discussed with all our volunteers, fosters and rescue partners. The policy is crafted to outline a process for addressing concerns in a way that’s prompt, respectful and appropriate for all parties. Patrons are only asked to leave the premises when there are gross and/or repeated violations of that policy such as harassing other customers or engaging in unsafe practices.”
Norwood says if other volunteers have concerns or complaints she encourages them to speak up with a supervisor on duty at the time so they can address the matter promptly. “If any resident has a question in reference to policy, procedure etc., managers and/or supervisors are on site at ACS seven days a week to discuss any concerns. We welcome their feedback and any perceived issues can then be addressed as needed at the time of the incident.”
This author requested security footage the City may have of the alleged incident. Norwood says there is none.
UPDATE APRIL 9, 2014:
The City of San Antonio investigated Zertuche's claim and just mailed her this letter stating:
Thank you for your letter regarding the experience you had recently while on a visit to the City of San Antonio Animal Care Services Department. While your statement depicts the alleged event, it unfortunately did not provide the name(s) of the staff connected with the event. When we talked about this matter via phone, you were unable to name the staff that handled the pet.
Following our phone discussion with you, we investigated as fully as the presented evidence allowed; however, we were unable to determine the specific staff involved. Since we take this matter very seriously, we met with all shelter operations staff to discuss animal handling procedures to include proper vehicle loading and muzzling of pets.
We thank you for bringing your concerns to our attention.
Zertuche says she is furious because the shelter's director, Elizabeth Kalmykov, assured her the situation would be investigated and resolved. "On top of providing a clear description I offered more than once to go point out the ACO (animal control officer). Despite my efforts Kalmykov insisted that she knew who the ACO was based on my description and she was going to question him."
This author contacted ACS asking for further comment on the situation, and passed along Zertuche’s offer to view pictures of shelter employees to see if she could identify the one she says mishandled the dog. Then ACS could verify if that individual worked the day of the incident and speak to him.
Norwood responded by saying, the shelter manager spoke extensively with Zertuche regarding this alleged incident, and then blamed Zertuche for not getting the ID of the ACS employee she claims mishandled the dog. Norwood also says they've talked to all their staff members about proper treatment of animals. "It’s unfortunate she was not able to ask for the staff member’s name at the time of the incident that disturbed her; however, the shelter manager has met with staff to reiterate the importance of safe and humane animal handling. While this matter is closed, I would again stress shelter supervisors are on site seven days a week to address matters such as this in a more timely fashion."
Zertuche says she is outraged by the City's handling of her claim. "I am extremely upset and feel betrayed. This was not "handled" at all. Instead, they crossed their arms and took the easy way out. Not only am I disappointed, I am infuriated that ACS did not take the time to fully investigate this issue and no one was reprimanded for their actions."