Cedar Valley Humane Society Investigation

By Mark Geary, Reporter

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By Daren Sukhram

CEDAR RAPIDS – A place designed to comfort and care for animals has become the subject of scrutiny and controversy.

Dozens of people have contacted KCRG-TV9 with concerns about the welfare of animals at The Cedar Valley Humane Society.

For the past two months, KCRG-TV9 has investigated the Cedar Valley Humane Society. You'll remember the society's Executive Board fired two-long time co-directors and about a half-dozen staff members back in early September without a public explanation. 

Our investigation reveals what lead to those dismissals, examines state inspection reports and discusses whether allegations about euthanasia practices are true. 

Board President Bernie Lettington says deteriorating conditions at the shelter forced the board to take action. 

RAW: Interview with Board President Bernie Lettington

"The levels of care and standards of care weren't what they needed to be,” Lettington said. 

Veterinary Technology Professor Anne Duffy inspected the facility on the board's behalf and insists something needed to be done. 

"There were some real serious problems...sick animals mixed in with animals that did not appear to be sick...very poor ventilation in some of the rooms,” Duffy said. 

Duffy says the former leadership allowed cats to live in an empty house next to the shelter. 

"That house had no utilities. It had no heat. It had no water. It had no electricity. These cats were over there with no treatment. Absolutely nothing,” she said. 

RAW: Interview with Veterinary Technology Professor Anne Duffy

 

The former co-directors say the house was empty most of the time and only a handful of cats lived there. 

Over the past three years, the shelter received glowing reviews during each surprise visit by Department of Agriculture Inspector Stephanie Black. Black wrote comments like, "All facilities clean and sanitary" and "No obvious odors or safety concerns for any animals."

An inspection report dated June 26, 2009, just two months before all the firings, says, "Animal care, isolation, euthanasia and welfare appear on-going and of utmost importance to personnel and staff. No concerns or recommendations for compliance." 

"I can't really explain it…what the report cites. I know what we saw and were concerned about when we reached out to other experts in the field,” Lettington said. 

Duffy said, "I can't tell you why the inspector did not see those things because I know those things were there."

Former co-directors Susan Manson and Sandy LaBaw say the trauma of losing so many staff members so quickly could have made animals ill.

"One thing you have to understand about sickness and stress in cats...it can happen virtually in hours...overnight,” Manson said. 

RAW: Interview with former Co-Director Susan Manson

 

Soon after Manson and LaBaw lost their jobs, Cathy Boyes became interim director. 

"It wasn't messy and unorganized,” Boyes said. 

Boyes later transitioned into another job at the shelter, but got fired because she says her ideas contradicted with the board.

RAW: Interview with former Interim-Director/Employee Cathy Boyes

After the three women lost their jobs, they allege the Cedar Valley Humane Society euthanized numerous healthy animals. 

"I was in their cages with them. I knew the animals. They were not vicious. They had passed their temperament tests. They were adoptable, healthy animals,” Boyes said. 

On Manson and LaBaw's last day, they say 157 cats were in the building. Two weeks later, Inspector Black visited the shelter and reported only 75 cats were on the property. 

"I'd have to do some research on those numbers…the 75 sounds a little low. The 157 sounds a little high to me,” Lettington said. 

Unlike her previous visits, Black also cited multiple problems and violations on at the CVHS including drainage problems, issues with narcotics and incomplete entries in the euthanasia log. 

"It seems a little unusual. All I can tell you is that most, if not all, of the issues that were cited there predated the September transition,” Lettington said. 

We asked the CVHS board to provide us with the number of animals euthanized this year. For three weeks, we asked for the numbers over and over again, but they refused.

"Generally, the policy is not to release those kinds of numbers,” Lettington said. 

We made the same request to multiple other shelters in the area. The Cedar Rapids Animal Control, The Dubuque Regional Humane Society, the Iowa City Animal Care and Adoption Center and the Humane Society of North Iowa complied with our request. 

After we showed Lettington data from those organizations, he finally agreed to share his data. Click here to view those numbers. Numbers he presented show euthanasia has decreased over the past few months. 

"I have no paper to pull out and say those are inaccurate. I can only tell you what my gut and my heart tells me when I look at them,” Manson said.

Lettington respects his former employee's passion for animals, but insists the board needed to make a change.

"It's not enough to be passionate about animals. You need to have the skills and the expertise to make responsible decisions and operate the shelter in a responsible manner,” Lettington said.

Manson said, "I just want the public to take a good look at it and decide for yourself."

Zach Melton now serves as the executive director of the CVHS. His mission is to restore the public's trust and help the organization regroup, rebuild and move forward.

"You can come in. I'll give you a tour. I'll show you the pets. I'll show you the staff. I'll show you everything. There's nothing to hide out there,” Melton said.

RAW: Interview with Executive Director Zach Melton

 

Regardless of what happened in the past, the CVHS simply wants to move forward. But, those who are concerned about the animals there don't have any plans to let the controversy fade away.

The former directors of the Cedar Valley Humane Society are planning a protest on Sunday near the building from 12:00-4:00 p.m.  For more information about Sunday's protest, visit www.forthesakeofanimals.com.

Click here to read a detailed statement from the Cedar Valley Humane Society Board of Directors.

 

E-mail Mark Geary at Mark.Geary@kcrg.com or follow him on Twitter.

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