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State may fine Pittsylvania Pet Center up to $65,000
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State may fine Pittsylvania Pet Center up to $65,000

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In the weeks before the Lynchburg Humane Society opted to terminate its agreement with the county, the state notified both parties of several code violations found during an inspection of the Pittsylvania Pet Center on Aug. 20, according to emails acquired through a Freedom of Information Act request.

Now, the county could be on the hook for slightly more than $65,000 in fines.

The four violations — one termed by the state as non-critical and three as critical — revolved around reports of designated dog isolation rooms misused, instances of unsafe animal housing, failure to follow veterinary protocol and failing to provide adequate feed and veterinary care, according to a notice from the state’s office of animal care and emergency response marked Oct. 10.

Lynchburg Humane Society sent its official notice terminating the management agreement around Oct. 30 after its board of directors voted on the decision around a week before.

Lynchburg Humane Society Interim Director Jill Mollohan and board president Shelley Stone both stated the state’s inspection findings didn’t factor into the decision to stop managing the shelter.

The pair said the society found it was more difficult and costly than expected to run a pet shelter from Lynchburg.

Now that Pittsylvania had reached no-kill status, Stone said, the shelter had been given the tools to remain that way under the county’s leadership, unlike when Lynchburg was hired in 2017.

Compared to the Appomattox County Pet Center, which the Lynchburg Humane Society will continue to manage, Pittsylvania is a much larger facility with more animals flowing in and out of the shelter.

The amount of extra money and time Lynchburg spent to operate the shelter wasn’t sustainable, Stone and Mollahan said.

“We had seen an increase in community support over the last couple months, but it wasn’t going to be enough,” said Mollohan.

Stone said, “We look forward to continue offering assistance through transfers or medical treatment.”

Both said they had faith in the Pittsylvania Pet Center’s new director, James McLaughlin, who began working Dec. 10. McLaughlin came to Pittsylvania from the Portsmouth Humane Society.

Mollohan said she’s confident McLaughlin — who was included on a list of candidates recommended by the Lynchburg Humane Society — will be able to help the shelter maintain its no-kill mission.

According to the state’s report, the Aug. 20 physical inspection had taken place in conjunction with an investigation of complaints made to the state agency regarding the pet center’s management and animal care. The physical inspection was followed by an inspection of copies of the center's veterinary records.

All of the violations had occurred at least once in the past five years, according to the Oct. 10 notice. Some were recorded at the last inspection in September 2017, while others were recorded during an inspection of the county’s pound in 2014.

The notice tied the three critical violations to the deaths of two cats and the critical condition of another.

The inspection report states one of the cats deaths — Mr. Gray — occurred while it was maintained in a room unsuitable for housing animals.

Shelter staff told the inspector the cat had escaped into that room and couldn’t be recaptured, so they had placed food, water and a litter box in the room temporarily with periodic checks.

“Regardless of the reason for maintaining the cat in this manner, it does not constitute suitable, safe enclosure that protected this animal,” stated the Aug. 20 inspection report.

The report continued to say the room was cluttered with equipment and miscellaneous items, had a known rodent infestation and was windowless, making it difficult to monitor the cat routinely.

The other two cats — Voyd and Dusk — were harmed by a failure to follow protocol for managing neonatal animals, according to the report.

The report claims that Dusk, a 5-week-old kitten who arrived at the pet center without eyes in July, was weighed once when she arrived and then another time nearly three weeks later. The limited weighings showed the kitten had gained only three-tenths of a pound in that time span.

The report also stated there was little documentation of a veterinarian prescribed care.

During the Aug. 20 inspection, an office of animal care and emergency response veterinarian examined Dusk, found he was only 1 pound and gave him a body score of 2 out of 9, with a higher score meaning a better condition. The veterinarian the advised the shelter manager to “promptly obtain veterinary care for her,” according to the report.

The report stated that the pet center’s neonatal management protocols had called for “daily monitoring of growth, and examination by a veterinarian if growth is inadequate.”

Voyd, a 4-week-old kitten who entered the shelter on June 19 and died on July 15, was recorded with an initial weight of 10 ounces.

The report stated that shelter staff told the inspector that the kitten wasn’t examined by a veterinarian during its time at the center, and there weren't records to show that the kitten had been monitored daily.

A necropsy of the kitten taken post-mortem indicated the kitten weighed 7 ounces, according to the state’s report.

In accordance with Virginia code, the state office noted it was allowed to fine the county with $1,000 per day each critical violation continued.

According to the Oct. 10 notice, Pittsylvania County could be subjected to fines of up to $65,250 unless the state office chooses to dismiss the civil penalties.

In the county’s response to the state’s notice of violations, county administrator David Smitherman stated that the shelter addressed the issue where healthy dogs were stored in a designated isolation room meant to separate the sick from healthy. The county’s response was dated Nov. 10.

The response also states that the shelter staff updated its protocol for loose animals, stating the shelter staff will contact Pittsylvania County Animal Control immediately if they’re unable to recapture an animal while noting that the cause of Mr. Gray’s death was undetermined.

To fix the issue of inadequate food storage, the response stated the county purchased a $2,800 air-and-water-tight storage facility for shelter food.

The county’s response denied the state inspection report’s claims that the two kittens, Dusk and Voyd, received inadequate feed or veterinary care, stating there wasn’t any evidence of a violation of protocols or lack of appropriate care. It also added that the determinations were “without factual basis.”

Smitherman, reached by the Danville Register & Bee, declined to comment on the state’s notice beyond providing the county’s response letter.

On Oct. 23, Mollohan sent a letter to Smitherman responding to the state’s notice of violations.

In her response, Mollohan stated all of the neonatal animals are looked at by the shelter’s veterinarian, Dr. Victoria Shorter, every time she makes her rounds at the pet center. Mollohan stated these checks occur on a weekly basis at least.

In doing so, Mollohan stated Shorter looked at Dusk several times before the Aug. 20 inspection and never instructed additional care or separation from the other kittens beyond stating she would perform surgery on him to close his eyes when it came time to neuter the cat.

According to the response, Shorter also saw Voyd multiple times during her visits and didn’t communicate concern for the kitten's care before his death or advise a different treatment.

Letters from the Lynchburg Humane Society’s attorney and a veterinarian in Lynchburg called into question the accuracy of the necropsy done on Voyd, noting that some of the report lacked objectivity and offered unsubstantiated opinions on the kitten's care.

Following the receipt of the county’s response to the notice of violations, the state office said it will send a second notice of its final decision regarding the violations recorded on Aug. 20.

A timeline for the final decision wasn’t provided.

Halle Parker reports for the Danville Register & Bee. Contact her at hparker@registerbee.com or (434) 791-7981.

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