County Commission dogged by animal issues
By Sarah Mansheim
The Greenbrier County Commission continues to struggle with how to handle animal control issues. At Tuesday morning’s meeting, the commission presented the full report of the investigation in to Animal Control Officer Robert McClung’s shooting of a dog and also passed the Greenbrier Humane Society’s budget request in a non-unanimous vote, with Commission President Michael McClung casting the dissenting vote.
On May 11, ACO Robert McClung shot a dog that was loose on Montvue Drive in Lewisburg, causing an uproar on social media culminating in an on-line petition demanding he be reprimanded or fired. During the commission meeting following the incident, dozens of concerned animal lovers gathered at the courthouse to condemn McClung’s actions, while others spoke out in his defense.
The commission declined to investigate the incident themselves, and after asking, and being turned down by local law enforcement to investigate, appointed what Michael McClung called a “blue ribbon committee” of community members to fully investigate the shooting.
On Tuesday, the commission released the names of the committee, which consisted of Greenbrier County Deputy Sheriff James DeSimone, a veterinary school graduate; former TSA agent and State Fair Board of Directors President Jerry Cook; and WVU agriculture extension agent for Greenbrier County John McCutcheon. Then, Michael McClung read the report in full.
The four-page report stated that no action be taken against ACO Robert McClung, as he had “acted lawfully and appropriately” within the confines of the law.
The investigators cited witness Lewisburg Police Chief Tim Stover’s account of calling Robert McClung to remove two animals, later identified as “Tyson” and “Max”, who were running loose and getting into the neighbors’ garbage. Stover said he witnessed McClung capture the smaller dog, Tyson, using “extreme care,” letting it lick his face.
Then, Stover said he saw Max walked around the back side of McClung’s truck, and while getting his jacket from the back seat of his cruiser, heard five gunshots. He ran to McClung, who told him the “dog had showed its teeth and charged him so he had to shoot.” Stover said he helped McClung remove the injured dog from the porch of 224 Montvue Drive using a catchpole and observed McClung “discharge one more round to dispatch the dog.”
Stover said neither he or McClung knew who the dog belonged to, but after the dog had been dispatched, they located a cable tie and collar in the yard of 224 Montvue Drive. He said based on this finding and that Max had retreated to that address, they assumed that both animals belonged to that residence.
The investigators also spoke with the dog owners, James and Tamera Curry. Tamera Curry was home at the time of the incident, having laid down in a back room of her house to nap with her young child. She said she was awakened by the sound of gun shots and slowly went to the front of the house and could see shadows of men on the porch, but did not have a good view of them. She looked out and saw Max shot in the head and bleeding on her porch. She said she retreated into the hallway and called her husband, afraid someone was trying to break in to her house. She said she did not call 911.
When Tamera Curry heard a vehicle drive away, she looked outside and saw blood on the porch and a letter from Greenbrier County Animal Control advising her that they removed two dogs from the property and to contact Robert McClung.
The Curries told investigators that they have had trouble in the past with Max getting out of the fence and slipping his collar. They told investigators they want to see better options for animal control instead of having to use deadly force. They also stated concern with the fact that the dog was not dispatched in one shot.
The report states, “There is question and concern surrounding the number of shots required to dispatch said dog. This panel finds that the weapon issued and the ammunition used were and are both adequate to dispatch and [sic] animal in one shot … This panel cannot explain why it took 6 shots to dispatch ‘Max’, however after examining the remains and shot locations it appears the animal should have been dispatched in less than 6 shots.”
The investigators made three recommendations to the county commission: provide additional equipment to the animal control officer such as a bite stick, pepper spray and a net gun; provide written standard operating guidelines for animal control officers other than just the state code, produced by someone with proper knowledge and training in the area of animal control; and to move the supervision of animal control officer to be under the direct supervision of the sheriff and chief deputy.
After reading the report, Commissioner McClung said he recommended following the panel’s recommendations, calling the transfer “exceptionally logical,” and said he had approached Sheriff Jan Cahill about transferring the animal control officer’s duties to the sheriff’s department, but Cahill had seemed “not particularly interested in doing that.”
Commissioner Woody Hanna opined that pending the decision of who would supervise the animal control officer in the future, the commission should hold off creating a procedures guide. He then moved to purchase equipment for McClung in the meantime.
“If we would have had this equipment, we might have been able to prevent this situation,” said Hanna.
Following the investigation report, the commission moved on to the issue of funding the Greenbrier Humane Society and the Greenbrier County Animal Shelter facilities.
Commissioner McClung has been outspoken against funding the shelter in the past, and stated at the meeting, “I am not opposed to the humane society or the animal shelter. I am opposed to the amount of money citizens of Greenbrier County pay for stray dogs and cats. It seems like just plain too much money. We are required to balance the budget and raise the levy rate at a time that people cannot pay their property taxes” to the tune of spending a “quarter of a million dollars” on the shelter.
Commissioner Lowell Rose noted that the commission had already committed to funding the shelter for fiscal year 2015/16, but next year he’d like to revisit the county commission’s responsibility to house animals once they’ve gone into the adoption pool at the shelter. He said the county is responsible for housing strays for five days, furthering that, he said, the humane society should house the animals at its own cost.
Hanna, for his part, identified the cost cutting measures the county has made over the past several years by reducing the animal control officer staff from three officers down to one person and reducing the money paid out to the shelter.
Hanna and Rose voted in favor of funding the humane society; McClung voted “nay.”
The commission meets again on Tuesday, June 23 at 7 p.m. It is unclear at this time who Robert McClung will be working for, the county commission or the sheriff’s department, in the future, and how, next year, the humane society will continue to fund the animal shelter in Lewisburg.