A local veterinarian voiced concerns to Parsons city commissioners on Monday about dog owners who she said were rewarded for animal cruelty.
Dr. Eva Dudek, owner of Parsons Pet Hospital, said during the commission’s Monday meeting that a dog that was brought to her in poor condition was returned to the owner even though Dudek determined the dog was neglected. She said perhaps it is time the city replace City Attorney Ross Albertini with an attorney who is more familiar with animal abuse.
Albertini responded by saying that he was only acting as the law allows, and that the law differs on animal abuse from Dudek’s opinions.
“Obviously there is a little disagreement between Dr. Dudek and myself,” Albertini said.
Dudek said the dog was found running loose, appearing to be underfed and with severe generalized dermatitis. She showed photos of the dog’s many sores.
Dudek took the dog into her care with the intention of not giving it back to its owners. The owners showed up and irately demanded the dog, she said, scaring and intimidating her staff.
Dudek said a Labette County sheriff’s deputy told her she could keep the dog until the abuse was investigated. A Parsons police officer took a report, but nothing was done for over a month, Dudek said. Meanwhile, most of the dog’s sores were healed. Then Albertini told Dudek to relinquish the dog to its owner.
“I argued. I groveled. I even threatened not to give the dog back. I was informed I would be arrested if I did not,” Dudek said.
Dudek cited a Kansas statute on animal abuse that makes it a Class A nonperson misdemeanor punishable by up to a year in jail and a $2,500 fine. Instead of being punished, though, the dog owners were rewarded, she said, because the city paid the bill to care for, feed and board the dog at the clinic. The bill exceeded $1,000.
“Not only were these criminals allowed to go scot free, they were rewarded by unjust enrichment because the city paid their bill with me. In what realm of reality is that OK?” Dudek said.
Dudek questioned if Parsons taxpayers would find the city paying the vet bill acceptable.
“That dog was neglected beyond abuse, and nothing was done,” Dudek said. “We need to take these cases seriously.”
Dudek said the dog owners only keep the dog for breeding purposes. She also said the dog owners claimed to have sought treatment at Regional Veterinary Service in Oswego and then tried home remedies to heal the dog. Dudek said she checked with the Oswego veterinary clinic and learned that the dog had not been taken there. She checked again after the dog was given back to its owners and found that the dog had been taken to the clinic twice.
“Maybe this was the kick in the butt they needed,” Dudek said.
Dudek said this case was not the first time that she and Albertini disagreed on a potential dog abuse case. She said Albertini is not qualified to determine dog abuse and that another veterinarian should have been called to concur or disagree with Dudek.
Albertini said initially the case did look like an animal cruelty situation, but the dog had a medical condition that was not being taken care of properly. According to law, if an animal’s health condition doesn’t improve, it’s not considered animal cruelty, although it could dovetail into that if care isn’t rendered.
In this case, Albertini said, a police officer checked the residence of the dog owners and found that they had at least three dogs and multiple cats that were receiving proper care. He checked with the Oswego vet and found that the dog was taken there in February and that the owners then tried to heal the dog on their own at home.
Albertini said the dog owners were told the home remedies were not working. They were told that the dog would only be given back to them after he could verify an appointment with a veterinarian was made. The dog was then released to the owners on the day of the appointment. The dog then had a followup visit, and a police officer checked on the dog and ensured that the owners had medication. Albertini said it is due for a steroid shot when the time is right.
Albertini said the court of law differs from Dudek’s opinion of abuse and neglect. He explained the steps his office was taking with the dog to the Kansas Humane Society, which had called to check on the situation, and the society agreed the steps were reasonable.
“I guess it is a judgment call, but you know, I think based on the facts we took a reasonable approach to give these people a chance to fix their animal in a way that was proper, and that was the decision that was made,” Albertini said.
Commissioners didn’t have a problem with how the situation was handled, except that the city paid Dudek’s bill for the owners.
Commissioner Kevin Cruse said the dog owners should have to pay back the city.
“This dog had to be taken in. It received care. It should not be on our dime,” he said.
Albertini said because no criminal charges were filed, the city can’t seek restitution. There have been many cases in which the city has paid for boarding and health care for dogs, but this dog’s boarding and care extended well beyond the average case. Albertini said his office wasn’t notified of the situation until three weeks after the dog had been in Dudek’s care.
Mayor Tom Shaw said it may be too late to recover any money from this incident, but it should serve as a warning to the city to establish some sort of payment plan that can be used in future cases.
Police Chief Robert Spinks said under Kansas law, pets are considered property, so the police department had the dog seized as evidence. Spinks said because the dog was evidence, the police department was responsible for the bill.
“Opinion versus what the law allows the city to do is a little bit different,” Spinks said.
Spinks said the dog’s condition has improved and shared current photos with the commission. The police will continue to check on the dog weekly. The owners have been put on notice that if the dog’s condition backslides, it will be considered neglect.