In February, animal advocates in Eugene, Oregon tried to save a neglected dog who appeared to be in distress – but instead of helping, animal control refused to offer assistance.
On February 20, 2015 at 2:49 p.m., animal advocate Gail Coats received a phone call from her friend, Kristy Osbourn, regarding a dog who needed help. Osburn explained that her daughter, Brittney, was over on Elmira Street at the bus stop, where they’d seen a dog in a backyard who was needing help. Kristy told Gail that it looked very sick and asked if she would go over to see if she could help.
When Gail arrived at the residence, Kristy’s daughter was on the corner waiting. Brittney said that there were fence boards missing from the back fence. As they walked by to the bus stop, they saw the dog and took her picture. Brittney called her mom.
By the time I had arrived, Brittney had already called Animal Control (this was the first Animal Control contact) and had knocked on all the doors in the surrounding area, including the house that corresponded to the dog’s yard. No one answered any of the doors.
Brittney confirmed that she had called Animal Control and noted that it had been about an hour since she called. Gail asked her if she had explained the condition of the dog and she confirmed that she had.
At that time, Gail decided that she was going to take the dog and get her help, since no one was at home, and Animal Control had not called her back.
Gail first took the dog to First Avenue Shelter, which is run by Greenhill Humane Society. She did not ask them to take the dog; she asked them to help get the dog the care that it needed. First Avenue staff refused all assistance, even refusing to call Animal Control to relate the urgency of the situation. Gail stated: “They did nothing and cited an imaginary rule as their rationale.”
Greenhill Humane Society claims to follow the Guidelines for Standards of Care in Animal Shelters, which states: “The legal status of the animal must never prevent treatment to relieve suffering” (p. 30).
The American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) Ethical Guidelines state: Vii (b) In emergencies, veterinarians have an ethical responsibility to provide essential services for animals when necessary to save life or relieve suffering, subsequent to client agreement (or until such agreement can be obtained when no client is present). Such emergency care may be limited to euthanasia to relieve suffering, or to stabilization of the patient for transport to another source of animal care.
Under Oregon statute, veterinarians are protected when they treat animals who need emergency care, up to and including euthanasia, regardless of ownership or how the animal got there.
There was no legal or ethical reason for First Avenue, run by Greenhill Humane Society, to refuse to treat this dog.
Gail phoned Animal Control from the First Avenue Shelter parking lot at 3:09 p.m., 3:12 p.m., and 3:13 p.m. (The was the second Animal Control contact.) Gail explained what she had done and why she had done it – and that she needed an officer to come to the shelter as soon as possible, as this dog needed IMMEDIATE medical treatment.
Dispatch said that the city only has one officer, who was on a call at another home and because of the time of day he may or may not respond. Gail waited 40 minutes in the First Avenue parking lot to hear back from Animal Control. Since it was getting late in the day, and the vet’s offices would be closing soon, Gail decided to leave and find care.
After being refused by her own vet’s clinic, she asked animal advocate Tamara Barnes, who is also a member of No Kill Lane County, for help.
Tamara Barnes stated:
I took one look at this dog and was horrified by what I saw. I hurried back indoors and phoned Four Corners Vet Clinic. Four Corners did not hesitate, even knowing that the dog had been removed from her yard, with the owner not home. I phoned them at 4:15 and we were there by 4:20.
The vet at Four Corners did not refuse to treat the dog and found Hope to be in a severe state of dehydration and starvation; she was unable to stand. They confirmed that this dog needed emergency care, which they provided.
They fed Hope, gave her water, and 300 ml of subcutaneous fluids. Her aftercare treatment for the weekend included small meals five times per day and 250 ml of subcutaneous fluids twice per day.
“My husband and I provided that for her, along with a warm, comfy bed,” Tamara stated. “By Saturday, she was feeling better and could stand and walk. Sunday was the first time she passed poop. We did not ‘just take her home;’ we provided around- the-clock care from Friday afternoon through Sunday until animal control came and picked her up, telling me I had no right to know where they were taking her.”
On Tuesday, February 24, the City of Eugene issued a press release – but it was peppered with misinformation.
Animal Welfare attempted to follow up on the original report five times between February 8 and February 18. An animal welfare officer went to the home on February 8, February 9, February 11, and February 15 and February 18.
So non-response is acceptable if an animal is potentially in danger?
On February 15, the animal welfare officer took a police officer with him, and on another visit he asked roofers nearby if they could spot the dog in the backyard. They were unable to see the dog. Police officers and animal welfare officers are not legally permitted to enter private premises without probable cause, consent or a warrant.
How many visits without making contact constitute “probable cause”?
The veterinarian also could not take the dog under that type of circumstance.
Actually, the veterinarian CAN – and SHOULD – treat a dog under this type of circumstance. Oregon Statute Protects Veterinarians for Providing Emergency Treatment 686.440 Immunity from civil liability for emergency treatment states:
(1) A veterinarian or veterinary technician is not civilly liable for the acts or omissions described in subsection (2) of this section if:
(a) The animal has been brought to the veterinarian or veterinary technician by a person other than the owner of the animal; and
(b) The veterinarian or veterinary technician does not know who owns the animal or is unable to contact an owner of the animal before a decision must be made with respect to emergency treatment or euthanasia.
(2) The immunity granted by this section applies to:
(a) Any injury to an animal or death of an animal that results from acts or omissions of the veterinarian or veterinary technician in providing treatment to the animal; and
(b) The euthanasia of a seriously injured or seriously ill animal.
(3) Except as provided in subsection (4) of this section, this section does not apply to any act or omission of a veterinarian or veterinary technician that constitutes gross negligence in providing treatment to an animal.
(4) A veterinarian is completely immune from any civil liability for the decision to euthanize an animal under the circumstances described in subsection (1) of this section [1997 c.243 §2].
The press release concluded:
An investigation showed the owner had Zena on a healthy diet to try to put weight on and kept her mostly inside the house. The owner has had Zena since she was a puppy. He told police that over the past year, she has lost a significant amount of weight but that she still seemed happy. Yesterday, the owner made the difficult decision to humanely euthanize his well-loved pet.
This is a difficult case to investigate as it involves people with good intentions who felt they were doing the right thing, but did not have all the information. The pet owner was faced with difficult end-of-life decisions for his pet of 17 years.
Veterinary records from Friday’s examination of Hope showed that she was in a severely dehydrated and starved condition and was unable to stand. With supportive care, fluids, and food, she felt better and was able to walk around.
No animal deserves to live – or to die – hungry and severely dehydrated, even if they are 17 years old. The City of Eugene Animal Control and Greenhill Humane/First Avenue Shelter need to be held accountable for their inaction and their refusal to assist this dog.
Updates to this story will be posted as they occur.
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