CAMPBELLSVILLE, KY (WAVE) - Shocking allegations of cruelty at a local animal shelter. A former worker at the shelter claims he witnessed the brutal killing of dogs and cats, botched euthanasia and animals being buried alive. I have has been investigating to uncover the truth.
At the Taylor County Animal Shelter in Campbellsville dogs and cats wait for a new home. But a place meant to protect animals is now at the center of a state investigation amid stunning claims of abuse.
A letter written by Andy Stewart, an inmate at the Taylor County Detention Center and former worker at the animal shelter, claims animals were mistreated, improperly euthanized, and buried before they were dead. Stewart, who is serving time for arson, spent months at the shelter on work release this spring.
In his letter, a copy of which was sent to the Madison County Humane Society, the state of Kentucky, and the WAVE 3 Troubleshooter Department, Stewart detailed his claims of botched euthanizations by shelter employees.
"Sometimes they would bypass all that trouble and just shoot them," Stewart wrote. "Some would stagger around falling and bumping into things, dying slowly."
Shelter director John Harris denies the allegations, but the State of Kentucky and the Animal Legal Defense Fund, a non-profit animal rights group in California, haven't been so quick to dismiss Stewart's claims. They include one account of animals that were thrown into the shelters incinerator, called the "eliminator," while they were still alive.
In addition, the letter claims Stewart was part of a mass euthanization of 39 animals in a single day, April 7. Because the shelters incinerator was broken that day, Stewart claims he was instructed to dig three mass graves with a backhoe in woods above the shelter and that some of those animals were buried while they were still alive.
"They had us dump them in the holes," Stewart wrote in his letter.
Taylor County Judge Executive Eddie Rogers said he takes all claims of abuse seriously, but said Stewart's story is not true.
"And I'm telling you right now no we did not bury any dogs that were alive," Rogers said in an interview.
The state of Kentucky wants to make sure. Stewart's letter originally ended up in the hands of the Kentucky EPS as a "complaint regarding improper disposal of animal carcasses," according to documents uncovered by the WAVE 3 Troubleshooter Department. Those documents also show that after receiving Stewart's letter, two EPA investigators met with Harris on site and "identified three separate areas in the woods near the shelter that appeared to have been recently disturbed," according to a report.
Documents also show while the EPA investigators did not find any environmental violations, they "referred the case to the Kentucky Board of Veterinary Examiners for further investigation" and documented their findings in a complaint form. The Kentucky Board of Veterinary Examiners has now asked for and received a response to the allegations from Taylor County and will take up the matter at its next board meeting.
"We are answering to the state as we speak right now," said Rogers said when he spoke with me in October.
Rogers said it is true the shelter euthanized 39 animals on April 7 and buried them in mass graves because the incinerator was broken. But Rogers said all the animals died humanely. He produced a letter, which has also been handed over to the state, from another inmate at the detention center who did work release at the animal shelter. That inmate claims Andy Stewart wasn't at the shelter on April 7.
"His allegations are not true," Rogers wrote.
Scott Heiser, director of the Animal Legal Defense Fund's criminal justice program, said the only way to know for sure if Stewart's claims are true is to exhume the animal's bodies and do autopsies. But Heiser said that can only be ordered by the Kentucky Board of Veterinary Examiners at its hearing December 1.
Heiser said if Stewart's allegations are true, shelter employees, including director Harris, could be charged with animal cruelty and torture, both misdemeanors in the state of Kentucky.