Originally created 04/21/01

Family seeks shelter reform



The first mistake was an upside-down identification tag.

The second mistake - a worker at the Richmond County Animal Shelter failing to check records of dogs awaiting euthanasia - cost Kim, a lab mix, her life and left an Augusta family calling for changes at the beleagured facility.

"That will be the last puppy they kill by mistake," said Charles Couch, Kim's owner. "Our intention is to change what they are doing. We will seek a way to do that and we will do that aggressively in memory of our lost pet."

Richmond County Animal Control Director Bonnie Bragdon said the shelter takes full responsibility for the dog's death.

"I was not personally involved in the mistakes that were made," she said. "However, as the director of this shelter, I take full, personal responsibility for these mistakes being made. I'm hoping to be able to assist this family in any way to help them through this process of grief."

Here's what happened, according to accounts from Dr. Bragdon, Mr. Couch and Mr. Couch's son, Gabriel Santiago:

Mr. Couch was arrested Friday, Apr. 13, in a grocery store parking lot off Gordon Highway for not having a driver's license or proof of insurance. Two of the family's dogs were in the van. After trying to get a family member to come get the van and dogs, Mr. Couch turned both dogs over to animal control officers.

The officers took the dogs to the shelter on Mack Lane.

Leo, a yellow mixed lab, was given number 227 - a number stamped on a cattle tag and hung around the dog's neck. Kim, a black and white lab mix - was given number 9, according to animal control records. However, the tag number was actually 6 - number 9 was on a brown-and-white dog.

"That's one minor error that should never have led to the death of (the) dog," Dr. Bragdon said.

Mr. Couch spent the weekend in jail, and Leo and Kim spent the weekend in the shelter. On Monday, Mr. Couch appeared in a Richmond County courtroom and was released from jail. Leo remained at the shelter, but Kim was one of a group of dogs picked out of the overcrowded facility to be euthanized.

In the process, the worker never checked the records for the dogs. If he had, Dr. Bragdon said, he would have realized that number 9 was not a black-and-white lab mix and tag number 6 wasn't even in the shelter's system.

Plus, Kim hadn't even been in the shelter long enough to be euthanized. Typically, an animal with some type of identification waits in the holding area of the shelter for five days before it becomes property of the county and is either put up for adoption or killed.

On Wednesday, Mr. Couch went to the shelter to get the dogs. Only Leo was there.

"We looked at every dog in that facility," he said. "We figured he escaped, was adopted out or put to sleep because he was not there."

On Friday, Mr. Santiago went back to the shelter to look once again. This time, he met with Dr. Bragdon. She told him - and a room full of local media members - what had happened.

"Where's my dog, Bonnie?" Mr. Santiago softly asked after being told the dog was accidentally euthanized.

Her answer was not a pretty one: After being euthanized, the dogs are buried in the county landfill.

Dr. Bragdon offered to compensate the family for the dog and allow them to adopt an animal from the shelter at no charge. She also said the employees involved would be disciplined.

"I know there's nothing I can say to make up for that or make you feel better," she said. "(Mourning the loss of a pet) is hard because it's not recognized. And people often don't offer their support."

To help ensure this week's mistakes are not repeated, Dr. Bragdon is requiring a daily check of database records, the use of metal chains to make sure the numbered tags stay on the dogs, and employees to keep more detailed euthanasia records.

She also hopes three new computers, including one laptop, requested in the coming Richmond County budget, will help increase the accuracy of record-keeping.

Mr. Santiago said he's not sure what will happen next, but he's pretty sure he won't be getting another dog. The family already had five at their Greene Street home.

"(Kim) was the brains of the family," he said.

Reach Jason B. Smith at (706) 868-1222, Ext. 115.