Bowhunter vet’s defense includes claim that shooting strays is Texas rural tradition
AUSTIN, HOUSTON, SAN ANTONIO––Veterinarian Kristen Lindsey, of Brenham, Texas, who allegedly shot a cat through the head with an arrow in April 2015 and posted a photo of herself holding the cat up by the arrow, is still licensed to practice for at least another five and a half months, after two days of testimony before the Texas State Office of Administrative Hearings in Austin on April 26-27, 2016.
Seeking to revoke Lindsey’s license, the Texas Board of Veterinary Medical Examiners is to submit final written arguments to the Office of Administrative Hearings by June 1, 2016. Counsel for Lindsey is to submit final arguments in her defense by June 10, 2016.
[Update: The Texas Board of Veterinary Medical Examiners suspended Lindsey’s license to practice for one year, allowing her to resume practicing veterinary medicine in 2017, and put her on probation for four years. The Texas Supreme Court upheld the disciplinary action in May 2019.]
Verdict due in October
Posted Lindsey to her Facebook page on or about April 17, 2015, with the photo of herself and the mortally wounded cat, “My first bow kill LOL. The only good feral tomcat is one with an arrow through its head! Vet of the year award gladly accepted.”
Lindsey contended among her defense arguments that feral cats are predatory and invasive, a health threat to humans and other animals, especially birds, if not controlled or managed, and that killing feral cats is accordingly a routine practice in rural areas, not related to practicing veterinary medicine.
“Should not matter if cat was feral”
Claire and Bill Johnson, Lindsey’s neighbors at the time, testified that the cat was their pet Tiger, not a feral tom.
Responded Alley Cat Allies, whose staff attorney Misty Christo was in Austin for the hearing in the Lindsey case, “Alley Cat Allies believes that it should not matter whether the cat was Tiger, or whether he was feral. There is very compelling evidence that the cat is Tiger, but even if he wasn’t an owned cat, his life was just as important and precious. All cats deserve to live, and Lindsey’s actions were just as terrible and cruel if the cat was feral.”
Grand jury did not indict
Texas animal advocates hope the highly publicized Lindsey case will send a message that a return to traditional rural methods of stray animal control will be unacceptable.
But the Austin County Grand Jury on June 24, 2015 declined to indict Lindsey, in part because “The Brenham Police Department initially referred the case to the Austin County Sheriff’s Office based upon one unsworn hearsay report that Lindsey may have acted to protect her pets from a potentially rabid cat… It is a defense to an animal cruelty charge if a person is protecting his or her own pets from an attack…both Austin and Washington counties are suffering from an outbreak of rabies cases, and at least one local resident is currently undergoing treatment after contact with a rabid animal.”
With the highly publicized Lindsey case seething in the foreground, in the background, pertaining to many of the same issues, the cities of Austin, Houston, and San Antonio are finding themselves caught in a triangulated crossfire of save-them-all idealism, fiscal reality, and questions as to whether no-kill animal control can be achieved at all while maintaining public safety.
All three cities circa 25 years ago had some of the highest rates of animal shelter killing relative to human population in the U.S., and indeed, the world. Houston and Austin were the last two U.S. cities to quit killing impounded animals en masse by decompression, each dismantling their decompression chambers in 1985. San Antonio was meanwhile among the last U.S. cities to verifiably have significant numbers of street dogs, meaning dogs born and living at large, having never had homes and descended from generations of homeless ancestors.
Despite the introduction of high-volume, low-cost nonprofit dog and cat sterilization programs, the six major shelters serving Houston as of 1990 received 109,000 animals, killing 91,000 of them: 32.5 animals per 1,000 people.
A decade of improvement later, in 1999, Houston killed 23.1 animals per 1,000 people, compared to 5.7 in 2013; Austin killed 19.6, compared to 1.1 in 2013; and San Antonio killed 31.8, compared to 4.2 in 2013.
The 1999 numbers, though high by current standards, then compared well to El Paso (28.5), Dallas (31.9), and Amarillo (50.9).
Eradicated canine rabies
Dismal as the 1999 shelter killing numbers were, Texas animal care and control agencies claimed success in wholly eradicating canine rabies from the state by 2000, the last U.S. state in which it had been endemic.
Two Texans died of canine rabies early in the last decade of the 20th century: a Starr County woman in 1991, and a Hidalgo County boy in 1994.
The spread of the disease appeared to be accelerated by hunters who translocated foxes and coyotes to be chased with hounds in closed pens.
But with canine rabies believed to have been eradicated from the domestic dog population by 1995, the last reservoirs of the disease were eliminated among coyotes and foxes by air drops of oral vaccination pellets, initially over 29 counties and eventually over 77 counties.
Having won the long battle to extirpate canine rabies from the U.S., probably no one involved in Texas animal care and control imagined in 2000 that intensified activist pressure to reduce shelter killing would just 15 years later lead to an alleged resurgence of dogs at large, and claims that animal care and control agencies are refusing to pick up free-roaming dogs––and feral cats––to avoid having to kill those who cannot be rehomed.
The alleged reluctance of San Antonio Animal Care Services to pick up dogs became an issue in March 2015, after a city “Audit of Animal Care Services Dispatching & Operations” identified critical deficiencies in animal control officer “compliance with guidelines related to aggressive and dangerous dogs, bites, and permits.”
Shot dog at large
Concern and controversy increased on May 23, 2015, after San Antonio Animal Care Services director Kathy Davis and staff balked at picking up three dogs found running at large by local rescuer Kelly Reid Walls, one of whom––a mastiff––had an open gunshot wound. Only after ANIMALS 24-7 made inquiries was the injured dog impounded.
Davis on January 20, 2016 announced that San Antonio Animal Care Services had become officially “No Kill” under the criteria used by Maddie’s Fund that it had achieved a 90% “live release rate.”
ANIMALS 24-7 regards the “live release rate” as being self-evidently nonsense, since it incorporates the presumption that 90% or more of the animals an agency receives will be puppies, kittens, other easily adoptable dogs and cats, and other healthy animals who are behaviorally suitable for live release.
If a community sheltering system should be successful enough in preventing births of puppies and kittens to receive very few, and successful in keeping other healthy, behaviorally sound animals in homes, the system would receive mostly unhealthy and dangerous animals, in which case a 90% “live release rate” might mean a 90% rate of jeopardizing the health and safety of the community by releasing animals who should not be released alive.
But Davis will never have to deal with that issue, having retired on March 31, 2016.
(See also Why San Antonio Animal Care Services did not promptly impound a gunshot-wounded mastiff found running in a pack and Audit hits San Antonio Animal Care Services for neglect of public safety.)
Spay San Antonio shuts clinic
Meanwhile, reported MySanAntonio.com “Animals Matter” blogger Cathy M. Rosenthal on March 21, 2016, “After 19 years and 140,000-plus sterilizations, Spay San Antonio is closing its doors to pursue humane education.”
Spay San Antonio had in fact already closed, 19 days earlier.
What might this mean to San Antonio?
The city still has four other low-cost spay/neuter clinics, but is hardly ahead of the puppy and kitten birth rate.
Wrote Rosenthal, “San Antonio Animal Care Services took in more than 600 puppies and kittens younger than one month in October through December 2014 and saw that figure increase to more than 800 for the same period in 2015.”
33% increase in puppy & kitten birth rate
In other words, San Antonio might already have experienced 33% increase in the puppy and kitten birth rate. Reduced access to affordable spay/neuter surgery is likely to ensure that the increased birth rate continues, which may help to keep the San Antonio Animal Care Services “live release rate” high, but does nothing to actually reduce animal suffering, animal/human conflict, or the spread of zoonotic disease, the three main reasons why animal sheltering systems exist.
Helping to keep the San Antonio Animal Care Services “live release rate” high is San Antonio Pets Alive, part of a string of high-volume adoption agencies founded by veterinarian Ellen Jefferson.
Adoption agency in money trouble
But, reported Gilbert Garcia of the San Antonio Express News on April 13, 2016, “San Antonio Pets Alive is in financial trouble, and wants a $500,000 bailout from the city to lift it out of its fiscal crisis.”
This would be for “operational support for the remainder of the calendar year,” according to San Antonio assistant director of government and public affairs Di Galvan.
Jefferson formed San Antonio Pets Alive “in late 2011 at the request of Animal Care Services,” Garcia continued, “which was looking for a high-volume rescue group to help the city reduce its euthanasia numbers.”
Jefferson makes her case
Jefferson on April 24, 2016 told readers of the Express-News that “San Antonio Pets Alive received $155,000 last year from the city of San Antonio to save 6,800 animals. One hundred percent of these animals would be dead if San Antonio Pets Alive did not exist.
“During the past four years,” Jefferson argued, “San Antonio Pets Alive has saved the lives of more than 27,000 dogs and cats who had absolutely no other way out of the shelter…slated for euthanasia and passed over by every other rescue group, shelter and adopter in San Antonio.
“In fact, in fiscal year 2015,” Jefferson said, “San Antonio Pets Alive took the same number of animals from Animal Care Services that all other shelters and rescue groups in the community did combined.”
Targeted s/n could have saved more
At less than $23 per animal handled, the sum paid by the city to San Antonio Pets Alive might sound like a bargain––except that the same amount invested in targeted spay/neuter could have kept four to eight times as many animals from ever being born to later be impounded or surrendered to San Antonio Animal Care Services.
Meanwhile in Austin, reported Brian Collister of KXAN-TV, February 2016 “marks the fifth anniversary of Austin saving 90% or more of the homeless pets who enter the Austin Animal Center.
Austin animal control cost up 146%
“City documents point directly to the no-kill policy as the reason for spending more and more of your tax dollars,” Collister observed.
“In the time since city leaders first started discussing the policy in 2008, the Austin Animal Services’ budget has increased by 146% to nearly $12 million. Also in that time, the number of employees has increased from 81.5 to 106.5.”
But the quality of Austin animal care and control service, overall, appears to have deteriorated.
16-hour response time
A city audit of animal control in 2014 found that the Austin shelters “were overcrowded, staff was overworked, and the animals in shelters didn’t receive consistent care,” summarized Mose Buchele of KUT, the local National Public Radio affiliate. “The report also showed an average time of 16 hours between a call for service and the arrival of an animal control officer for priority calls. The average response time for non-priority calls was 54 hours.”
Said Collister, “The Austin Animal Center does no formal evaluations on dogs, only what it calls ‘observations.’ And based on those observations, nearly all dogs are deemed safe to adopt. In fact, more and more so. In 2009, the year before the no-kill policy went into effect, the city shelter euthanized about 7% of dogs it deemed aggressive; compare that to around just 1% last year,” while Travis County, including Austin, experienced a record 1,696 reported dog bites, “a 58% increase since 2009,” Collister noted.
“No-kill is responsible”
Charged Texas Federation of Animal Care Societies executive director Patt Nordyke, “No-kill is responsible for putting aggressive dogs out there. They are adopting out aggressive animals who have not been properly screened so that they can keep their 90% save rate. This is detrimental to the health and safety of the community as a whole.”
Elaborated longtime Austin humane volunteer Delwin Goss, “The last City Council voted to spend an additional $5,400,000.00 to build 80 new kennels. The day that vote was taken, the shelter was short 163 kennels. In summer 2015 the shelter was short over 270 kennels on some days.
35% increase in dog bites
“City-wide,” Goss continued, “Austin has seen a 35% increase in dog bites over the last five years. Animal Services policies go beyond adoption. They should include policies to address public safety.
“We now have policies in place that have institutionalized animal cruelty,” Goss charged. “A number of dogs have suffered dog bites and lacerations at our animal shelter during ‘play groups,’” which Goss characterized as “animal services code for aggression testing.
“We are adopting out dogs whose behavior indicates they will kill or severely injure other dogs and cats,” Goss alleged, while “In seven out the ten City Council districts, loose dogs are in the top ten of non-emergency 311 complaints,” meaning non-emergency calls to public safety agencies.
Director argues for withholding info
Austin Animal Center deputy chief animal services officer Kristen Auerbach meanwhile on February 18, 2016 published an article on the web site of the pro-pit bull advocacy Animal Farm Foundation arguing that animal shelters should withhold information about potentially dangerous dogs from prospective adopters until after they become seriously interested in a dog.
“As animal welfare professionals and volunteers, we owe it to our community and our adopters to disclose everything we know about one of our animals,” wrote Auerbach. “However, we share all of that information during the adoption counseling portion of the process…not in the marketing.”
The issues surfacing in San Antonio and Austin are to some extent mirrored in Houston. BARC, operating the main Houston shelter, now kills about a seventh as many animals as it did in 1985. Total shelter killing in the Houston metropolitan area may be down by more than 90%.
But Houston rates second only to Los Angeles in number of dog attacks on mail carriers, according to U.S. Postal Service data, while an attempt to get to no-kill by transporting dogs elsewhere for adoption has apparently stalled.
“Slouching toward insolvency”
“As a city contractor that transports animals from Houston’s overcrowded pound out-of-state slouches toward insolvency,” wrote Craig Malisow in the April 28, 2001 edition of the Houston Post, “city officials are still blocking efforts for a full accounting of what happens to the animals it delivers to rescue groups as far away as Toronto.
“The Houston City Council in 2014 approved a two-year, $2.16 million contract with [the local organization] Rescued Pets Movement to find foster or permanent homes for thousands of animals pulled from BARC,” Malisow explained. “But the city funding covers only a third of RPM’s costs. While the city’s 2015 contract calls for RPM to transport at least 4,680 animals a year, or 390 a month, the group’s recent e-mails state that it will only be able to handle between 80 and 98 animals per month. The contract expires in June.”
Another day older & deeper in debt
Acknowledged RPM cofounders Cindi Perini and Laura Carlock, “Reality is that we owe approximately $1 million to our creditors, including our mortgage lender, and we are no longer able to meet all of our monthly operation costs and fund our significant staff requirements.”
Continued Malisow, “City officials say the group has found homes for roughly 7,000 animals, but finding the names of the organizations that receive the animals has been difficult. Greg Damianoff, BARC’s director, and other city officials seem to focus only on the fact that animals have been removed from the shelter at a steady clip, and seem less concerned on tracking the animals’ ultimate outcomes.
No public audit info
“The only audit information made publicly available,” Malisow said, “is a review of a ‘statistically valid sample of 356 animals” that consists of a single pie chart and a claim that 92.4 percent of the animals ‘have either been adopted, are currently awaiting adoption, or undergoing medical treatment,’ according to an e-mail from the city’s Department of Administration and Regulatory Affairs, which oversees BARC.
“It is unclear how the city arrived at this figure,” Malisow wrote.
Even less clear is what it means, since any dog removed from a shelter by a rescue group could be said to be adopted, awaiting adoption, or undergoing medical treatment, unless deceased.
Pros & cons
Malisow found one noteworthy claim of success: “Lisa Pedersen of Colorado’s Boulder Valley Humane Society told us that her organization was able to adopt out 487 of 491 animals received from RPM in 2015.”
However, Malisow also found that “Rescued Pets Movement transferred 44 dogs to a woman in Aurora, Colorado” who claims to have been “working with dogs for the better part of 15 years,” but appears to have spent much of that time in custody of the Colorado Department of Corrections on convictions for check forgery and violating the terms of a conditional release.
Concluded Malisow, “If city officials are for some reason unable to tackle the root of Houston’s animal overpopulation problem, then there is nothing wrong with pursuing alternative means, even if they are just Band-Aid approaches. But we believe the public deserves to know where the animals are going, what their ultimate fates are, and what is being done to check the backgrounds of the people we’re entrusting these vulnerable animals to. We wish city officials felt the same way.”