Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Animal advocates want justice for shot dogs

February 27, 2013 7:45 am  •  By Felicia Cousart Matlosz

Animal rights advocates told the City Council on Feb. 19 that they want justice for the five dogs shot and killed by a Selma police officer last month at the Selma Animal Shelter. Since the incident happened, city officials said discussions have taken place to make sure an incident like it never happens again.

But animal rights supporters still are concerned and upset. More than a dozen animal rights advocates, a number of them from Fresno, attended the meeting. One brought a Feb. 1 letter that she said had been sent to the Fresno County District Attorney, seeking an investigation. Another speaker presented an online petition that she said was signed by more than 1,000 people from a broad section of communities.

“Five lives were lost that day,” said Danielle Jones of Sanger. She also addressed a comment directly to Selma’s interim police chief: “Justice, justice should be done to the officer, Myron Dyck.”

Representatives spoke during the oral communications section of the meeting, which allows members of the public to address the council members about issues not posted on the scheduled agenda.

Mayor Ken Grey and Council Member Scott Robertson said after the council meeting that discussions have taken place to ensure a similar situation never happens again. Those talks have covered different areas, such as proper training and developing new systems for animal control.

“We’re taking the issue very seriously,” Grey said. “We hope from this we’ll all have learned something that will lead to a better control system for our animals here in Selma.”

“I can tell you that the shooting has not been ignored, and the past will not be repeated,” Robertson said. “Policies and procedures have been reviewed with the police department.”

Robertson said that the crux of the issue is this: “How do we turn this tragic event into a positive, to make it a teachable moment so that events do not repeat themselves?”

The identity of the officer involved in the shooting has not been disclosed.

Grey said after the council meeting: “The review and what ultimately may be the outcome of that is a personnel matter. By law, I’m prohibited from commenting on that issue.”

On Jan. 18, five pit bull mix dogs were at the Selma Animal Shelter, brought there by a single owner. Selma Police Department officials and representatives from the shelter’s volunteer group agreed the dogs were not going to be adoptable and would have to be euthanized.

What happened after that angered the animal rights community. The veterinarian used by the city for euthanizations was not able to get to the shelter. The police officer approached the dogs, in an attempt to take them to the veterinarian.

But the dogs became aggressive. The officer feared a threatening situation. And, Dyck said in an interview in early February, the officer was aware of the December case in which four pit bull dogs mauled 34-year-old Estaban Alavez to death in the driveway of a Selma-area home. The officer worried about what would happen if the dogs were left there, and other people came to the site. The officer shot and killed the dogs.

Melody Overholser, the volunteer coordinator for the shelter, told the council members on Feb. 19: “What happened that day was sincerely our worst nightmare.”

She said that the group lost a few volunteers, and “I’m not going to lie, I wanted to quit as well as the rest of them.” But the importance of their efforts to save the lives of more dogs outweighed her initial reaction. In 2012, more than 300 animals were taken into the shelter. Only six had to be euthanized. A prime reason is that the police department lets dogs stay for longer periods of time in the shelter than other shelters typically allow.

The police department now also has a part-time animal control officer. He started Jan. 2. (The department last had a full-time animal control officer in April 2009.)

“All I want to do is move forward, and it’s with the blessing of all you guys that we can and still save dogs,” Overholser said.

Brenda Mitchell, a member of the Animal Compassion Team in Fresno, then told the council that she thought the Selma volunteers “may be fearful” to be honest about how they feel. “Don’t for one second think that their kindness and forgiveness is something that says you guys are OK,” Mitchell said. “This is wrong, and it needs to be addressed.”

Animal rights advocates believe a more thorough investigation of what happened on Jan. 18 has to be done.

Ashley Hughes, a member of Westside Rescue in Fresno, read from the Feb. 1 letter to Fresno County District Attorney Elizabeth Egan. The letter in part said that “the implication that the incident should be minimized because the dogs were slated for euthanasia anyway is equally troubling. Make no mistake — shooting a dog inside a kennel is not euthanasia.”

The letter includes at the bottom the names of representatives from 11 animal advocacy organizations. The names include Eric Sakach, senior law enforcement specialist for the Humane Society of the United States, and Brandy Kuentzel, corporate counsel/director of advocacy for the San Francisco SPCA.

“We are jointly requesting from your office a formal response revealing how and why the incident occurred, an accounting of what review of agency procedures is under way and a description of any recourse you decide to pursue against the officer who committed this heinous act,” the letter stated.

As of presstime, the Enterprise had not received a response from the Fresno County District Attorney’s office about the letter.

A separate and ongoing issue is the location of the Selma Animal Shelter, which is several miles south of downtown Selma.

Robertson is involved in efforts to explore suitable sites. “It is the right time for a new shelter that will be easier for people to access and adopt from, safer for volunteers and a more humane place for our animals,” he said.

Grey said: “I feel very confident that Scott and the volunteers are working very aggressively toward making a move happen for a shelter that would be a vast improvement for the community.”


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