For nearly two months, nine chained and penned dogs were left to starve at a residence on Walker Spur Rd near Clayton, AL, Barbour County. The dogs endured endless nights and scorching days, waiting – and waiting - for someone to come. An alert utility meter reader and his supervisor noticed the dogs and notified a local police officer, who, in turn, contacted PAL of Barbour County, (Pet Assistance League of Barbour County) this past Wednesday, July 25th.
After contacting Barbour County Sheriff’s Department, PAL’s Jo Vaughn and Renee Klein waited for hours to receive permission from Sheriff LeRoy Upshaw to enter the property. No response from Sheriff was forthcoming, according to Vaughn and Klein. After additional attempts to contact Sheriff Upshaw the following morning, they determined that the situation warranted emergency action.
Vaughn and Klein said, “We encounter disturbing scenes every day, but by far, this was one of the worst. One dog was on a chain so short that she couldn’t stand up, or move more than a few inches. The chain was embedded in her neck. Another’s face was covered with a huge tumor. A shocking discovery was one poor dog with most of his teeth missing, the remaining teeth were ground down to nubs, probably from eating rocks. At least one dog was pregnant. We had to work fast, but tears and emotions were difficult to put aside in the face of such immense misery.”
Klein commented, “And through it all, the pitiful dogs feebly wagged their tails and licked our hands. We had to cut through foliage and weeds to find one of the pens. We tried to comfort them as we crated some, and loaded them in the van as quickly as possible. Their bodies were nothing but skin and bones.”
“The number of calls we receive relating to abuse and neglect is overwhelming,” said Vaughn. “There’s simply nowhere for these animals to go, even for temporary refuge. Untold numbers of dogs and cats are abandoned on the roads or in well-known “dumping grounds". We find mama dogs being eaten by vultures, their pups dead or near death struggling to get the last drop of milk from their dead mama. The land fill is obviously a favorite dumping place for helpless animals, discarded by cruel owners. Some scenes are indescribable; injured dogs, beaten dogs, mutilated cats and litters of both species – abandoned, left to die an agonizing and terrifying death.”
The lack of an animal control officer or a facility-shelter in Barbour County has been a contentious subject for many years, according to PAL officers and residents.
In a telephone interview with County Commissioner Earl Gilmore, he confirmed that an animal shelter was built seven years ago, (see photo slide show), but sits idle, overgrown with weeds and locked. The question the community poses is, “Why is this shelter, complete with offices and kennels, not accessed when the need is so great?” Gilmore’s explanations were varied, most concerning funding, citing absence of “Home Rule” and citizen apathy in voting on certain county amendments that could have provided revenue/funding.
PAL officers and volunteers, Barbour County members of Alabama Voters for Responsible Animal Legislation (AVRAL) and concerned residents have repeatedly addressed this issue by attending County Commission meetings, actively reaching out to county officials, appealing to their sense of compassion and duty, and asking that the unoccupied shelter be staffed and opened. “We have also requested the appointment of a county animal cruelty investigator/officer, but county officials remain impervious to our pleas, as of this date”, said Klein.
Residents and animal advocates contend that their requests are backed by Alabama law, in that the AL Code states that every county must provide a suitable pound, as well as each county’s obligation to employ a county animal cruelty officer. “We have literally pleaded for these resources. To date, despite ample evidence of the dire need, we have no answer, or appearance of concern from our county leaders.”
Barbour County resident Michael Rogers expressed his concerns: “This isn’t an isolated incident by any means. Private citizens and organizations such as PAL can’t, and shouldn’t be expected to do it all. We need serious laws, we need current laws overhauled and enforced to hold abusers accountable for blatant and deliberate harmful treatment of innocent animals."
Rogers continued, "We have an animal shelter that remains closed. We need it open, up and running, immediately! Dog fighting is rampant in Barbour County. I found a dead Pit Bull dog in a dumpster last year, clearly mangled from bite wounds. This should not be accepted by decent human beings. We, as well as the animals, are affected by these incidents in which drugs, child neglect and other forms of crime almost always accompany incidents of animal abuse.”
On Friday, after PAL rescued seven of the nine desperate dogs, four of them puppies, their emergency actions were questioned by county law enforcement and they were advised by county officials “not to go back on the property for the other two, because it would be a matter of trespassing.” Subsequently, Klein and Betty Kramer, along with Aprille Tew met with Barbour County District Attorney Investigator Lee Hamm, and Captain Ricky Dollar and Deputy Ryan Conner of the Barbour County Sheriff’s Department.
Klein says that this meeting and discussion resulted in an amicable agreement that the Sheriff’s Department would respond to calls of animal abuse and neglect more readily and PAL officers would be encouraged to call for assistance, and expect it in the future.
Klein added that the meeting revealed that the owner of the dogs and property is a very ill elderly gentleman. Klein spoke with the owner, as well as his family, who accompanied him to the county jail to legally sign over the dogs to PAL.
“He did love his dogs, although he had no means for caring for them properly”, said Klein.“He broke down and cried. He and his family were visibly appreciative. If the owner had been an able-bodied person, I may feel differently, but recognizing his situation, a serious illness and age, I believe he did the best he could. Unfortunately, the dogs are victims. Countless dogs in Barbour County are suffering in similar circumstances. All the more reason for our county to provide animal services to it’s citizens.”
Klein and Vaughn want to express their thanks to Dr. Ray Arnold for treating and assessing the dogs. Donations can be called in by credit card to Arnold Veterinary Hospital, phone 334-585-2259, 725 Columbia Rd. Abbeville AL, 36310. (no checks please.) Contributions can also be made to the “Clayton Dog Vet Bills” through paypal at firstname.lastname@example.org. Checks may be mailed directly to PAL, PO Box 1467, Eufaula, AL 36027.
More photographs of the locked, inaccessible shelter and incidents of animal cruelty and neglect in Barbour County can be found at www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.4347135999293.2173993.1314350323&type=...