KCBD INVESTIGATES CANINE CARE: Internal Investigation underway at Lubbock Animal Services following euthanasia of 12 puppies

Published: May. 12, 2023 at 7:21 AM CDT
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LUBBOCK, Texas (KCBD) - An internal investigation is underway at Lubbock Animal Services after officers euthanized 12 puppies.

Lubbock Animal Services Director Steven Greene said at about 6 p.m. on Friday, April 14, the shelter received a phone call from a Lubbock dog rescue asking if the shelter could euthanize the puppies.

“She said she had some dogs from a hoarding case that a behavioralist and a trainer said were too unsocialized and needed to be euthanized for public safety,” Greene said.

We asked Greene if a rescue had ever requested the euthanasia of 12 puppies.

“I can’t recall ever having a situation like this with this many animals,” Greene said.

Heather Rothwell, the co-founder of The Good Dog Gang, said she volunteered to foster the puppies after Midland area rescues removed them from a hoarding case near Odessa.

Rothwell said the puppies had become aggressive and were attacking one another.

Rothwell said she consulted with three experts who advised behavioral euthanasia.

Rothwell confirmed she was dating a Lubbock Animal Control Officer who has since been terminated after allegations he took Rothwell and the puppies to the shelter on April 14.

Greene would not comment on personnel matters, but we did obtain the termination letter which states the former employee violated policy because he allowed an unauthorized individual to ride in his city-issued vehicle on the day the puppies were euthanized.

We obtained Lubbock Animal Services’ case report, which states Rothwell arrived at the facility 15 minutes before they stopped taking transactions.

Rothwell paid $20 per dog, which is the euthanasia fee for Lubbock residents.

In the case report, one officer wrote, “We noticed the puppies were smaller and less aggressive than she stated.” He went on to write, “When we received the puppies, they showed no sign of aggression towards one another or people.”

Another office noted the puppies were smaller than described and did not show any signs of aggression.

A third officer wrote the puppies were grouped together and not aggressive to one another or staff.

No bite history was documented for any of the puppies.

We asked Greene if that is a red flag.

“Just because an animal is acting docile at the time doesn’t mean it wasn’t showing aggression in a different scenario,” Green said. “It is tough to just base aggression on a very brief encounter.”

We asked if the officer has the authority to quarantine a dog for evaluation if the owner has paid for the euthanasia.

Greene said the officers do, but typically the owners have valid reasons for turning over the dogs.

Greene said they are now reviewing this policy.

“They do. Usually on an owner surrender, the owners have very valid reasons for turning them in,” Greene said.

The decision to euthanize the puppies sparked intense criticism and prompted a joint statement from The City of Lubbock and Greene.

The statement reads in part, “The citizen that had custody of the animals is not an official rescue organization on file with LAS.”

We asked Greene if the word “official” means a 501(c)3.

“To be an official rescue and pull or tag dogs from LAS, yes, you have to have a 501(c)3 on file,” Greene said. “And you also have to have a signed copy of our transport and foster placement and policies and the Good Dog Gang did not have either of those.”

However, Greene said LAS has worked with The Good Dog Gang despite the rescue not having the qualifications listed in the department’s policy.

“Through the investigation, I have seen where the Good Dog Gang has fostered animals through us before, they have adopted some animals, they have surrendered some animals. So, yes, they have been dealing with LAS in the past,” Greene said.

We asked Greene if he is aware of any other animal rescue that is working with the shelter but does not have the proper qualifications and paperwork.

“Not that I am aware of. I think this is kind of a unique situation and it is being followed up on. That is our policy and should have been adhered to previously,” Greene said.

Tracye Gearhart, President of Masa Rescue, said she fostered the puppies for two or three weeks before delivering them to The Good Dog Gang.

Gearhart said she and the other Midland area rescues heard from Rothwell just after 4:30 p.m. on April 14 and were surprised to learn the puppies were having behavior issues.

Gearhart said they worked to find someone who could drive to Lubbock to pick up the puppies.

“I said Heather, I beg you please do not kill these puppies. Someone is on their way to get them,” Gearhart said. “She would not let us have them; it didn’t matter someone was 21 miles outside of Lubbock at the time the puppies were being killed.”

We asked sisters Heather and Sarah Rothwell, co-founders of The Good Dog Gang, why they did not allow other rescue groups to foster the puppies.

“We can transfer a legal liability for a bite, but we can’t transfer the burden on our heart of having those dogs placed in homes where there is a potential danger to a human life or another dog’s life,” Heather said.

We asked Greene if his staff asked The Good Dog Gang if they had contacted any other rescues for assistance in re-homing the puppies before making the decision to euthanize them.

“I am not aware of any of those conversations,” Greene said.

“Do you know there was a rescue 21 miles away when the dogs were euthanized?” we asked Greene.

“Not until later that evening when someone sent me a screenshot of some Facebook comments,” Greene said.

“When you saw that, did you feel like maybe you had been misled?” we asked.

“I think that would be a fair accounting of it, yes,” Greene said.

Gearhart said she would like to see Lubbock Animal Services do away with euthanasia fees.

“You don’t want to euthanize a dog just because somebody paid for it. If you get the money aspect out of the way, it will give the shelter director more discretion,” Gearhart said.

We asked Greene if this is something he would consider.

Greene said the majority of the euthanasia requests he receives are medical, but he is not opposed to changing the fees.

In the April 14 case report, officers mentioned using a heart stick on the puppies.

Greene said the reports failed to mention the details, leading readers to believe they were not used correctly.

“In general terms when you are going to euthanize a dog you will use an intravenous injection,” Greene said.

Greene said once they have confirmed the animal is completely anesthetized, they will use a heart stick to confirm the animal has passed away.

“When you go to euthanasia class to get certified, they teach you to never ever for any reason do an inner cardiac injection on an animal that is not sedated. It is illegal, it is immoral, and you can be charged for that,” Greene said.

We asked Greene if he wishes he could change how things happened on April 14.

“If I could go back in time and change some things on that day, I think I would,” Greene said. “Nothing is being swept under the rug. This was a good situation to assess where we are at and to see what procedures need tightening and need to be re-written.”