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ANIMAL SHELTER INVESTIGATION: Bite worse than bark

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By Beth Braden

A former animal advisory board member, who previously championed shelter director Betty Crumley’s leadership, is voicing his concerns. 

It follows a six-minute viral video in which Crumley is heard speaking to an employee with concerns about euthanasia practices. Crumley dismisses it as the work of a disgruntled, former employee – others contend there are major issues.

The first several seconds of the video feature an unidentified man telling Crumley, “We have a problem, Betty. The two in the bag that was gone? One of them’s come back to life out there in the freezer.”

“Oh dear,” Crumley said. 

Crumley claims the audio has been taken out of context and edited and manipulated to stage the conversation.

“He added my voice to different things,” she said last Wednesday. 

The video appeared on YouTube on April 1 and was subsequently linked on a Facebook page called “Exposing Betty Crumley – Information needed here.” The Facebook page was created the same day. 

Almost immediately, the shelter began receiving calls from all over the country about the allegations from the video.

Last Wednesday, Crumley showed the LaFollette Press a list of notes from phone calls left on the shelter’s answering machine, which included threats on Crumley’s life. Several callers wished other ills on Crumley.

The calls prompted increased patrols at the shelter, according to Campbell County Sheriff Robbie Goins. 

An investigation into the threats was launched at the request of the county mayor and the district attorney. 

Crumley said the threats were a hindrance to shelter operations. “This place cannot shut down. We have to function and we could function better if we weren’t getting all these threatening phone calls,” she said. 

Crumley doesn’t dispute the fact that some of the photos in the video are of her shelter.

“If you’ll notice the date, it was [May of 2009],” she said. 

It was during that time that the “disgruntled worker,” who she believes is responsible for the video, was still employed at the shelter.

Crumley claims he took photos of a dead dog in an unzipped plastic body bag while other workers were out of the building.   

 “I have no idea why that bag would be open unless he did it,” she said. 

Not everything pictured in the video is from 2009. There are at least two still shots of euthanasia records dated 2012 and 2011. 

Those same records appear in a packet provided to a representative from animal rights group, PETA. 

According to the packet and its attached Freedom of Information Act memo, the information was requested on March 3 by Kristin Simon, who has a Memphis address and an @peta.org email address. Deputy County Mayor David Young signed the memo, and the records were provided via email on March 14. 

Among the claims in the video is the statement that too little euthanasia medication is being used to kill the animals. On the records, it appears that 1 cc of medication is used for every 10 pounds of body weight an animal has. 

The center uses a drug called Fatal-Plus, a sodium pentobarbital compound produced by Michigan-based Vortech Pharmaceuticals. It was developed by John MacNeil, who also serves as Vortech’s CEO. The drug works by quickly shutting down the body’s nervous and cardiac functions.

“Prior to Fatal-Plus coming on the market if you had a pet or injured animal that had to be put to sleep, they were either given carbon monoxide…or they were drowned,” MacNeil said in a phone interview on Monday. 

While the drug calls for 1 cc of the medication to be used per 10 pounds. of body weight, that is for a specific method of euthanasia called intravenous euthanasia in which the medicine goes directly into the blood stream. 

The animal shelter uses a method called intraperitoneal, according to records, where medication is injected between the layers of tissue in the abdomen. Done correctly, organs are not punctured. Crumley said the IP method was taught to Otis Poore and Stan Foust by Young Williams Animal Center in Knoxville. 

For this method, MacNeil said the dose should be tripled for a standard 40 to 50 pound dog.

“They’d have to give more because it’s not in a vein. It just kind of leaches out across the peritoneal barrier and it’s slowly absorbed,” he said. “Where you’re talking 5 minutes [until death] with the intravenous, it’d be about 15 minutes for this [intraperitoneal].” 

As the drug is absorbed, it is also diluted as it spreads through the body. This is why the larger dose is recommended. 

On Tuesday, Crumley admitted that during her annual inspection, the inspector recommended the dose of Fatal Plus be increased. She said it was just a recommendation and not even a guideline.

“It was just to quiet that bunch down,” she said.

Crumley also said that in order to gauge how much medication an animal should receive, they “guestimate” the animal’s weight. 

MacNeil says that typically, IP euthanasia is only used on small animals.

“The majority of use of this IP method is in puppies or kittens or birds,” he said. 

According to records, each of the 2,765 animals put to sleep at the shelter in 2012 were euthanized via the IP method. The records, however, are not clear about the species of animals euthanized. It lists only the number the animal was assigned when it came into the shelter. 

Tennessee’s laws governing certified animal control agencies state that each facility shall keep a written report of each animal euthanized.

“This record shall include pertinent medical data including dates, estimated age, breed, weight, sex, amount and type of euthanasia and/or pre-euthanasia solution administered and description of verification of death,” the law says. 

Crumley said while records provided by the county mayor’s office don’t tell what kind of animal is euthanized, she said she maintains a separate, handwritten record that can be cross referenced by the ID number to track that information. The state inspector also asked for recordkeeping to be updated, Crumley said.

The firestorm created by the video and Facebook page is creating problems for the shelter’s daily operations, she said. 

Beyond tied-up phone lines from incessant calls, Crumley said rescue agencies quit working with the shelter because they didn’t want to be associated.

“A red flag went up. They’re afraid to even get associated with us.” 

Patricia Simpson, rescue coordinator for local advocate group Friends of Campbell County Animals, says that simply isn’t true.

“Absolutely not. We pulled 20 animals out of there on Saturday via a rescue and we pulled three today through two rescues,” she said. “The week before, we pulled on Monday. A week ago today we pulled seven for a different rescue.” 

FCCA president Michelle Davis said the group is not responsible for the Facebook group or the video, and does not know who is. 

“Our organization did not start that. We are trying to maintain the relationship with the shelter so we can get the animals out of course,” said Davis, who believes the video is cause for concern.

“We find it to be pretty factual, a lot of the stuff. There was a couple of things in the video that was a little bit misconstrued, but not a whole lot,” she said. “We don’t want it to hurt our working relationship, but we do want things to improve at her shelter.” 

FCCA was founded last fall by a group of advocates concerned about the conditions and high euthanasia rate at the shelter. In an email from FCCA secretary/treasurer Deborah Pemberton, she said the group has met all requirements set by the Campbell County Commission and is still facing difficulty with pulling animals out for rescue. 

Last summer, some of the group members began removing animals from the shelter and spending their own money to send the pets to rescues. In September, Pemberton said that was stopped.

“By September, they were no longer allowed to take photos, were not allowed to sponsor adoptions, nothing, were told to stop all this activity by the director of the shelter,” she wrote. “These same ladies attended the September County Commission meeting and were told:  ‘In order to make photos, you are going to need to get a 501c status and insurance, once you do that, you will be allowed to take all the photos you want.’”

The group became more organized and applied for non-profit status in October. Its certificate was granted in January. The group has no paid positions and get funding from grants, donations and members’ pockets.

“Again, these ladies approached the County Commission, informing them that all the requirements they had asked for had been met,” Pemberton wrote. “And, again, these ladies were denied what they were promised if the group was formed and fully documented in the requirements.”

On Tuesday, Patricia Daugherty, investigator from the Tennessee Department of Health Office of Investigations was present at the animal center. She referred all questions to the Nashville office, but did tour the facility and interview Crumley. She said she would also need to interview all other shelter employees. 

Tuesday afternoon, TDH media relations representative Shelly Walker declined to comment on any ongoing investigations. Crumley declined to comment on the investigation as well. 


The light bulb

 Local attorney Terry Basista is the former animal advisory board member who spoke to the LaFollette Press on Tuesday about his own findings in February. He said an early morning incident at the shelter is when “the light bulb came on.” Before then, he said he never had reason to question Crumley’s work and qualifications as shelter director. In fact, he felt confident in Crumley’s ability and was under the impression she came highly recommended by the local humane society. 

Basista has worked with the Humane Society of the Tennessee Valley in varying capacities for 30 years. He served first in an advisory role and then came to sit on the board within the last 15 years. He currently serves as secretary for HSTV.

Basista was contacted in February by somebody wanting to adopt an animal at the shelter. The individual was afraid the dog would be euthanized before it could be picked up, and asked Basista to intervene. 

Basista arrived at the shelter at 9 a.m. on Feb. 11 to locked front doors, but several cars in the parking lot. He said he touched the hoods to see if the cars were warm (and they were) – an indicator of how long people had been present at the shelter. He walked around and into a side door where he spoke with Crumley about the two dogs.

“She said, ‘Oh, no no, those two dogs are going to be adopted out today,’ and my thought was ‘Oh well that’s great,’” said Basista.

He said they spoke a few more moments, and he asked about why it was so cold.

“She said, ‘Why, there’s never been any heat in this building,” he said. “’They didn’t put any in when they built it.’”

According to Basista, Crumley said the building only had air conditioning.

“Well, I knew that wasn’t true,” Basista said. He had seen the architecture of the building before it was built. 

Adrion Baird, the shelter’s namesake, approached Basista long ago to enlist Basista’s help in advocating for the new shelter. Throughout the process, Basista worked with Baird and was knowledgeable about the plans for the shelter. 

“I knew that kennel had been designed with heating coils in the concrete floor,” he said. 

That was the light bulb moment. Basista began to question all the other complaints he had heard about the animal shelter – complaints he initially dismissed. 

Before the February incident, complaints had been rolling into the HSTV about the shelter. He said he wasn’t worried because all shelters get some kind of complaints.

“They kept coming and there seemed to be a consistency to them,” he said. “But, after a while, you keep hearing the same complaints over and over, at some point, you have to take notice of them. And at some point, you then have to forget about it and ignore it or you’ve got to investigate.” 

Basista said he had a pleasant conversation with County Mayor William Baird on Feb. 11, after he and Betty had discussed heat at the shelter. Baird said the issue would be fixed.

“When William said that he could fix that, I took him at his word,” Basista said.

At a commission workshop meeting that month, Baird announced the needed part had been ordered and it would be installed. While the part was installed, Basista said the heat was still rarely used.

“The long and the short of it is I don’t believe much of anything Betty says anymore unless I can verify it,” he said. 

Basista said he began investigating and asking more questions. 

“I’m not inclined to let animals suffer,” he said.

Basista himself owns a Pomeranian and a cat he raised from the time it was three weeks old.

Part of Basista’s investigation included a one-hour-and-six-minute, under-oath interview with shelter employee Brenda Watkins in which she confirmed several of the allegations about the shelter, including the minimal dosage of euthanasia drug meaning animals sometimes howled and thrashed after being injected. Watkins also told Basista that Crumley, despite not being a certified euthanasia technician, was the one who prepared the injections.

“The bottom line is Betty Crumley has no business being the director of that facility,” he said. 

Watkins could not be reached as of press time. 

Basista said the only care the animals receive comes at the hand of the Watkins and the other two women who serve at the shelter. 

“The only reason they’re being cared for at all is because of the employees, the three female employees on their own.” 

Another employee declined to comment without Crumley present, but said she would tell the whole truth if asked. 

All of Watkins’ allegations were the truth, she said. 

Basista hopes Baird will take notice of the allegations surfacing and make the right decision regarding the future of the animal shelter.

“His friend is hanging him out to dry,” he said. 


Fall Out 

On Wednesday morning, Betty Crumley was waiting in the parking lot outside the county mayor’s office just before 8 a.m. Baird approached the vehicle and the two spoke for a few moments.
When the LaFollette Press approached, Crumley left.

Baird said there were ongoing investigations into both the threats against Crumley’s life as well as the allegations about Crumley’s misdeeds. 

“Until we find out what the outcome of those investigations [I have no comment],” Baird said.

Baird said he expects Crumley to continue in her post as shelter director for now, though the outcome of the investigation could mean she is terminated. 

“Probably [could be terminated],” he said. 

The LaFollettePress reached out via Facebook to the Exposing Betty Crumley page and an administrator said the creator would only talk via cell phone. After a number was provided, they did not return phone calls. 

Any criminal wrongdoing on the part of shelter employees would have to be investigated by an outside agency, according to the CCSD. 

“They are a county department just as we are,” said Goins.