A Humane Society official is calling it unacceptable that a Labrador Retriever was left to suffer so long in its kennel before being euthanized.
"Animal care must be humane and compassionate," Joanne Schoch, executive director of the Humane Society of the Nature Coast Inc., said in an email. "The current conditions cannot be left to continue."
Public Safety Director Mike Nickerson said proper procedures were followed, but agreed that the dog's disease and suffering could have been detected sooner and euthanization carried out quicker.
The dog came into animal services at 1:16 p.m. Wednesday and was finally euthanized at 5:08 p.m. Thursday.
Nickerson said the incident emphasizes the critical need to get a veterinarian on staff at animal services to better monitor operations. He will present that request to county commissioners at their Oct. 23 meeting.
Nickerson said he was on vacation when the dog arrived at animal services Wednesday. Raul Figarola, a veterinarian with ASAP Animal Clinic, happened to be in the facility Thursday and noticed the dog displaying symptoms of mange, a skin disease, Nickerson said.
After doing a skin scraping and confirming his diagnosis, Nickerson said Figarola called him and that he recommended treatment or euthanasia.
Nickerson said he gave his authorization for the dog's euthanasia on the phone. He asked that Figarola sign the appropriate papers with a staff member. The euthanasia was carried out Thursday morning, he said.
"If a veterinarian had been on duty it could have been handled quicker, I understand that," Nickerson said.
Mandy Celt, office manager at ASAP, paints a different picture.
Celt said she was there with Figarola and it was clear the dog was suffering.
"The dog was sitting there shivering and suffering," Celt said. "It was very sad."
Celt said Figarola got hold of Nickerson on the phone and told him that he recommended euthanasia because a secondary infection had developed in the dog and it was in pain.
Celt said Nickerson did not give his permission over the phone and if not for Schoch, who visited the facility later Thursday and saw the suffering animal, it may have still been there.
Schoch notified County Administrator Len Sossamon about the dog and expressed her concerns that it had been left in the kennel.
Sossamon then initiated procedures to have the dog euthanized and it finally was carried out late Thursday, she said.
Sossamon confirmed that Schoch called him between 4:30 and 5 p.m. Thursday and expressed her concern about the dog.
Sossamon said he contacted Mike Rampino to visit the facility and check on the animal.
Rampino, formerly the chief of the once-independent Spring Hill Fire Rescue District, was given administrative oversight of the county fire department following Nickerson's reassignment to animal services.
Sossamon said Rampino called back, said the dog was "trembling and shaking uncontrollably" and that he agreed with Figarola's recommendation to euthanize the animal.
Sossamon said he authorized the procedure.
"It is sad that an animal has to stay in a cage suffering while we as humans need to make a decision," Figarola wrote in the animal services report. "It is not easy for life is precious. But suffering is WRONG."
Figarola said he called Nickerson at 10:47 a.m. and advised either the animal be treated or euthanized.
"(Nickerson) told me to write it down on the chart and initial it," Figarola told Hernando Today.
Nickerson did not say he would authorize the dog be euthanized, Figarola said.
Nickerson said he did authorize euthanasia on the phone. He added that Sossamon was unaware that he had given his consent for the dog to be euthanized.
As to why it took so long for staff to carry out the procedure, Nickerson said staff was waiting to see if any other options were available to save the dog.
Last month, the county administrator gave Nickerson a written warning for failing to implement the recommendations of an animal services audit.
Nickerson, already relieved of his duties as county fire chief to try and improve the embattled department, has apologized for not spending more time on moving forward with the audit findings and said he had other duties that demanded his attention.
Sossamon said in his letter to Nickerson that his failure to implement the recommendations as he was directed to "represents an act of grave concern to me. This is simply not acceptable."
Sossamon said he expected the audit recommendations, which called for tighter policies and more stringent oversight, to be expedited.
Nickerson said he has established an office at animal services and is spending 40-plus hours a week monitoring procedures.
Nickerson said he and staff continue to work on establishing permanent department policies and proceeding to meet the deadlines established by the audit.
"We're in the testing stages for the audit scoring system for treating adoptability of animals," Nickerson said.