LOUISVILLE, KY (WAVE) - It's been 10 years since Kentucky passed a law to establish humane standards of care at its animal shelters. My undercover investigative reports helped prompt those changes. But ten years later, my most recent investigation found a lot of work to do in some of our county animal shelters.
Animals starving, hurting, thirsting -- wasting away in waste. They are not scenes from stories I did in the 1990s. They are scenes photographed by animal rescuers and an attorney over the past two years in county animal shelters around Kentucky.
Food and water buckets filled are with feces, urine or mice. Some dogs sit on soaked cardboard flooring.
On New Year's Eve, George the boxer was sick and not doing well.
"Next morning I asked someone please go in and see if they dealt with this dog appropriately," said attorney Kathryn Callahan.
On New Year's Day, George the boxer was dead in a pool of blood in his pen.
Callahan represents citizens who are suing county animal shelters for allegedly failing to comply with the 2004 shelter standards law.
"The only way to enforce compliance is for a taxpayer to bring a lawsuit to enforce the law," said Callahan. "It is left up to the counties to do their own inspection. A lot of times these counties are watching the bottom line, where the money's going."
I went out with a hidden camera to visit some shelters.
"Is this the Casey County Animal Shelter?" I asked a man who lives at the address listed for the Casey County Animal Shelter.
"Oh, I guess that might be what you call it," he said.
I learned the Casey County shelter is the dog warden's home. When I asked how I could adopt a dog, he said I needed to go to a different county they have a contract with, but he couldn't tell me how to get there.
"It's in Adair County," he said.
"Where in Adair County?" I asked.
"Um, where it's at. I can't think of the name of it. Um, Green River is that it?" he said.
Logan County is a no-kill shelter. On the 90 degree day I was there, some dogs were chained to fences, had no shade and some of their pens were caked in feces.
In Greenup County, posted signs said "No Cameras," although it's a taxpayer-funded animal shelter.
In Edmonson County, one of the shelters being sued, the owner wouldn't let us in.
"Could we go inside here? If you say nothing's wrong here, why don't we go inside and take some pictures?" I asked.
"No, absolutely not," said shelter owner Kim Carroll.
"Why?" I asked.
"Because you're not here for a legitimate reason," she said.
I explained I had already been there with a camera.
"You cause trouble," she said.
In the rows of dogs stacked high with cats right next to them, I asked about animals I recorded packed in cages so small it appeared they couldn't stand up fully or even turn around.
"If you press the issue, we can go in and put down anything you want to," Carroll said.
"I'm just talking about humane treatment of animals. I'm not telling you to kill them," I said.
"Do you want me to kill 'em?" she said.
"No, I don't want you to kill them," I said. "I just want you to treat them humanely."
"I don't have a bigger space," she said.
Kim Carroll said the four counties she contracts with don't give her enough money to buy bigger cages, although she admits she does make money on the operation.
When asked if it's legal for counties to contract with 'for profit' shelters like this one, the Kentucky Attorney General's Office concluded, "An animal shelter must be operated by either a governmental body or a non-profit entity."
Kim Carroll said their private status means they don't have to answer to the public. Then she pushed my photographer.
"If you don't turn that thing off, that's going to be the end of it," she said.
Carroll said the shelter passed a recent inspection by the state, but she never let us in.
"I'm asking you, don't air this," she said. "This is a lot bigger than you and I."
The Contemporary Justice Review is about to publish a scathing analysis by two members of UofL's sociology department of how Kentucky has complied with the Humane Shelter Law. They found the data on the animals, required by law, "is often inaccurate or nonexistent." They also found the Commonwealth of Kentucky has made no efforts to collect or verify the data.