Appomattox County on Tuesday released the findings of an investigation into the euthanasia more than two weeks ago of a bird dog mix named Sam.
Sam's death sparked a firestorm of comments and calls for “justice for Sam” on Facebook the week of Sept. 19; county administration staff received threatening phone calls Sept. 21, prompting the closing of the shelter that day.
The internal county investigation found Animal Control Officer Micki Caifano chose to euthanize the dog, which had been at the shelter since February, because she was concerned about his length of stay, his cowering behavior and that he recently had growled at a visitor.
The investigation also revealed a camera inside the shelter had been turned off at the time of his removal and had been off since August in preparation for moving the camera into the office area.
Cameras had been installed around the perimeter of the shelter and one inside the kennel several months ago because the shelter manager was concerned about citizens “dumping” animals during off hours.
The release said the coordination of the relocation had not occurred because of scheduling issues.
On Sept. 16, Caifano was scheduled to pick up a dog that was boarded at a Lynchburg veterinarian because of medical issues. She decided to bring Sam to be euthanized at the same office, the release said.
Both shelter manager Crystal Andrews and Caifano expressed the same concerns about Sam’s “diminishing social skills” during the investigation, the release said.
The release said Caifano consulted with the veterinarian’s office about her reasons for seeking euthanasia for the dog.
After a five-day holding period, and no owner or identification is found, an animal can be euthanized, according to Virginia State Code.
According to the release, the shelter had room for three more animals the day Sam was euthanized.
The news release said shelter employees were unaware of anyone interested in adopting Sam.
"A lady came to the shelter several weeks ago who thought that she may want to adopt Sam and when she approached his run, Sam growled at her,” Andrews stated in the news release. “She stated that she had other dogs at home and she would need to talk to her husband prior to making a decision."
Andrews could not be reached for comment Tuesday.
Potential adopter Becky Marsh, of Timberlake, previously told The News & Advance she was contacted about adopting Sam by an Animal Welfare Action Group volunteer.
The volunteer sent a text message Sept. 6 to Andrews that said Marsh might come by to see Sam, according to the release.
No evidence was found of any further communications that Marsh scheduled an appointment to visit the shelter.
Tuesday's news release said that potential adopter had no direct contact with any employees of the shelter — just the volunteers.
Marsh told The News & Advance on the day news of Sam’s death spread she had adopted a dog named Rosie in 2013 from the Appomattox shelter. She said Rosie had a similar shy, timid nature to Sam, which is why the volunteer reached out to her. That volunteer contacted shelter staff, and the animal control officer at the time contacted Marsh to arrange the adoption.
“Nobody ever contacted me [this time] except the volunteers. I spoke with a couple volunteers … nobody told me to contact someone else,” she said by phone Tuesday.
Marsh said she assumed the volunteers would coordinate the adoption, as they did with Rosie.
“My biggest concern was that it was a healthy dog that could have been rehabilitated and socialized into a family, and it would seem to me that it would be the responsibility of a paid staff member to discuss potential adopters with volunteers if the volunteers have the ability to coordinate adopters,” she said.
In an attempt to prevent future confusion, the county has developed a volunteer policy and agreement that must be reviewed and signed by all volunteers, the release said.
The Animal Welfare Action Group released this statement Tuesday: “AWAG has read the report and while we have found some of the important details to be incorrect; we are choosing to move forward and focus on progress and change. We strongly believe the best way to bring about change at the shelter — for both the animals and citizens of Appomattox — is to bring in the outside agency, Lynchburg Humane Society, to manage the shelter. We are excited about this potential partnership and look forward to working [with] them.”
Makena Yarbrough, director of the Lynchburg Humane Society, said by phone Tuesday evening the discussions are in the early stages. The humane society and Appomattox County are working on what services the humane society would offer Appomattox, fee schedules and other details.
“Our hope is that we can manage that shelter for them … take over shelter operations, like a satellite,” she said.
She said their hope is to have everything “ironed out in the next month or two.”
“I think we are both very eager to move forward,” Yarbrough said.