'Dog gone' mess

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Animals removed, shelter closed; what's next for county?

By Beth Braden

 The Adrion W. Baird Animal Center is closed indefinitely and all animals have been removed after allegations about poor euthanasia practices surfaced about shelter director Betty Crumley. 

On Tuesday, a joint press release from the Campbell County Mayor’s Office, the Campbell County Sheriff’s Department and District Attorney General Lori Phillips-Jones called for a Tennessee Bureau of Investigation probe into the matter. 

“We are all seriously concerned about the allegations involving the Adrion W. Baird Animal Center and will not tolerate anything less than a thorough inquiry and investigation,” the release said. 

Phillips-Jones said none of the allegations have been substantiated yet. 

“Unfortunately, there’s a lot of hearsay and rumors going on and we really need to find out what the facts are and what can be substantiated,” she said.

While the county mayor’s office is familiar with the allegations, the CCSD and district attorney general are starting “from scratch,” according to local attorney Terry Basista. 

He hopes that the TBI does a thorough investigation, and says the allegations could have been substantiated before now if the mayor’s office had examined it.

“If you’re not looking for something, you’re not gonna find it,” he said.

Basista says he has several pieces of evidence from his own investigation he is willing to share with the TBI and Phillips-Jones.

Among that evidence is an under-oath interview with shelter employee Brenda Watkins who has worked at the shelter since 2006, two years before Crumley was hired.

On Tuesday, Watkins spoke with the Press via telephone. Watkins decided to come forward with her story because she has more support now than she did before, and she didn’t want to be held accountable for the alleged misdeeds. 

“She [Crumley] told us from day one…it’s gonna be her way or no way,” Watkins said. 

Among allegations lobbed at Crumley is the accusation that animals were euthanized in front of one another and that too little Fatal Plus – a sodium pentobarbital compound – was used for euthanasia. 

Watkins is not a certified euthanasia technician, but says the dying animals would often howl and thrash as they died. She said animal control officer Otis Poore played a large role in euthanizing the animals.

“He [Poore] plays the majority role part of all the animals that were euthanized in the shelter. A lot of that he done by what he was told to do,” she said. 

After Watkins came forward last week, she and co-worker Debbie McGhee returned to work as scheduled on April 11, the day the shelter was shuttered by county officials. The LaFollette Press was there too, although Crumley denied access. McGhee and Watkins could be seen through the window signing some paperwork and removing keys from key rings and giving them to Crumley. 

“[Crumley] said, ‘From now on when you all are here, I will be here,’” Watkins said.

Two CCSD deputies arrived at the shelter and stayed less than half an hour.

Watkins and McGhee declined to speak to the Press. McGhee said she would speak only if Crumley was present, an opportunity that did not present itself.

Watkins said workers had earlier received a handwritten note from Crumley asking them not to speak with the media. 

McGhee corroborated the story. 

“One of the girls has got a paper stating for her not to talk to anybody,” she said. 

Earlier this month, the Adrion W. Baird Animal Center Facebook page was updated by Baird to say copies of the shelter’s latest annual inspection results were available at the shelter.

The Press has been unable to obtain a copy of the report. On April 11, Crumley said the results were locked in the drug cabinet. Later that day, animal control officer Stan Foust said Crumley had the report locked in her office.

On April 16, deputy mayor David Young said he didn’t even know if the inspector had left a copy of the report. 

As of April 17, the Adrion Baird Facebook Page was no longer available.

As for Watkins and McGhee, both women say they stayed at the shelter in order to care for the animals. 

“[We] girls has always kept it clean, even before Betty came in there. We took good care of them animals and if they had certain needs, if we had a way to do it, we’d do it,” McGhee said. 

“I just felt like while I was there, I know the animals were taken care of, and we did get out what we could to rescue and adopted out what we had control over getting out of there,” Watkins said. 

Load ‘em up, move ‘em out

Around 11 a.m. that day, Campbell County Mayor William Baird left the shelter after what he described as a “private conversation” between himself and shelter director Betty Crumley. He said his office was still waiting on the results of an investigation by the Tennessee Department of Health before making a decision about the future of the shelter. 

The Humane Society of the Tennessee Valley removed each animal from the shelter.  FCCA had planned to take the animals, but agreed to let HSTV take them because they have more resources. 

Four officers from the Campbell County Sheriff’s Department also arrived at the scene. They went into Crumley’s office and closed the door

At least 16 animals were removed from the shelter:  two cats and 14 dogs. The cats, a black-and-white mustached feline and a long-haired calico, were placed into carriers and taken from the shelter. Dogs were put on leashes and walked out the side door. Among the 14 dogs were a mother and her pups intercepted by HSTV before they could be surrendered by a citizen.

Advocates reached down to pet and speak to the dogs as they were led to the HSTV van.

Crumley would not comment about the status of the shelter, but said the center would be closed for the day.

Before he left the shelter, Baird said he has never seen evidence of the any wrongdoing on Crumley’s part.  He did say he planned to speak with other shelter employees about the allegations.

The doors were locked and the animals gone before 1 p.m. 

Around 5 p.m., Simpson said she saw vehicles belonging to Crumley, animal advisor board vet Dr. Mark Garrett, and the animal control officers at the shelter. 

“There was only one trip made to Betty’s SUV. The back door on the driver side was opened and it appeared something was put inside, but the person’s back was to me and I can’t swear, what, if anything, it was. I saw [Dr.] Garrett arrive and leave…I believe the sanitation workers called in those same happenings to David Young,” she wrote to the Press. “I have [pictures] of the four vehicles leaving.”

Simpson saw an animal control truck leave the shelter and go to the top of the hill, then return to the shelter. 

Photos show a maroon SUV, a black Infiniti, a silver or light blue mini-van and the white animal control truck leaving the shelter.

Basista called it “disappointing” to hear that Crumley had been allowed to return to the shelter after Baird closed it.

Tuesday’s press release said the mayor’s office is the only entity with access to the shelter at this time. 

Crumley, Watkins and ACO Poore are on paid administrative leave, according to the mayor’s office. McGhee and another employee are on unpaid administrative leave. McGhee received word of her unpaid status in a letter on Tuesday. 

The letter told her she would not be paid as of April 12 because she is a part-time employee. 

“The letter was postmarked yesterday and I received it today,” she said. 

Since the shelter closed, FCCA president Michelle Davis says the group has been inundated with phone calls about animals in the county.

“We have been flooded. I just got a call today [about] a great pyranese that’s hungry,” she said. 

Simpson has also fielded several calls. While the group doesn’t have a facility to house animals, they are working with the community to help strays find new homes.

“All we can do is try to help people rehome their animals at this point, or offer to help get them to HSTV,” she said. 

Davis hopes to see the shelter open on a temporary basis.

“It would be a good thing if the mayor would let somebody take over temporarily until the investigation is over,” she said. “I just don’t know if that would be allowable since the investigation is ongoing.” 

While the mayor’s office said claims against Betty haven’t been substantiated, deputy mayor David Young could not say anything definitive about the future of the center.

“The problems were not ignored, but the problems that were brought forward recently…we didn’t have any way of knowing those until she stepped forward,” Young said. “Everything that happens with the animal center from this point forward will be contingent on reports from the state of Tennessee and the attorney general recommendation.”

Anybody wishing to speak with the TBI and present evidence is encouraged to contact the county mayor’s office at 562-2526, according to the press release.