Charlotte-Mecklenburg Animal Care and Control has been on my watch list since they killed a family’s two Pitbulls by “mistake” earlier this year and then told the owner, “No one knows what happened”. Prior to that, they had assisted in hauling 127 Pitbulls in Wilkes Co to their deaths at the hands of HSUS. This week, a former CMPD-ACC employee, Lisa Easton, contacted me with details of abuse at the shelter.
In August, Ms. Easton came across several offensive photos on the Facebook page of a shelter employee and saved them along with their captions. The first two are cats who do not appear to be in a normal, conscious state and the second two appear to be a ferret with most of her fur missing and someone holding the pet in such a way as to highlight that fact:
This cat was posed with a cigarette in his mouth, earphones in his ears and an open knife blade between his paws.
This kitten is being held by the scruff of the neck and posed with a pen in his mouth and his paw on the pen.
This ferret, reportedly a longtime shelter pet who lives in the office of a staff member, is being held with her back to the camera, apparently to show the missing fur.
Another shot of the ferret from behind, apparently to highlight the missing fur.
In addition to the captioned photos, Ms. Easton provided me with a copy of an e-mail she sent to shelter director Mark Balestra on August 24 at 12:53pm advising him of the matter. She also provided copies of two responses from Mr. Balestra dated that same day in which he thanks her for bringing the issue to his attention and asks her to name the employee who posted the photos. Those two e-mails are time stamped 4:20pm and 5:02pm. Mr. Balestra states that he is disappointed in “this incident of poor judgment” and that the matter will be investigated. Note the time stamp on the next e-mail copy Ms. Easton provided:
From: Balestra, Mark
Sent: Tuesday, August 24, 2010 6:41 PM
To: _CMPD Animal Control All
Subject: Social Media Conduct Reminder
I want to remind everyone that caution should be used when utilizing Social Media venues. At no time should it be appropriate to display work related activities, pictures of practices, animals, other staff members, logo’s brands, uniforms or other insignia on any web or internet sites.
It is also important that our conduct should be appropriate in a manner that does not negatively reflect upon the City, Department or Division.
I strongly urge everyone to revisit their facebook or other social Media sites to ensure that anything meeting the above description is immediately removed.
In a short period of time the CMPD will implement its Directive on Social Media which is currently in draft form. It will serve as a clear guideline of practices that are acceptable and prohibited.
Your cooperation on this issue is greatly appreciated,
In order to try and get a more complete story, I contacted Mr. Balestra and spoke with him by phone on November 5. I asked him about the cats – whether they were sedated or dead in the photos. While he did not provide a direct answer on their level of consciousness, he did definitively deny the cats were dead. When I asked where the two cats were now and if they were available for adoption, he stated, “I have absolutely no idea”. Regarding the ferret, he said there was no mishandling and that the pet had come into the shelter with some type of “parasite or mange” which caused the hair loss.
Regarding the internal investigation of the case, he confirmed that “the employee” is and has been under investigation and the case has not yet been adjudicated although he expects it to be shortly. When I questioned whether “the employee” referred to the person who took the photos or the person partially visible in the photos, he said, “Everybody involved has been investigated” and “There will be consequences”. He described the photos as “extremely tasteless” and said the shelter has “zero tolerance” for this type of activity.
I find that even after trying to understand the story more completely, I’m still left with several nagging questions:
- If the shelter director has “absolutely no idea” where the two cats are now, who does know? I’m extremely disturbed at the possibility that these cats were sedated, posed for these shameful photos and then killed. Without knowing what became of them, that possibility remains open for me and to be honest, it has haunted me ever since I first saw these photos.
- Does the ferret look like she has mange to you? I’ve never seen a ferret with mange but certainly she doesn’t look like any dog I’ve seen with it. Maybe ferrets’ skin reacts differently to mites than a dogs’ skin does – anyone have any insight on this? Further, if the ferret did have extreme hair loss due to mange, what would motivate the staff to pose for and snap these photos of the pet then post them on a social networking site with a caption indicating abuse?
- How many months does it take to complete an internal investigation into this matter? The egregiousness of the offense seems alarming enough to my mind that, if it happened on my watch, I’d want to take immediate action.
- Finally, perhaps the most gnawing question of all – What on earth goes on in this shelter environment that hasn’t been photographed and posted on Facebook?