St. George police release findings in animal shelter investigation

Posted at 12:27 PM, Aug 22, 2013
and last updated 2013-08-22 20:22:26-04

ST. GEORGE -- The St. George Police Department released a detailed report Thursday after an investigation regarding allegations made against David Vane, the former Animal Control Supervisor for the St. George City Animal Control Shelter.

Although it was determined that no criminal violations had occurred, a review board agreed unanimously that Vane should be removed as the shelter's manager and reassigned as an Animal Control Officer. The review board also agreed unanimously that Vane had not done anything that warranted termination.

Vane was accused of questionable practices regarding the management of the shelter and euthanasia performed there, as well as misconduct, animal abuse and mismanagement of funds.

One complaint regarding management at the shelter alleged that kennels were being cleaned with animals still inside them. The report also said that drain covers had been removed from kennels in an effort to facilitate the cleaning process, which made it impractical to add "comfort items" such as chew tows and blankets due to the risk of clogging the drains.

"Vane has worked extremely hard to be efficient and control costs but many times he has done so at the expense of public relations and best practices in the industry," Deputy Chief Richard Farnsworth wrote in the report.

A related complaint alleged that puppies had been washed down the open drains. One of the people interviewed in the investigation said a stray dog had been taken into the shelter several years ago and the animal control officer didn't know the dog was pregnant.

The dog gave birth to several puppies and two of them fell into the drain, the report said. One of the puppies was found dead the next morning.

Vane told police that shelter employees never knowingly placed a pregnant dog in a kennel without a grate over the drain.

"I found no evidence to support the allegations that 'puppies were being washed down the drains'," Farnsworth wrote.

Regarding euthanasia at the facility, the investigation found that Vane carried out almost all of those procedures during the last several years "due to it being a very unpopular assignment."

Investigators said best practices regarding euthanasia suggest animals should be sedated before receiving an intra-cardiac injection, also known as a "heart stick."

Vane told investigators that he hated to euthanize animals and he did administer sedation when he determined it was needed.

Sedation before intra-cardiac injection is not required by law or city policy, the report said, and police did not find any evidence that Vane "wants to euthanize animals."

Farnsworth said he did not find any specific information to support the claims that Vane was physically aggressive or "rough" when handling animals.

Farnsworth also said Vane had been accused of misusing or mismanaging public funds at the shelter, but he found "no information to support this allegation in any way."

"On the contrary," Farnsworth wrote, "those who have worked directly with Vane believe him to be very honest."

In accordance with a resolution adopted by the Mayor and the City Council of St. George, Police Chief issued a directive on July 26 prohibiting all euthanasia at the facility without authorization from Deputy Chief Farnsworth.

A verbal directive was also issued that required animals to be removed from the kennels prior to cleaning unless the animal posed a risk to the shelter employee.

On July 27, police received a report that an employee at the shelter had been cleaning the kennels with animals still inside.

Police questioned employees at the shelter and said it appeared Vance had not changed the cleaning policies.

Vane was placed on administrative leave while the investigation was conducted.

In addition to Vane's demotion, he was suspended for two days without pay and placed on a "performance action plan" monitored by his direct supervisor and Human Resources.

Numerous changes were also implemented at the shelter as outlined on pages 10 and 11 Farnsworth's report. [PDF]