The Miami Dade Animal Shelter (Florida) is under fire from animal rights activists and concerned citizens from around the globe over multiple allegations of extreme animal cruelty and general abuse/neglect of the animals unfortunate enough to find themselves incarcerated there. Indeed, by all accounts, incarcerated is the correct word to use as the conditions at MDAS are alleged as worse than that of a third world prison.
Amid the discontent of the shelter’s conditions are allegations of illegal euthanasia of 30 cats by IC (intra-cardial, otherwise known as heartstick) injection on October 22, 2010. A vet tech in the employ of the shelter euthanized cruelly, and apparently intentionally, 30 cats by IC in fifteen minutes! This action was also caught on a continuous running tape in the ward where unwanted, feral, and sick animals are dispatched.
The witness, Grace Avila, was dismissed from the shelter on January 10, 2010 after being first demoted.
The witness to this action (illegal by both state standards and shelter regulations) is Grace Avila. Avila, who brought this information to light via a sworn statement, has since been dismissed from the shelter in apparent retaliation for blowing the whistle on this crime. Avila and her representatives seek to bring these charges to the state for investigation, and hopefully prosecution of the vet tech who performed the illegal euthanasia, and the director of the shelter during the time period of other alleged violations, Dr. Sara Pizano, DVM.
The mayor and county fund new Marlins stadium to the outrage of animal advocates
The Mayor of Miami-Dade County, Carlos Alvarez, has also been central to the wrath of citizens and animal lovers. His Facebook page is inundated daily by commentary blasting his handling of the concerns put forth by animal advocates, and for not putting county budget funds aside for needed improvements, in fact, a new shelter to replace the 50-year-old structure that has no heat, but rather funneling funds into a new Marlins stadium.
The allegations and growing concerns have led to the organization of several rallies being planned to get the public involved in bringing about change by force of public will. With the growth of this grass-roots movement, Miami-Dade Animal Shelter, its director, and the mayor will not be able ignore the problems.
Grace Avila’s sworn statement alleging the abuse and wrongful euthanasia of the 30 cats.
I, Grace Avila, work for Miami-Dade Animal Services as an Animal Care Specialist, part of the kennel staff. On the day of Friday, October 22, 2010 I was scheduled to work in the euthanasia room commonly referred to as “A” ward. My day started at noon, and the veterinary technician on duty was David Perez. In the early afternoon, there was another member of the kennel staff present, until her departure at 3:00 p.m.
The day was fairly slow, leaving time for extra cleaning, and more time to take per animal that needed to be put to sleep. David and I had taken our lunches together and returned to A ward around 4:00 p.m. By this time, we had started to pick up and get busy. Most of the animals coming into the room at this time were cats and kittens with the occasional dog here and there. These animals were coming from the receiving area where they were being impounded as sick, injured, nursing, and/or feral (unable to handle), and were thus deemed “non-adoptable.” This is common practice on a day to day basis, and it was not unusual we were ending the day with cats. We also had received a cart full of cats that had come from the “cat receiving” room. This room is where the cats that are going out on the adoption floor are held until they are checked by a vet tech. Once checked, they are passed, or in some cases not passed, for adoption due to being fractious (unable to handle), or they are determined to be ill and are sent to the euthanasia room. (Needless to say,) By 5:00 p.m. the room was quickly filling with crated cats and kittens that needed our attention and time was running short.
My job as part of the kennel staff is to assist the vet technician any way possible to help make things run smoothly, quickly, and without mistakes. I am to help restrain, hold, muzzle, calm and comfort the animal, and in general make the last few moments of their life pleasant. The vet tech’s tasks are to complete the necessary paperwork, draw the syringes with the proper amount of drug, and to humanely euthanize all animals by lethal injection. To my knowledge, Miami-Dade Animal Services has strict policy and procedure when it comes to the methods of injection to be used. There are multiple ways to perform euthanasia, but by standards of Animal Services Division, there are only two ways that should be practiced. The first is called IV (intravenous), with the injection done directly into the vein. It’s quick, less painful, and the best option, but cannot be performed under certain circumstances (what circumstances?). The second method used is IP (intraperitoneum), an injection into the animal’s abdomen, lessening the stress and providing greater safety. This method is best for wild domestic cats (feral) and/or very young animals. The animal does not succumb to the IP injection as quickly as by IV, but it is nonetheless humane!
There is another commonly known method referred to as IC (intracardial). This is when the injection is made directly into the heart chamber, causing death within a matter of seconds; however, it should never be performed on a conscious animal. Most research and published articles on the intracardial method clearly state that the animal should be heavily sedated or anesthetized. I have multiple training guides, as well as books from the euthanasia course I took in 2009, taught by representatives of the Humane Society of the United States, as well as The American Humane Society. I am certified in most states to perform euthanasia by injection myself, but Florida requires a separate certificate from the Florida Animal Control Association. Intracardial injection has been deemed unacceptable by the American Veterinary Medical Association (2007), as well as by the Humane Society of the United States (2002) because it causes stress, pain, and suffering to the animal. Each city, county or state may have their own policies, but regardless, the animal is to be fully unconscious or heavily sedated before administering the lethal solution of sodium pentobarbital. In many states, this method has been made illegal, however, according to Florida Statute 828.058, it is an acceptable method in the state of Florida. It is, however, most definitely against Animal Services Department policy for humane euthanasia.
I firmly believe that in a shelter environment, an animal should especially experience a peaceful passing. I stand by the emotions that are felt during this difficult time. It’s not an easy task, having to face this daily as part of our job, so to me each animal should be treated as if it were our own. I am here now, to tell you about the heartless act of cruelty that I witnessed on October 22, 2010. David Perez, the vet technician on duty that day, was to perform what should have been a last act of compassion for the approximately 30 cats remaining to be euthanized that day; what took place instead was a disturbing massacre, simply because he was pressed for time! In doing this he violated the established rules of conduct of his workplace.
At 6:42 p.m., David was going through the necessary paperwork and putting information into the computer system. This can be clearly seen on the video feed. You may also notice on the video that half the cats are covered, and the other half are not. I assumed the ones still covered would be the cats left for the morning. I was just outside A ward, cleaning the holding cages as part of my job. Once cleaned, I realized the time, and started planning ahead, thinking we would not be euthanizing all the cats before the evening ended. I began to set up cages for the remaining cats to spend the night in then popped my head in and asked David how many cats I should prepare cages for. He replied, “No.”
At 6:46 p.m., David begins euthanizing the cats. You will notice he has his back to the camera and is standing directly in front of the table as opposed to standing off to the side of it as usual. It’s as if he knew he was doing wrong.
With so many cats left to do, I didn’t think we would have the proper amount of time to put the remaining cats to sleep. The vet techs usually leave at 7:00 p.m., and kennel staff stays until 7:30 p.m. to clean the room in its entirety. I had been in and out of the room many times waiting to help him properly euthanize the felines by method of IP or IV.
At 6:47 p.m., I walk into the room. I was shocked that he had done so many cats in so little time, and the way he was handling them. I was standing to the side of the table appalled, and without words, I watched him do several kittens by method of IC. They were screaming! After watching him IC several kittens, and start on the adults, I left the room. I could not bear to be in the room to see this take place, and hear the cries of pain the cats were experiencing. I did not return to the room for another five minutes in hopes that he had finished with his unmerciful actions.
Note, on the video feed at 6:51p.m., you can see David handling a black and white adult feline, he scruffs it by the neck, and injects it. The video is not clear enough to be able to see the needle penetrating the heart, but watch as he places it back into the crate; the cat does not move at all. By method of IP, the cats would still have had some motor skill movement and reflexes.
At 6:52pm, I walked back into the room. He had a couple more cats to euthanize. Still injecting straight into the heart, the adult cats were also making cries of pain before going limp in his arms. The clearest that you can see this taking place on the video is with an adult cat. You’ll notice while he’s still injecting, the cat goes immediately limp like a wet noodle in his hands. The head falls in a second! He proceeds to place the cat in a crate. This made me sick to my stomach, and so I left the room once again at 6:54 p.m.
After euthanasia takes place, each animal must be checked by the technician to make sure they are “clinically dead” before disposing of the bodies. David begins checking the cats at 6:55 p.m. with a stethoscope. I came back for the final time at 6:57 p.m. to help clear the crates out of the room so they could be cleaned, and to help him properly dispose of the animals. In essence, he managed to euthanize approximately 30 cats in less than 15 minutes. Clearly, the cats he was able to handle could have been euthanized by intravenous injection, and I could have been there to help him with the restraint and hold. It was made clear he wanted to do it the quick way instead of the right way. Even the intraperitoneal, method would have been more acceptable, but due to the IP process taking longer, he chose to cheat the system. If each cat was given the one minute needed to perform the procedure humanely (they deserved) the time frame would have been much greater than 15 minutes.
David closed out the computer program, locked up the sodium pentobarbital, and left for the evening just after 7:00pm. I was left traumatized, and to finish cleaning until my shift was over at 7:30pm. Once I left the shelter, my mind was flooded with thoughts, and flashbacks of what I just had witnessed. I needed to tell someone, but the question was who? Everyone, like me, was gone for the evening. I wanted to go directly to someone in the upper echelon, but the thought of not being taken seriously, being scrutinized, (my report of the incident not being kept confidential, and being found a “snitch” was lingering in my mind. But what I saw was wrong by all moral standards I know, so the best thing for me to do was to call a friend. Gisella Tacao is a personal friend, but also works with the shelter as a puller for rescue groups, and volunteers much of her spare time to help save the animals. She dedicates everything into keeping the shelter pets from ever having to experience the wrath of A ward. I told her, and she was disgusted by the news. I specifically asked if she could report the incident to upper management on my behalf without disclosing my name. Granted it was a few days after the incident, but Gisella kept her word and went straight to Dr. Sara Pizano, Director of Shelter Operations, after a volunteer meeting on Tuesday, October 26, 2010. I was off the following days of Wednesday and Thursday, but was informed by Gisella that she spoke to Dr. Pizano and that it was going to be further investigated.
This is not something to be taken lightly, and I felt better knowing it finally got to the people who care the most about the animals and that appropriate action could take place. Upon my return to work on Friday, October 29, I was summoned by Xiomara Mordcovich to speak about what I had seen. It was brief, but I felt better knowing I could find comfort in going to her personally with such matters in the future. She gave me some guidance on the investigation that would take place, and told me the video feed from that evening was available for me to watch I was also asked to record my recollections of the incident in this formal statement.
I, Grace Avila, on this day of November 1, 2010, hereby declare under penalty of perjury that the statements made by me in this statement are true, complete, and correct to the best of my knowledge and belief. I understand statements made by me are subject to verification.
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Newly Published! HARVEST, an original short story by Michele Gwynn is now available for download on Lulu.com. Coming soon to the iBookstore! Harvest tells the fictional tale of what happens when human greed and gluttony override compassion and humane treatment of cattle in feedlots. When Dave Forrester wakes to discover that everyone he knows in Farley, Oklahoma has disappeared, it’s up to him to discover why, and figure out how to save the few who survive … the harvest.
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More from Michele Gwynn: Ms. Gwynn is also the San Antonio Sex & Relationships Examiner. Her humor in explaining “the unexplainable” goes hand in hand with her candor. She has even interviewed celebrities for her column, and a former UN Ambassador and Broadway stars of The Jersey Boys for local San Antonio newspapers.
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