Dog’s death reignites policy debate at shelter

Published 12:10 am Saturday, April 11, 2015

A fiery debate over best practices at the Rowan County Animal Shelter continued this week when a dog was euthanized for biting its adopted owner.

Named Jago, a German shepherd at the shelter was euthanized Thursday at 2:30 p.m. following a 10-day bite quarantine, enforced to determine if an animal has rabies. The dog was adopted by by a woman and her father, but later returned when it bit both owners at a store in Salisbury, according to multiple accounts of the event. The fact that the dog bit its owner is one of the few things universally agreed upon. Many parts of Jago’s story are contested by some animal advocates. A smaller subset of the advocates say the bite incident was so severe that the shelter’s management should be fired.

Following the bite, the owners returned Jago to the animal shelter. Animal Shelter Director Clai Martin says the dog also bit or attempted to bite a shelter staff member. Martin said the dog was euthanized in compliance with state and shelter rules.

“There was just too much liability to let this dog go out and be adopted, Martin said.

He compared it to an adoption that occurred in April 2014, when another German shepherd Paul was adopted after biting a Rowan County sheriff’s deputy. Paul was quarantined, like Jago, for rabies. Instead of euthanizing the dog, shelter staff allowed it to be adopted to a Union County dog trainer. After being adopted, Paul bit multiple people and was killed by a Union County sheriff’s deputy.

Martin said a similar incident could have occurred again, if Jago was allowed to be adopted.

Jago’s story was soon plastered across Facebook, with many harshly criticizing the shelter’s actions. When asked about Jago, the chief complaint of some animal activists was that the shelter wouldn’t allow the dog to be adopted by another owner. Debbie Dise, a local animal advocate, attempted to arrange for a rescue group to pick up Jago. The dog was euthanized before the group arrived at the shelter.

A series of emails provided by Dise shows Martin repeatedly said the dog was not up for adoption. County Manager Aaron Church, who received calls and emails about the incident, said he supports the shelter’s decision.

“It would be irresponsible to put that animal, which has not only bitten a child, an adult and tried to attack staff, out into the general population,” Church said. “In this country, in this state and in this county, citizens have a right to life, liberty and happiness and not to have rabid dogs running in your yard. That’s what animal control’s function is.”

Multiple animal advocates, including Dise, are calling for Martin to be fired as a result of the actions.

“Puppies bite and you can’t just keep putting them down,” Dise said.

Candace Terry, who helps run the group Friends of Rowan County Animal Shelter, called for an overhaul of operating procedures at the shelter as a result of Jago’s euthanization. She cited the creation of an animal shelter task force — scheduled to meet for the first time on April 23 — as a chance for animal advocates to make a change.”

When asked, she said new management at the shelter could also help.

Other animal advocates, including Cabarrus County resident Sallie Thompson, agree with the shelter’s decision to euthanize the dog.

“Bite dogs are a huge liability for this shelter and owner of the dog,” Thompson said. “Members of the public are saying they were told he could be adopted out by a rescue, but that is not the case. The shelter considered trying to let him be adopted, but ultimately had to make the safe call after having a meeting and much discussion.”

Talking about the situation, Martin said “things at the Rowan County Animal Shelter have never been better.” In the previous several years, euthanasia rates have sharply decreased and adoption rates are up, according to statistics provided by Rowan County government. A new cat wing for the shelter is also planned.

Statistics show there’s about 19 bite investigations per month at the shelter, on average.

Contact reporter Josh Bergeron at 704-797-4246.