Slothower case leaves questions about animal control system

All of Terri Slothower’s animals have now been euthanized. The Rockford woman said she was ordered off the premises of Winnebago County Animal Services (WCAS) when she attempted to see her dogs, and WCAS Director Gary Longanecker said the staff were unable to contact her to make arrangements to reclaim the dogs. The question now seems to be, was the tragic outcome due to a breakdown in communication?

The Rock River Times talked with Longanecker and asked him when and why the dogs were killed. He gave the date of Wednesday, Nov. 23, and explained further: “Why? For a couple of reasons. All of the animals were sick, they were inbred, they had mange. They were all examined by our veterinarian. None were suitable for rescue or adoption. We had them here just short of a month. We sent Terri Slothower a letter and gave her a date before she was to come and make arrangements to reclaim the animals. We told her the Friday before, the animals were unsuitable. They were all full of worms. Our veterinarian examined each and every one. A number of those animals were becoming vicious and aggressive.”

TRRT: Terri said she was contacted by the State’s Attorney’s Office and told the petition to destroy the dogs was being withdrawn.

Gary Longanecker: “Part of the difficulty we had—I cannot speak to anything that came from the State’s Attorney’s Office. But Terri apparently does not have a telephone; she has a pager. You can leave a voicemail or a number. Every time she has contacted us, we have called and left messages. In terms of the letter on Friday from the state’s attorney, the animals were euthanized the following Wednesday. The Sheriff’s Department all during the night and the next morning attempted to serve her with notice to be in court; that Friday afternoon, the Sheriff’s Department was in front of the house. Whether she was there or not, I couldn’t say, but both the Sheriff’s Department and investigator Mace made repeated attempts all the night before. So at the time we went to court (you can talk with Mr. Kovanda), at that point, Mr. Kovanda withdrew his petition… I didn’t do anything. We had met all statutory requirements. Terri came out here and met with investigator Mace about 10 days to two weeks before, and she was told at that time that if she would come out, she had to pay for the vaccinations and registration as the law requires, to reclaim the animals. She could take the animals and contact us with any arrangements.”

TRRT: Why were rescue organizations not allowed to get the dogs?

GL: “I’m not putting the blame on anyone. But Ms. Slothower would call here and leave the pager number, and we would call back. In one day, I personally left her four messages, both verbal and communication, to contact me. That would have been on the Friday she was being summoned to court. We never heard a word. Why? I don’t know, but we did not hear from her. At no time did Terri Slothower call here and say she had made arrangements to pick up the animals or to pay for registration and vaccination as required by state law—what was determined by the veterinarian after her notification. In seven days, she had to call and make arrangements and move them from the facility. She made no contact with us, made no arrangements. Unfortunately, these animals were not physically healthy. So when we go to a rescue [group], we can’t expect any rescue to take any animals that were inbred and suffering from infection… no rescue will take them.”

TRRT: What about the puppies?

GL: “The puppies were all as sick as the adults were.”

TRRT: Is it possible that some of these conditions developed from the long confinement in the cages?

GL: “No, these animals came in here sick, and we treated them as best we could. The filthy conditions these animals were housed in [were the cause]. Our facility has determined that the animals had received no veterinary care that we could find. Of the 50 dogs, only eight of them were vaccinated. To show what we were trying to do to assist her, we went ahead and vaccinated these animals, and they were ready a week before they were euthanized for her to come and pick them up. Before we can release the animals, they have to be vaccinated, and we started… she came here one time and met with investigator Mace, and he gave her the amount of money it would cost to redeem the animals.”

TRRT: Both the cats and dogs taken from Terri Slothower were determined to be unsalvagable by your facility. Yet, the cats were euthanized immediately, while the dogs were held for about seven weeks to see if Terri could come up with more than $15,000 to get them back. [Note: Slothower gave TRRT a list of dogs by name, breed, ID number, and a dollar amount for each one. The total came to $15,996. The list was attached to a letter dated Nov. 8, 2005 from Winnebago County Division of Animal Services listing fees for handling, boarding, rabies vaccination, registration, and microchip. The letter was signed by investigator David Mace.]

GL: “That is not true. I will have you talk with the State’s Attorney’s Office because the case is still not resolved. I have had no sit-down meetings with Terri Slothower. She had made no less than five appointments to meet with Animal Services to redeem her animals, and she never came in except one time. She met with investigator Mace and was told what to do to redeem the animals, and she never returned. The total would have been much less than that, but we were unable to make contact with her. I personally left four or five messages on her pager, since she doesn’t have a telephone, and told her to call us so we could give her the actual total.”

TRRT: Why were you willing to release the dogs to Terri if they were in such terrible condition?

GL: “The point is, in the amount of time the animals were here, they received veterinary care by Dr. Gambrel, our veterinary administrator, and he personally saw each and every one of the animals. Over the period of weeks, we treated those animals to get them in the best condition we could. Terri had indicated to us that she was seeking a place in Winnebago County where she could take the animals. She called one day and left me a voicemail… We went to the judge, and I talked to Mr. [Gary] Kovanda [assistant state’s attorney]. The court felt that Animal Services had met all the state requirements for the disposal of the animals. She had been notified as state law requires, and the court felt they did not need to rule. They then pulled their motion. Terri left me a message at 6:30 in the morning. She said, ‘Would you please deliver the animals?’ I said, ‘Terri, you need to call me or investigator Mace and come out to the shelter, and your animals can be released.’ Then we sent her a letter, and we told her, you must claim these animals by 5 p.m. on that particular Friday. We didn’t hear a word. We held the animals until the following Wednesday and had those animals here… [after several weeks] she went to court and filed some kind of court action. We were never subpoenaed. I didn’t have any idea what that court action was.”

TRRT questioned Assistant State’s Attorney Gary Kovanda: On Nov. 27, you asked the court to withdraw your petition to destroy the dogs taken from Terri Slothower. On what basis did you make the decision to withdraw the request?

Kovanda replied, “The judge indicated that he didn’t see that this was necessary under the Animal Control Act, so I withdrew the petition… there was no need to seek a court order to do something that was allowed under the Animal Control Act.”

Slothower’s story

TRRT talked to Terri Slothower, who has been keeping a personal journal of events in this case. Here is her account as she recalls it:

“I faxed both of them [Longanecker and Mace] on the 23rd. I got home at 10:30 that night, the 22nd. That’s when I found that letter stuck to the back door [stating] that all the

dogs were going to be killed on Tuesday, the next day. I called numerous times as soon as I found that letter. They still didn’t return my voice messages. I had called earlier, four times on the 21st, at 8:42 a.m., 11:23 a.m., 12:45 p.m., and the last time at 4:42. He [Longanecker] never returned a single one, so I faxed him a letter asking why he had called several times, and they never returned my messages. Both the receptionists, Becky and Robin, were the ones I talked to. They hadn’t returned my calls, so when I got to work that night, I asked my boss if I could fax something to them, and she said, ‘Sure.’ So I faxed them a letter stating that I had been calling numerous times, and they had not returned my voice messages. I sent the fax to both Mace and Longanecker.

“That was the 21st. The 22nd was when I found that letter on my back door right after I got back from work. I was there at my house at 8 o’clock at night on the 22nd because I had my truck towed there. I left and came back later, about 10:30 p.m. That’s when I found an unaddressed envelope stuck on the window of the back screen door… [the letter stated] they had received the court order and were going to kill them [dogs] that day, before I even got the letter. Then, I started calling them again. And they didn’t return any of my voice messages. On 11/23, between 7 and 8 a.m., I sent another fax to both of them from my boss’s machine because they weren’t answering my phone calls. The receptionist said she would go and check, then come back and say, ‘He’s out,’ or ‘he’s in a meeting,’ or ‘he’s on another line. Can you call back?’

“I got the letter with the list of prices on Nov. 18. I met with him [Longanecker] and Mace. They gave me a list of the individual prices on each dog. He had one receptionist writing down the figures for each one. He rattled off the numbers, and I said, ‘I want to know the prices for each individual one, including puppies.’ [Later], when I called, they said, ‘You can call back, or you can leave a voicemail,’ and I said, ‘They haven’t been returning my voicemail.’

“I was there the day after they seized the dogs, and they told me not to come back without calling first. Then they escorted me to the door. I faxed them on the 23rd. I also called at 1:30, 2:45 and 4:05, and then it went to the recording, where they [WCAS offices] were closed. Then I faxed them again on Saturday, Nov. 26 because they don’t answer the phone on Saturday… I asked them why they didn’t respond. On Nov. 26, I received a letter from the State’s Attorney’s Office [referring to] the withdrawal of the petition.

“On Monday, Nov. 28, I sent a fax to Longanecker and Mace and waited until 3:30 for a response and never got one. I was at work. My boss said, ‘You can return the calls if they call you back.’ She knows how far it had already gone.

“I called Winnebago County Animal Services on 11/29. I called in a voice message, and I questioned them about the letter I received from the state’s attorney saying they withdrew the petition. I didn’t understand. Did they or did they not kill the dogs? When I called Animal Services on the 29th, the lady who answered said, ‘We’re not supposed to direct your calls to Mace or Longanecker anymore. You have to speak to the Assistant State’s Attorney, Stacy Forsythe.’

“Then I had court on Dec. 2, and Judge Pirrello asked the assistant state’s attorney if they had been euthanized. She said yes. [Then] I spoke up and said, ‘I had a petition to prevent that.’ He said if I would have had an attorney, I would have known how to do it correctly. And I said I did what they told me to do because there is no standard form. He said, ‘You would have possibly been able to prevent that.’

“That’s when the Assistant State’s Attorney Stacy Forsythe said she presented the petition to dismiss the plaintiff’s motion for administrative review, which was a paper I filed to prevent them from killing them [dogs]. She also presented all the case statute stuff—a bunch of stuff—that has to do with procedure, zoning, etc. At the time she gave it to me, I didn’t even have a chance to look at it. She gave it to me in front of the judge. He asked her, ‘Is she [Slothower] just now receiving this notice?’ That’s when he gave me the first chance to respond to this. I have to file a response. I said, ‘I haven’t had a chance to read it.’ He said, ‘That’s why I’m giving you till the 1st.’ Then he gave me another court date on Jan. 12.

“After the judge said they had been euthanized, I asked, ‘Even the puppies? They were only six weeks old.’ I had just put an ad in the paper. Why would I put an ad in if they were sick? When I said that to the judge, he asked Stacy, and she said, ‘I didn’t know about the puppies. I’ll find out.’ When we left the courtroom, I asked, ‘When you find out, can you call me right away?’ (Forsythe promised that she would.) We left the courtroom about 10:30 a.m. She called me at 11:05 and said yes, they euthanized the puppies, too. I said, ‘Oh, my God!’

“I wanted to ask her a couple other things, but she said, ‘We will speak at the next court hearing. I can’t discuss anything now.’

“I asked the assistant state’s attorney when she called me about the puppies, could I get the pictures that they took of them when they were carried out [of the house]? She said, ‘No, because they will probably want to keep them for the files.’ I said, ‘Why? I wasn’t charged with anything. It’s done and over with. Why can’t I have the pictures? I’ll pay for copies, and you can keep the originals. I just want something to remember them by.’ She said, ‘No, they won’t release them.’”

From the Dec. 28, 2005-Jan. 3, 2006, issue

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