Following a weekend during which animal activist Maria Salvaggio, founder of 2 Hands Saving 4 Paws animal rescue in Thomson, posted numerous video and audio recordings online alleging severe animal abuse at the McDuffie County animal shelter, officials announced Monday that they were opening an internal investigation.
The investigation is being conducted by County Manager David Crawley and the county Human Resources Director Ruthie Thomas.
Crawley said Tuesday that, although there had been public input regarding the shelter at a recent Board of Commissioners meeting, “at the time, they weren’t to the level of what we’ve seen posted on multimedia sites,” he said.
“I was very surprised and very concerned,” when he reviewed the postings he said, and county officials decided to investigate.
“I wish these things had come to my attention before. Some of these things seem to have been around for a while without us having knowledge of it,” said Crawley. “I hope there isn’t a reluctance to share information with me going forward.”
Crawley said the investigation will be two-pronged. First, will be a personnel investigation, reviewing “the communications, concerns and recordings as they pertain to those two employees” of the shelter, he said.
Second, they will be looking into shelter operations and where to go from here, he said.
Charlie Newton, chairman of the Board of Commissioners, had said Dr. Darrell Wester would not be a topic of conversation following the earlier commissioner’s meeting, but Crawley said the county will look at its relationship with the veterinarian if the allegations brought forth warrant that.
“Wester is a licensed vet, so from a standpoint of how he operates, he answers to a different body,” said Crawley, but that doesn’t mean concerns will be disregarded.
“That’s a little different because Wester is a contractor to the county as coordinated by the shelter director,” the county manager said. “We would evaluate the services that are being provided.”
If for some reason the relationship with Wester is not continued, Crawley said the operation of the county shelter could be in jeopardy.
“I can’t say that I can legally operate the shelter without a vet,” he said, “but I would certainly prefer not to operate a shelter without a vet.”
Crawley said he has made an inquiry to the Department of Agriculture on that issue.
The shelter is currently shut down for a second week of renovations funded by a grant from the Atlanta Humane Society. Whether it will reopen as scheduled on Monday, August 8, is up in the air.
“I think that depends on the personnel investigation,” he said.
Crawley said he hopes to have that phase of the investigation complete by the end of the week and will release the results as soon as any decisions are made, though he cautioned that if action is taken against any employees, they have the right to pursue an appeal to the Board of Commissioners.
The county is asking anyone with information pertinent to the investigation to call Crawley at 706-595-1781 or preferably submit it via email to firstname.lastname@example.org. He said all emails are directed only to him, but that he wanted the separate address so that he didn’t miss any important information.
“When something is this important, I need it to be easily identified,” he said of any submissions. “I’ve just got to take what is presented to us — witness statements or documentation — and make decisions based on that.”
UPDATE: On the morning of Wednesday, August 3, after the original reporting of The McDuffie Progress was published, county officials released the following via social media:
“McDuffie County’s internal investigation into our Animal Services Department continues. As a result of the accusations, investigation and subsequent findings thus far, the following has taken place:
• Per county policy, we have suspended both shelter employees with pay until the investigation is complete.
• The supervising veterinarian has notified county leadership that he will no longer serve in this role.
• We have requested the Georgia Department of Agriculture conduct a full inspection of our shelter, cite any potential deficiencies and make recommendations for changes moving forward.
Our shelter remains closed this week as part of ongoing renovations. However, in accordance with Georgia Department of Agriculture guidelines, we cannot operate the shelter until a new supervising veterinarian is in place. We will notify the public when we plan to reopen the McDuffie County Animal Shelter.
We look forward to the completion of this investigation and any resulting changes made to our Animal Services Department having a significant impact on the welfare of the furriest members of our community. If you have issues related to animal services, please email us at email@example.com or call us at 706-595-1781.”