More on The Dana Round Horse Abuse Case and Possible Changes to Grand Traverse County Animal Control
The recent horse abuse case regarding Dana Round stirred up a lot of emotions about how animal abuse cases are handled within Grand Traverse County. After I did a little research on the county website and looked through other county documents, I didn't find a whole lot more clarity on the issue and submitted my findings to the commissioners for their next meeting regarding Animal Control as well as suggestions of things for them to look at. You can read my information here.
If you read my letter to them, you will see that I found conflicting information in various places on who handles what animal issues in the county. Some things are handled by the Sheriff's Department and some are handled by Animal Control. To get better clarification, I requested a copy of the memo that was sent to Sheriff Tom Bensley from Environmental Health Director Tom Buss on May 28, 2009. You can read the memo here. In the memo, you will see that animal neglect, abuse and barking dog complaints are supposed to be handled by the Sheriff's Department, not Animal Control. However, as my findings to the commissioner's state, it does not say anything about horses at all. So this is an obvious issue that also needs to be addressed and clarified.
As I looked into the Dana Round horse abuse case more, which includes the complete Sheriff's report linked here and other sources, I have concluded that what happened to the horses was a result of Dana Round abusing/neglecting her horses and the information on that abuse (from Cora Wilson) going to Animal Control instead of the Sheriff's Department which delayed a proper response. Even though the emails regarding the horses were not received by Animal Control in December, there should have been a hand-off of sorts from Animal Control to the Sheriff's Department to make sure that horses who were reported to be "thin" did not get worse.
I discovered that Cora Wilson contacted Animal Control in October of 2011 via email. Animal Control officer Ed Hickey went to Dana Round's property and wrote the report here giving the horses as a "3" on a scale (thin) where the classification of 2 is very thin and 1 is poor. Although the Animal Control officers have a designation of being special deputies, they do not have the authority to seize the horses like the Sheriff's Department did subsequently in January. Animal Control officers are not trained in law enforcement and cannot mirandize the public. Often, animal cases are brought to court and might even be felonies so they need to be handled by the Sheriff's Department. However, on the other side of the issue, we have a Sheriff's Department that really isn't trained in animal abuse and neglect issues. Therefore, Buss is currently looking for an expert in these areas for future training so that everyone involved in Grand Traverse County animal issues are on the same page.
Wilson stated that she emailed Animal Control twice again about the horses in early December but those emails didn't reach the Animal Control officers. One of the emails had an invalid address and the other was not found on the county computer according to previous Health Dept. Director, Fred Keeslar. Keeslar has since recently retired which can be read about here.
In January of 2012, a phone call was made to the Sheriff's Dept. by Wilson reporting the horses were down. It was a weekend and Animal Control wasn't available so someone from the Sheriff's Department went out to investigate.
Dana Round was found guilty of abusing her horses and sentenced 14 days in jail. She is currently back in jail for 45 days for violating her probation. You can read about that here. Also included in Dana Round's sentencing, besides staying clean of alcohol and drugs and taking random drug tests, is a statement that doesn't allow her to be in possession of any animals (horses, dogs, etc.) nor reside where animals are present during her probation period of 24 months.
Round is obviously at fault for the death of two horses and the suffering of the other horses on the property.
However, there is also a responsibility which falls on the county to educate the public about who to contact about animal issues and it is the responsibility of the rest of us to report what we know to the proper place.
If you suspect abuse or neglect please do not email your concerns to the county or the Sheriff's Department. You should either call the Sheriff's Department or show up in person about your complaint.
As requested by the County Commissioners, Tom Buss is currently working on a report concerning the horse abuse case and policy changes concerning the Animal Control Department. Everyone involved wants to make sure that a situation like this does not happen again. Buss wants county residents to be more comfortable and positive about the Animal Control department and to understand that they're working on making it a more responsive department.
You can read more about this review in a Record-Eagle article here.
With all of the conflicting information that has been out in the public, educating everyone about how cases are handled is a top priority. Already, the website has been changed to reflect this and now says, "For animal neglect, abuse, endangerment or any life threatening situations, please call 9-1-1-."
The county is also talking to Cherryland Humane Society about a possible collaboration for CHS to house the dogs or possibly take over their care. This would allow the Animal Control officers to be in the field more. In this scenario, the dogs would be under Animal Control jurisdiction for the first seven days and then become property of the Humane Society.
There are several positive aspects to an agreement like this as long as the current save rates of the Animal Control dogs is not diminished. Currently, Animal Control reaches out to CHS as well as other rescue groups to take adoptable dogs. In 2011, GT Animal Control seized 328 dogs. 107 of them were redeemed by their owners. 46 dogs were euthanized and 175 were sent to rescue. That is a great number of dogs who were able to be rescued and it would be a shame if CHS did not continue that relationship with other rescue groups like HANDDS to help them out. Rescue groups are often able to take dogs that wouldn't do well in a shelter environment - older dogs, dogs that need training, dogs that need medical help and those who have other issues. Currently, the dogs that GT County euthanizes are ones who are dog or human aggressive or are in poor health. Animal Control Officers Ed and Cindy work with CHS and the rescue groups to save as many as they can.