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Thursday August 21st 2014

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Escambia County Responds to Cowgirl’s Death

By Sarah McCartan

This afternoon, Escambia County Director of Community Affairs Marilyn Wesley, responded to the accidental euthanasia of Danielle Riggens’ Labrador retriever mix Cow Girl, performed by the Escambia County Animal Shelter (ECAS).

The euthanasia was performed just after lunchtime on Friday, Aug. 30. Cowgirl had been at the shelter since she was found and brought in by Animal Control on Monday, Aug. 26.

Wesley acknowledged that at the time Cowgirl was brought into the Shelter, she had no visible identification, such as a collar or tags, and no microchip. For animals with no identifying factors, the Shelter follows the state recommended three-day holding period, at which point the animal undergoes an assessment to determine adoptability. (If identifying marks are present, a longer, five-day hold is followed).

In order to claim a lost pet that has been brought into the Shelter, because citations or other fees may be incurred at the time of pickup, and in an effort to be sure an animal is being returned to the proper owner, the ECAS policy is for the owner to be present with identification in order to make a claim. Thus explaining why Cowgirl was not turned over to her owner’s roommate Brittany Meade when she made an attempt to identify and redeem Cowgirl Wednesday afternoon.

What is being referred to as an “unfortunate mistake” comes down to a card, one that wasn’t clearly labeled to indicate Cowgirl had been claimed, and that her owner was coming. This card then ended up in the wrong batch—amongst a batch of animals scheduled for euthanasia.

As a result, despite having made contact with the Shelter, Cowgirl was euthanized before Riggens physically made it to the Shelter to pick her up.

“It’s an unfortunate and heartbreaking situation,” said Wesley. “We are committed to ensuring this doesn’t happen again.”

The cards in question are something that have been under review to align with additional reporting required by the Florida Animal Transparency Act, state legislation effective as of July 1. This incident has quickly sky-rocketed the redesign of the cards to the top of the priority list.

“We are redesigning the card so that anyone who picks it up knows exactly what step is next,” said Wesley.

This extends to the Animal Control staff who pick up an animal, as well as every single staff member at the Shelter.

In addition to revamping the cards themselves, the County is reviewing the processes and procedures to eliminate the potential for future oversights and mistakes of this magnitude.

“We will ensure every card gets looked at by five or six people,” said Wesley.

Additionally, as a part of this procedural update, the Shelter Manager will now be required to sign off on every single euthanasia performed.

As far the potential for disciplinary action is concerned, accordingly to Wesley, “this will be decided once a complete review has been done.”

The Shelter has been under Wesley’s supervision for approximately three and a half years.

“While the shelter has been under my supervision, I can’t recall that this has happened before,” she said.

According to Wesley, in addition to accepting the County’s apology, Cowgirl’s owner and family seek to work alongside the County as advocates to ensure that mistakes like this don’t happen again.