The Van Buren Township Police Department is working on problems with animal control and things are better, but problems are not completely solved.
At the Oct. 6 meeting of the VBT Public Safety Committee, Public Safety Director Carl McClanahan included comments on progress in the area of animal control in his “Police Briefing” part of the agenda.
“Are we there 100%? No we’re not, but we’re working on it,” Director McClanahan said of animal control.
He said procedures have been changed and the operation of the shelter has been improved. New reports have been created that have to be done on drug use for euthanasia, daily activities, and other reports.
He read the new Mission Statement, which he has said was written recently by Captain Greg Laurain, who supervises animal control activity.
McClanahan said the reports are to comply with federal law and give the department the chance to do quick reviews and “See how we’re doing.”
Resident Larry Fix said from the audience that although McClanahan said he was responding to “numerous” complaints when he began an investigation of animal control, when the township was given a Freedom of Information Act request for the complaints, there were only two.
McClanahan said the complaints came from a variety of sources, other than the official written complaints, including verbal complaints.
McClanahan then ticked off answers to complaints about animal control.
* $1,200 missing in “returned to owner fees.”
“$1,200 is not missing,” McClanahan stated, adding that on numerous occasions the animal control officer allowed “indigent dog owners” to take their pets without paying the fee required by the ordinance. He said the
ACO said the money saved by the fee could be used to pay for licensing, shots, and food for the dog.
* Dead dog in dumpster complaint.
McClanahan said a complaint was filed with the Michigan Department of Agriculture by a member of the Public Safety Committee (Diane Madigan) about the dog in the dumpster and the Department of Agriculture made a surprise inspection and found no evidence of anything wrong.
Department of Agriculture law states a dead dog must be disposed of by burial or incineration.
McClanahan said the dog in the dumpster on July 11 was a one-time incident and the dog was road kill.
“Going forward, all dogs euthanized will be placed in a plastic bag and picked up” by Partridge Enterprises, McClanahan said.
* Misuse of Schedule 2 Drugs complaint.
McClanahan said a Public Safety Committee member filed a complaint with the Drug Enforcement Administration on the misuse of schedule 2 drugs and he and other officers investigated and found poorly kept records.
He said a DEA official visited VBT on Sept. 17 and did an audit of the drugs.
Sandra K. White-Hope, DEA Diversion Investigator, wrote a brief note to Captain Laurain on Sept. 21 stating:
“This email is to notify you, Captain Kenneth Brooks, and Mr. Bob Queener the results of the Audit conducted on Sept. 21, 2010. [Ed. Note: Actually, the audit was conducted on Sept. 17.]
“Upon a review of your records for Ketamine and Fetal Plus from Jan. 1, 2010 to current, investigators found all of your records to be incompliance [Sic] with the Code of Federal Regulation. An Audit was conducted on the above controlled substances and both balanced. Per the results of this investigation this case is considered closed. No further action will be taken.”
Trustee Phil Hart asked McClanahan if the DEA gave any recommendations for future record-keeping and McClanahan replied that he was out of town that day and wasn’t at the DEA meeting.
[Madigan had a letter signed by Supervisor Paul White that she had permission to be at the DEA audit, but when she arrived for the meeting, Police Officer Roy Schroeder refused her admittance, saying he was told she could not attend. White was in a meeting and was not available, Madigan said.]
* Complaint of no transfer records for 12 animals.
McClanahan reported that his department has “corrected this issue.” In one incident, he said, there was no record that an owner gave consent to euthanize a cat. On May 28, the resident was attacked by her cat, he said, and she verbally consented to it being put down, which was in the police incident report.
* Complaint of unsupervised animal control officer.
McClanahan said the animal control officer was half-time ordinance officer and half-time animal control from the time he was hired in 2005 until January 2010, when he was made full-time animal control officer under the police department.
“No one was assigned to supervise the ACO until January, 2010,” McClanahan stated, noting Captain Laurain then became his supervisor. McClanahan said he requested random checks of the shelter, which came up positive.
* Complaint that animal control officer housed his personal dog at the shelter.
“Yes, that’s true,” McClanahan reported to the committee. He went on to say that ACOs past and present and other township officials have done that for years and, “No more.”
* Complaint that ACO was not properly trained.
McClanahan said the ACO has been properly trained and, in fact, was at a training seminar “right now.”
Supervisor Paul White asked about impound fees and if the ACO has the discretion to charge or not charge.
“And, why was one charged and one not?” Supervisor White asked. He said in the policy it says the fees “shall be collected.”
McClanahan said that has been investigated and “remedy taken.”
Supervisor White said the DEA said the township had poorly kept records.
“Their mission here was to instruct us on record-keeping to be in compliance with DEA rules,” White stated.
“The DEA came to investigate,” McClanahan said.
Public Safety Committee member Reggie Miller asked if the DEA was conducting an investigation on the records only and not activities of the ACO and she was told just the records.
Madigan said according to the township animal ordinance, fees must be collected and no dog can be released from custody unless fees are paid. Those found in violation of the ordinance are guilty of a misdemeanor with a penalty of 90 days in jail and/or $500 fine.
Madigan said for 2009-10, she has discovered 106 violations of the ordinance, with a minimum total of $3,490 that should have been collected. She said she figured the fees for one day each and the dogs may have been kept longer than one day. She also has copies of seven receipts written by the ACO for the incorrect amounts.
McClanahan said he accepted the reason given by the ACO. “We took corrective action and that’s that!”
McClanahan said that VBT employees in general kept their dogs in the shelter in the past.
“Do we pay the ACO overtime to come in and feed their own dogs?” Madigan asked, stating, “We’ve done that.”
“I don’t know that that happened,” McClanahan said.
[Madigan FOIA’d time sheets that showed Queener was paid overtime to come in and care for the shelter when only one dog was present – his own dog.]
Madigan said ACO records show 24 dogs were euthanized and six dogs picked up by Partridge Enterprises, which left 18 missing bodies.
McClanahan said he found they had misinterpreted Partridge records, which indicate the number of “units” picked up, which in fact means the number of bags.
“On many occasions more than one animal was placed in a bag,” McClanahan stated.
“He was trained to put one in a bag,” Madigan stated. The bags are then put in a freezer to be saved for Partridge pickup and disposal.
Supervisor White asked since Partridge charges by the unit, they would only be paid for one bag even if it had five or six dogs in it. Dogs are different sizes. He said Partridge is a business to make money and it doesn’t seem right for the township to put many dogs in one bag.
“Multiple chihuahuas were euthanized and put in one bag,” McClanahan stated.
Resident John Delaney said that these standards have been ongoing for many years in the animal control area and they just didn’t start 10 months ago. He said McClanahan is trying to hold up a troubled system.
Committee Chairman Michael Miazga stood up for McClanahan saying the director is not covering up, but facing the issues and working on them.
“At what point in time does the person get to deviate from the ordinance?” Delaney asked.
Miazga said it will not happen again.
“If it weren’t for a couple of us going to Mrs. Madigan, this would still be going on,” Delaney said. “Are we giving a pass to what happened in the past?”
“We are in the process of moving forward,” said Supervisor White, adding they are seeing that all the ordinances are followed and all the animal control policies followed.
“We should have a much better organization … because people came forward,” White said.
Delaney said when those with complaints on animal control first requested records under the Freedom of Information Act, there were no records.
“Now, there are records,” Delaney said.
“We acknowledge what’s happened in the past and we’re moving forward,” White said.
“Is it better to spend resources moving forward or investigating the past?” asked committee member Ramone Crowe. He suggested they should see what happens and continue moving forward.
Madigan insisted the committee must address the infractions that have taken place.
“It does look like a cover-up,” she said, adding, “No spreadsheets one day and then spreadsheets.”
“A cover up is worse than the crime,” Delaney said.
McClanahan said there were lots of reports and written documents that had to be “properly formulated.” He said there was information, but, “We created a new spread sheet.”
“Yes, it wasn’t there and now it’s there,” McClanahan said. “To say that’s a cover up, that’s disingenuous. There is no cover up.”
“What crimes are we talking about?” asked committee member Miller.
Madigan said not collecting fees, no citations for having no dog tags.
Hart said they have put the information together to answer the FOIAs.
Crowe said there were instances where people could be helped by not being charged a fee.
“We’re filling in to make it sound good … to make everything happy again,” Delaney said. “There’s no proof the money not collected was spent on dog tags or shots or food.”
Trustee Hart said, “We don’t know what we don’t know. We have to make a more robust process.”
“It’s perfect going forward, but in the past…” Madigan said.
White said if a dog is picked up it’s because it’s running loose and there has to be a fee to penalize the owner or it could happen again and again.
“It’s not the dog’s fault,” White said, referring to comments that a dog could be euthanized.
Fix charged that the township board wants to “outsource to a certain individual” the animal control duties and the investigation is “all smoke.”
“That is not in anyone’s plan,” White stated.
“I have no problem with waiving fees, just write it down,” Delaney said, adding if a notation said the fee was waived there would be a record. “It would take care of $1,200 … and all the records would jibe.”
White said it’s not the township’s plan to start waiving fees. There are fees such as water bills and others that can’t be waived. He said the pet owner must be a responsible person and follow the rules.
Resident Allen Babosh talked about volunteers at the animal shelter and how volunteers would be to help the ACO, not take away his job. He said interns could get valuable training in euthanasia and other skills which could lead to getting a job in the future.
“It’s a union shelter,” McClanahan said. “We can’t have volunteers doing union-bargained-for work, but an intern is not a bad idea.”