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Clawshank redemption: Shelter worker's testimony damning of practices at Adrion W. Baird Animal Center

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By Beth Braden

 LAFOLLETTE – An hour of sworn testimony about conditions at the Adrion W. Baird Animal Center surfaced earlier this week confirming rumors of kicked cages, trapped cats and improper euthanasia techniques. 

In April, attorney Terry Basista placed shelter employee Brenda Watkins under oath and allowed her to share details of practices at the shelter. Watkins has worked at the animal shelter since 2006.

Changes in shelter operations were made at the beginning of Betty Crumley’s tenure as director in 2008.

“The first day she came in she done a count on all the animals and said ‘this is way too many animals in the shelter’ and that would change,” Watkins testified. 

On that day, the shelter wasn’t even full according to Watkins.

“It wasn’t overflowing. It wasn’t even at capacity. We had quite a few animals, but no, it wasn’t [full],” Watkins said. 

During Crumley’s first days on the job, former animal control officer George Moses was nowhere to be seen, Watkins said. He was the only one certified to administer euthanasia besides LaFollette ACO Stan Foust. When Moses did return, he was not “allowed” to perform euthanasia, according to the testimony. In the meantime, the shelter began to get crowded, Watkins testified.

“With the cats, we just stacked them on top of one another in cages,” she explained. “The dogs were inside, and we even had to lock dogs outside at that point had them inside and out.” 

Crumley also told the employees there would be no rescuing done at that point, a statement Crumley offered no reason for.

“We asked, but she had no answer at that point,” Watkins said.

The shelter employees began calling rescue groups on their own to try and get animals out of the shelter. 

On the adoption front, Watkins said there were times that an adoptable animal would be euthanized.

“A lot of animals that could have went to rescue that we know rescue would have taken were euthanized,” Watkins said.

Crumley was the one who made the decisions about which animals lived or died.

“If she was upset with a rescue, she wouldn’t let them pull. If it was a person that she didn’t like or was upset with or just didn’t want them to have that dog…they couldn’t adopt it,” Watkins said. “The majority of the time, they would be euthanized.” 

Watkins said there were often times cat carcasses in the freezers outside didn’t match the number on the intake sheet. 

“The only explanation I would have is I understand they were being trapped. I don’t know why they were. I mean, they were in the freezer, but they weren’t logged out front in the books,” she said.

The shelter has a contract with Kennedy-Boyd Enterprises in North Carolina, a medical specimen facility that collects cat carcasses and distributes them to schools for dissection in biology classes. The county receives $3 for each specimen of at least 12 inches in length. 

Watkins also shared her knowledge of the shelter’s euthanasia practices.

Dogs were often euthanized in their kennels in groups, she said. Catch poles were used to secure the animal and injections were then administered. Injections would be given in “random areas” on the animals’ bodies, Watkins testified.

Crumley—who Watkins never saw inject an animal—was the one who decided how much of the FatalPlus to use. FatalPlus is a sodium pentobarbital solution designed to quickly and humanely euthanize animals when the correct dosage is given. 

Dosing instructions depend on the method of euthanasia and the weight of the animal. Crumley admitted to the LaFollette Press in April that animals’ weights were determined by guess.

Crumley was also the one who drew the FatalPlus into the syringes, Watkins said.

The animals didn’t always die peacefully.

“Some of them will die quickly. Some of them it takes quite a while. Some of them thrash around in their cages. Some there’s feces we have to clean up afterwards. Sometimes there’s blood we have to clean up afterwards,” she said. 

Blood sometimes came from injection sites. Other times it came from an animal’s nose. 

After euthanasia, sometimes the still-breathing animals were placed into the freezers alive. 

“I have seen them taken out to the freezer still alive,” Watkins said. 

At the end of March, a video surfaced online in which a male voice is heard telling Crumley there’s a problem, that an animal is in the freezer alive. In April, another video surfaced showing deep, bloody scratch marks on the inside of the chest freezers used to store animals before disposal. 

Betty had no problem with live animals being sent to the freezer, Watkins said.

Watkins said she had also seen Poore kick the kennels to “rouse” and “irritate” the animals. 

“Me and Betty had an issue one day about some dogs put down that I had going to rescue,” Watkins explained. Crumley told her the dog seemed aggressive and was “hunkered” down in the back of the kennel.

“I said ‘when people go down here kicking on the front of the cages, scaring them, yeah it’s gonna hunker down.’ I said ‘Otis does it all the time.’” Watkins said.

Crumley did not reply. 

The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation and Tennessee Department of Health continues to investigate. County Mayor William Baird said the shelter will remain closed until the investigation is finished. 

Meanwhile, the  county’s Animal Advisory Board began reviewing the local animal ordinances on Tuesday night.

Mark Garrett, veterinarian and chairman of the board, reminded the audience that the advisory board is just that—advisory—and has no voting powers.

“We’re advisory only. We really have no authority,” he told them. 

The manual containing the ordinances is nearly 10 years old.

“It was the first major animal control and protection ordinance for the county,” Garrett said. 

Fine-tuning the ordinance had been a goal even before the shelter was closed on April 11. 

Crumley serves on the animal advisory committee, as does Stan Foust. Otis Poore was not in attendance, though he does not serve on the board. 

Members of local advocate group Friends of Campbell County Animals were present in the audience, as well as shelter employees Watkins and Debbie McGhee.

Representatives from the Human Society of the Tennessee Valley also sat in on the meeting. 

Little was accomplished during the 90-minute meeting, the majority of the work being fine-tuning language to define “business hours” and deciding what kind of animals the shelter will accept. Further defining “humane treatment” and establishing requirements for rescue groups who wish to pull from the shelter will happen at a later date.

The group will reconvene at 5 p.m. on July 16 at LaFollette City Hall.