Woman returns dog to WCAS, clashes over policy

A local woman who returned a dog to Winnebago County Animal Services alleges she was met with rebuffs from staff members because she refused to sign a form at the agency.

Sheila Demus told The Rock River Times: “We went down and adopted a dog in the month of August 2005 [from WCAS]. We took the dog home, but I didn’t feel comfortable with the way the dog was reacting around the children (ages 9 and 15).”

Demus said she didn’t have a chance to properly examine the contract “because they rushed me through it.” She felt they didn’t explain it sufficiently. “I brought the dog back within a week,” she recalled. “They make you sign a ‘Release of Ownership’ form. I signed the form. In the meantime, I had gotten another dog for my girlfriend, and I wasn’t properly informed what the dog does in the home. I thought he was more housebroken. I diligently worked with him for a couple months, but it didn’t work out. I took the dog to the pound and again had to sign the form. They don’t explain it; they just tell you, you have to sign this form (Release of Ownership of Animal).

“But it also states, ‘This animal will be euthanized in a humane method.’ The form does not say ‘may be’ but will be.’”

TRRT: Did they tell you why this is so?

Demus: “No. A couple days later, I called them to see if they did, in fact, put the dog up for adoption. When they get a dog, they have to perform a behavior test for suitability for adoption. They said that the dog made it and was up for adoption. So I called a week later to find out. I specifically asked about ‘Cubby,’ and she [receptionist] said that they euthanized it. I told my children, and we were all sickened by it. So then I adopted another dog from the pound on Sept. 10, 2005. We had to agree to accept the animal in whatever condition it was (‘as is’). We got it microchipped and neutered. I adopted the dog. We took him to our vet, and he was diagnosed with kennel cough. The vet said animals get that when a whole bunch of animals are confined [together].

“So I took the dog home, and I diligently worked with him to housebreak him. I should have got a smaller dog, but you don’t realize what you are going to go through… The dog’s needs were greater than I anticipated, and it is basically an outdoor dog. I had never had an outdoor dog before and did not realize the problems it would cause. So I called WCAS to get their hours, and while I was talking to them, I asked them what happened to Cubby. This time, they told me he was adopted. The girl said she was the actual one who did the adoption, and she remembered the date he was adopted. So I asked, ‘Did [she] get it confused with the other dog?’ The girl then confessed to me that the other dog was the one that was euthanized.”

Dispute over signing the form

“So then I went down, and when you first go in, you have to leave your animal in the vehicle and tell them you are bringing a dog in. So I went in and told her I was releasing a dog back to them and that I would not be signing that paper that states, ‘This animal will be euthanized in a humane method’ because I learned my lesson the last time. Basically, it was on my conscience… If you are bringing in a pit bull, they want you to sign something that says, ‘OK, go ahead and kill it.’ Humane or not, you are still killing it, which I find appalling. She [WCAS employee] said, ‘You have to sign it.’ The younger one and the older one both agreed on that. The older one said, ‘Well, since you won’t sign this paper, we can’t take the dog.’ I said, ‘Well… you’ve got a contract that tells me I have to bring the dog back to you if I can no longer keep it. So I am going out there and getting the dog.’

“I said, ‘I am not signing that paper’… So I brought the dog in. They gave me a form to fill out about the demographics on the dog as to medical history and as to the reason why I am disposing of the animal. What are the dog’s likes and dislikes? Basically, it’s for the new owner’s information. So I gave her back the paper, and I said, ‘What’s going to happen to Oreo [dog’s name] now?’ He was a black Lab with white markings on his chest.

“She snapped at me, ‘Well, since you wouldn’t sign the release, we will have to hold him for seven days before he goes up for adoption.’ So I asked her, ‘Why are you holding him for seven days because I won’t sign this release?’ And the older woman told me it’s the state statute, so I said, ‘I know there’s an abandonment and stray animal law where you need to hold them, but that doesn’t apply here.’ I told her I wanted to talk to her supervisor, so they went and got a guy named Dave. I said, ‘I want to know why she’s telling me you are going to hold my dog for seven days.’ His answer was, ‘The dog will be seen on Monday.’ I asked him the same question three times, and he answered three times the same way.

“I said, ‘I know you don’t do your normal business practice on the weekend since it’s Saturday afternoon. I know he won’t be seen until Monday, but that does not explain to me why she told me you’re going to hold him for seven days.’ I told him, ‘It’s unfair to hold him for seven days because he might develop stress and be unadoptable.’ Then he told me I had to leave… So we left, and I got a letter in the mail saying that if I wanted to reclaim the dog, I would have to pay a reclaim fee of $15 for handling and $10 a day boarding fee. But he was not brought in as a stray.

“After I got this letter, I went in on Dec. 10 and demanded why did they send me this letter? Why are they holding him as a stray or abandoned animal? [An employee] ushered me back into her office, all the while repeating, ‘This is all your fault,’ because I wouldn’t sign this form (Release of Ownership of Animal). The Animal Welfare Act says they need to take the address, demographics of animal and disposition. Nowhere does it say you have to sign a paper saying ‘this animal will be euthanized in a humane method.’

County specifications described in Animal Control Act

Winnebago County Code spells out the requirements. Article IV. “Impoundment,” Sec. 14-115 of the Animal Control Act, “Disposition of unclaimed or disabled animals,” part (c) says: “Stray animals suffering from severe physical disabilities may be disposed of at the discretion of the administrator. No animal left by its owner for disposition is to be regarded as unclaimed or unredeemed, but is to be disposed of as authorized by its owner.”

Demus said, “I was asking her what regulation forces us to have to sign this? All she told me was, ‘You don’t understand. Every paper that goes through our office is seen by the State’s Attorney’s Office. She told me, ‘They did call me back there to look at Oreo, and I felt he was very adoptable.’ She felt badly that he was being held back there with stressed-out dogs that were not adoptable. She wanted to get him out on the floor as quickly as possible. She said she would go out on a limb and cross out the part about euthanization and sign her name if I would sign out on the rest of it.

“At the time I was having mixed emotions about whether I should follow through with this. My intent was to just go back and reclaim him because I didn’t like the way it was going. But she talked some sense into me, and I went ahead and signed off, because he deserved to be adopted.

Communication problems

“When I got that letter, I waited a few days and made several calls. I wanted answers. At one point, the secretary [Director Gary Longanecker’s secretary] screens his calls and tries to answer questions that are directed to him. ‘Can I help you?’ she asked. I had to ask her five times to forward me to his voice mail. She would not forward me to his voice mail. During the meeting with [the employee], I said, ‘Maybe I should get a smaller dog, one that’s less maintenance. How much work is involved with a large animal.’ She said to come back in the springtime and think about adopting another dog then because it is easier

to housebreak them then. The dog is more willing to go outside.

“But the kids kept saying, ‘We want a pet,’ and my son was crying… so I called [the employee] back and said, ‘Maybe I do want to reclaim the dog. Do you still have him?’ She told me, absolutely no way would she give me the dog back because she felt I did not have the right environment for him. I called her back [last week in December], and I left a voice mail message. But I finally called back and talked to her. When I said, ‘hello,’ before I could even say anything, she said, ‘Sheila, I told you this before; you are not getting that dog back. You are not reliable.’

“I said, ‘What if I wanted to come in there and get a little dog?’ She said, ‘We will no longer do business with you because you used our facility multiple times.’ I said, ‘I want that in writing that you will no longer do business with me because I am not reliable and because I have used your facility multiple times.’ She said she couldn’t do that.

Demus told TRRT, “She doesn’t have the right to tell me that I don’t have the right environment. This last conversation, she said I wasn’t reliable. When I first called, she said, ‘I already told you, you can’t have the dog.’ I said ‘the basic reason I’m calling is, I want to find out if he’s happy.’ She said, ‘Yes, he’s happy,’ but then I started arguing with her.

“Tuesday and Wednesday, Dec. 6 and 7, the facility was closed for a water main break. On Saturday, Dec. 17, I called, and they don’t answer the phone.” Demus said that on Monday the 19th, she called several times throughout the day and couldn’t even get voice mail. She didn’t get a recording—it just rang and rang, so she figured they must be closed then. “Since they wouldn’t let me adopt a dog, I went to Petland and paid $400 for one of their dogs. At least with Petland, you get a contract, and they agree to pay for any treatment the dog needs within the warranty period. My dog did have a yeast infection in his ears, and they did pay for it. You don’t get that from the pound. I brought Oreo back in better condition than I got him.”

On Feb. 1, Demus said she talked to Longanecker by phone, and he said their policy does not allow them to say what happens to the animal after a release has been signed. So she doesn’t know what happened to Oreo. Demus told Longanecker that a staff member had signed off on the form that the dog would not be euthanized. Longanecker still said she did not have a right to know.

TRRT asked Longanecker the following questions:

Is it required that anyone returning an animal sign a form stating that “this animal will be euthanized in a humane method”? If so, why?

Is it required that every paper processed through your agency goes through the State’s Attorney’s office? If so, why?

Longanecker did not reply to our request for information.

From the Feb. 15-21, 2006, issue

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