Were taxpayers paying for animal cruelty? Veterinarians say Mississippi shelter violated ‘most basic care’ for animals

Published 6:43 am Thursday, March 11, 2021

A North Mississippi animal shelter that announced it was closing after community leaders decided to stop using the shelter was found to be violating “even the most basic standards of care for animals,” according to two veterinarians who visited to inspect the animal shelter.

After numerous complaints and a two-week criminal investigation into the Oxford and Lafayette County animal shelter, operated by Mississippi Critterz, the veterinarians were granted access to visit the shelter on March 4.

Dr. Philip Bushby, of Mississippi State University’s College of Veterinary Medicine, and Dr. Kathy Kvam, of Oxford’s Crossroads Animal Hospital, conducted the one-hour inspection.

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Bushby recently spoke with the Oxford EAGLE, and confirmed he was the primary author of the report and Kvam signed off on it before sending it to the Oxford Police Department, Mississippi Critterz Board of Directors and In Defense of Animals. Bushby was specifically requested by Doll Stanley of In Defense of Animals to conduct a visit of the shelter.

Bushby is a co-author of the 2010 publication “Guidelines for Standards of Care in Animal Shelters” for the Association of Shelter Veterinarians. During their visit, Bushby and Kvam referred to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animal’s (ASPCA) “Shelter Care Checklist: Putting ASV Guidelines into Action.”

According to the joint preliminary report from Bushby and Kvam, released by the Oxford Animal Shelter Watchdogs Group and In Defense of Animals on Monday, the shelter “violates even the most basic standards of care for animals in animal shelters.”

The animal shelter recently announced it was “going to close down, at least temporarily” after the City of Oxford decided to halt all animal surrenders at the shelter.

Bushby and Kvam toured the shelter from 10 to 11 a.m. last Thursday.

The report stated the shelter did not have identifying information, such as names or numbers, on animal enclosures or on the animals themselves. Records were not available for review there were not medical records, according to the reporter.

During Oxford police chief Jeff McCutchen’s presentation of findings from OPD’s investigation into the shelter to the Board of Aldermen on Feb. 16, he informed the Board that one of the areas of concern was the lack of information or records provided when shelter officials were asked for them at different points of the investigation.

Natascha Techen, a member of the Mississippi Critterz Board of Directors, was present for the site visit, but could not tell Bushby or Kvam how many animals were present in the shelter at the time of the visit. She estimated “100 dogs,” according to the report. Techen could also not provide any statistics related to intake numbers, number of animals adopted, number placed in foster care, numbers transported to other rescues or shelters or numbers of animals euthanized.

Jenn Peterman, the executive director for the shelter, was not present for the visit. Later that day, during an emergency meeting with the Mississippi Critterz Board of Directors, Peterman submitted her resignation and Board member Gail Brown was also removed.

“I’ve been involved with animal shelters since the early 90s, so we’re close to 30 years. I’ve seen some that keep very poor records. I’ve not seen one that kept no records,” Bushby said. “Part of the dilemma, prior to our arrival at the shelter, (Peterman) left the building and disappeared the entire time we were there. We never had a chance to ask her a single question.”

According to Bushby and Kvam’s report, one half to two-thirds of the dogs were in small stainless-steel cages or temporary wire cages. Standards require that primary enclosures be large enough to for animals to stand, sit in a normal posture, stretch, turn around and lie down with ability to extend their limbs. The report stated “most, if not all, of the cages were so small they failed to meet this standard.”

There were 15 to 20 dogs in what the report called “outdoor runs,” but the veterinarians were not sure if those were the primary enclosure for those dogs, but there were no empty runs or cages for the dogs to be moved into indoors.

The capacity for care is based on the number of enclosures available, the number of and training of shelter staff and the financial resources available. The number of animals located at the shelter on the day of the site visit “far exceeds the capacity for care,” according to the report.

“MS Critterz has had months to remedy problems since allegations were first brought to the city in November,” said founder of Oxford Animal Shelter Watchdogs, Leigh Ann Hubbard in a statement. “Further, they had six days’ notice that Dr. Bushby was coming. Still, they failed inspection. This is the best they can do. Taxpayer dollars continue to pay for cruelty. It is time for the city to act — to complete the transfer or adoption of all animals and to sever ties with MS Critterz.”

The City of Oxford issued a statement, ordering Mississippi Critterz to close to new surrenders within hours of Bushby and Kvam completing their site visit.

Following release of Bushby and Kvam’s report, Oxford Mayor Robyn Tannehill released a statement of her own.

“We are glad to have this additional input,” Tannehill said. “We are utilizing this information as we determine a path forward.”