Year in review: Dog's death prompts audit
By Michael D. Bates | Hernando TodayBROOKSVILLE - Perhaps no local story in 2012 received bigger play than the bungled death of a young mixed-breed dog named Zeus.
Published: December 29, 2012
Published: December 29, 2012
More than 50 people packed county commission chambers April 24 asking the board to take action following the quick euthanasia of Zeus at Animal Services.
Many wore white T-shirts bearing the likeness of Zeus on the front. On the back were the words, "Hernando County Animal Cruelty … Never Again." Some spoke while choking back tears.
They asked commissioners to transform Animal Services into a no-kill shelter, hire a veterinarian to monitor proceedings there and remove a handful of staffers they believe are contributing to shoddy operations.
County commissioners agreed with a recommendation from then-Interim County Administrator Ron Pianta calling for an independent investigation to be conducted starting immediately by the clerk of the circuit court's office.
That audit was released Aug. 7.
Reports that Zeus that was inhumanely treated and then euthanized less than half an hour after he was surrendered to Animal Services were unsubstantiated, the audit said.
The audit recommended department officials reduce the size of its animal population to 48 animals within 90 days. Failing that, it needs to increase kennel staff to six employees, the report said.
The audit also recommended moving forward with plans for a public-private partnership with a humane shelter in the next three months.
Zeus' death created a firestorm of controversy that escalated and created friction between department staffers and volunteers.
A family member brought Zeus to Animal Services near the close of day April 13 and reports say it was evaluated, deemed unadoptable and euthanized within 15 minutes of arrival.
A lack of kennel space reportedly contributed to the situation, although a department volunteer at the time said kennels were available.
The audit team was unable to find any supporting documentation, video or witnesses that substantiated a volunteer's accusation that Zeus was mistreated by being dragged by the neck without allowing the dog to walk on its own.
The Zeus controversy resulted in Animal Services manager Liana Teague being removed in August from her job.
She was later replaced in the short term by local veterinarian Raul Figarola.
County Administrator Len Sossamon would later discipline Public Safety Director Mike Nickerson for failing to address the audit concerns in a timely manner. Nickerson was relieved of his fire department duties to focus his attention on Animal Services.
Joanne Schoch, executive director at the Humane Society of the Nature Coast, said tears came to her eyes as she read the audit detailing animal suffering at Animal Services.
To learn that animals were dying from the actions of well-meaning but untrained volunteers was appalling, Schoch said.
Schoch said it is evident county commissioners will have to decide what kind of Animal Services department they want: one that is under-funded and run primarily with untrained volunteers or one that employs competent staffers capable of better protecting the animals.