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Council wants to amend code for troubled shelter

May 4, 2012

Special to the Standard

EXETER – On Monday, exactly one week after a work session drew a packed audience angry about various issues at the Exeter Animal Shelter – including the euthanization of two pit bulls – the town council introduced a proposed amendment to the ordinances governing animal issues that would put the public works director in charge.
Changes would affect definitions of who may deal with animals; the second focuses on enforcement. The proposal, which must be examined at two public hearings, puts all animal control personnel and the shelter itself, as well as day-to-day operations, under the DPW director.
That position is currently held by Stephen P. Mattscheck.
Meanwhile, the Standard-Times has learned of a controversy simmering around the spaying last week of a pair of emaciated dogs that reportedly belonged to a backyard breeder before being found running loose.
According to volunteers knowledgeable about the event, despite their frailty the starving animals were taken to the West Greenwich Animal Hospital where Kimberley Dana Brown, DVM, performed the surgery. Paperwork obtained by the newspaper lists one dog as weighing 37.9 pounds and the other 34.60.
The American Kennel Club (AKC) sets the breed standard for pointers at a weight of 44-75 pounds.
Although shelter volunteers insist there was evidence the dogs were in heat, Dr. Brown, who obtained a master’s degree in agronomy (agriculture) from the University of Florida and her doctorate from Auburn University College of Veterinary Medicine, denies it.
In a signed statement, she asserts, “On April 23, 2012, I spayed both Stella and Bella, two female dogs presented by the Exeter Animal Shelter. They were mature females and not in heat.”
Her position is supported by Dr. Ralph Pratt, who with his wife, Dr. Amy Pratt, is co-founder of West Greenwich Animal Hospital. He says the pointer sisters were “older and probably had been in heat” before but were not at the time of the surgeries.
The hospital charged $200 for each spay, an additional $90 apiece for the line item “ovariohysterectormy-mature/in heat” and assorted other fees, bringing the total cost of treating the dogs to $710.
Pratt explains the extra cost applies is an either-or situation: dogs may be either mature or in heat to warrant additional charges for the procedure. Both dogs were deemed to be mature and, he adds, “With a mature dog, the uterus is larger.”
Although some veterinarians consider such operations potentially risky and refuse to perform them, Pratt says, “We do it all the time.”
A longtime member of the Friends of the Exeter Animal Shelter wonders why the dogs were taken to West Greenwich in the first place when a contract for veterinary work between the town and North Kingstown Animal Hospital has been in effect for years.
In other shelter-related developments:
n It has been confirmed that the expert who evaluated three pit bulls, including the two who were put down – an event that ignited the shelter controversy – was Katrina Jones of Providence. Dennis Tabella, the head of Defenders of Animals, a statewide animal advocacy group he founded 34 years ago, says, “The method [she] uses to evaluate is all wrong. I’ve worked with a number of animal behaviorists on different issues and they don’t use the same evaluation system that Katrina Jones uses.
“[Her method] has resulted in a lot of dogs being put to sleep. I would put money on it that if another person had gone to evaluate, the results would have been different.”
n A bill based on Delaware’s passage of a measure making the entire state a no-kill zone was reintroduced last week in Rhode Island by Rep. Deborah Fellela (D-Johnston). Tabella said Sen. John J. Tassoni Jr. (D-Smithfield) previously sponsored the bill but, “We couldn’t get anywhere.”
In essence, he explains, the law would require that “before an animal is put to sleep, other animal shelters or groups must be allowed to work with them. The bill would help issues [such as that in Exeter] because other dogs could be saved. Three thousand dogs and cats are destroyed every year in Rhode Island.”
n In a phone interview last week, Council President Arlene Hicks took exception to a statement by Kelly Patton, president of the Friends of the Exeter Animal Shelter, in last week’s newspaper, that the council had demanded the group turn over its bankbooks. She says the council wanted to protect the organization.
“We found out that they lost their 501(3) C [tax exempt status.] We knew a town employee had the books.” Hicks says the suggestion was: “Why don’t you bring them up to town hall for safe-keeping? We’ll put them in the safe.” Afterwards, she recalls, the group’s accountant called her and said the bankbooks were needed.
Patton stands by her remarks, declaring, “They demanded the books from Deana [Dolan, veteran animal control officer.] She did not have them, nor would the committee allow her to have the books to give to the town. They’re not town property; they’re our property.”
n Despite earlier denials, the council has instituted BCI security background checks of people interested in becoming shelter volunteers. Waivers allowing the town to contact the state attorney general seeking criminal records are displayed on the desk at the facility for applicants to sign.
The so-called “Disclaimers” must be sworn before a notary public.

Martha Smith is an award-winning journalist and author. Retired, she is an independent contractor for SRIN.

Southern Rhode Island Newspapers
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