In an exclusive interview with the Independent News, Dr. Alphonso Steward III, the former veterinarian for the Escambia County Animal Shelter, blamed the three animal deaths in his surgical unit last month on his assistant not following his instructions and claimed that other shelter staff were tied to the social media campaign to tarnish his professional reputation.
On the day the deaths occurred, Dr. Steward said that he had come to work early at 4:45 a.m. He had successfully completed five surgeries before his Vet Tech, Gayle Sanders, reported for work at 8:30 a.m. By noon he had completed five more without any complications. Then he noticed Sanders cleaning the cages in the post op area with a “noxious spray.”
“I had warned her because she was using all that noxious spray,” said Steward. “I said Gayle you need to do that in evenings or the mornings before we have our surgeries. The animals being operated on all have this anesthetic gas inside them and they are trying to exchange that gas for oxygen in post op.”
He said he thought the toxic fumes were what killed the animals. He later found out that Sanders does not have a Florida license to be a Vet Tech.
Steward wrote his version of what happened in a resignation letter to his boss Marylyn Wesley, Escambia County Director of Community Affairs. The Independent News had requested Steward’s resignation letter on Feb. 21 and was told, “Dr. Alphonso W. Steward, III gave a verbal resignation on Thursday, February 20th to Marilyn Wesley, Director of Community Affairs.” Instead, we were given an email by Wesley informing the commissioners of the resignation.
Apparently there was a resignation letter.
Steward said that Wesley had refused his resignation letter but he had given it to her anyway. Here is the letter: Stewardresign
The former county vet told the paper, “Every time I would complain to my boss, she would say don’t worry about it. I’m not in the business of hurting animals. I’m an animal advocate. Why would I spend 22 years just to be cruel to animals?”
Steward replaced Dr. Melissa Adkison, who resigned this past November after only two months on the job. The reported reason for her resignation was a new shelter policy was implemented requiring the veterinarian in charge to sign all euthanasia orders.
“I received a phone call in the week of November 18th from Mr. Rod Powell in HR and Marylyn Wesley asking if I would like to come back and work part-time,” said Steward, who had worked part-time at the shelter in the spring and summer of 2013. “I said sure. Three days later they wanted me as a permanent vet because Dr. Atchinson had walked out without giving any prior notice.”
He said that he was given the title of veterinarian in charge of the shelter, or director of operations. He was hired quickly because the shelter needed a vet with a DEA license so that the shelter could keep running, could use the necessary drugs to euthanize the animals, and so that the animal control officers could have the sedatives for animals they capture. He started November 18.
“I got this great title but with no authority,” said Steward. The first thing he did was institute procedures to keep the surgery unit sanitary.
“They were tracking in dog feces from the kennels into the surgery suite,” he said. “I put up signs –’Here’s the foot bath, use the foot bath before you come in here.’” Next he tackled drug security. The drugs were locked up in the surgery unit. The animal control officers were just walking in at will, according to Steward. He worried they could be bringing into the suite viruses that picked up in the field from the animals they captured.
When he received push back from Sanders, the kennel manager, Phyllis Trout, and the animal control officers, Steward wrote an email to Wesley. He later discussed it with her and HR, but little changed.
Steward said that he also believed that Trout had a political agenda to get rid of him and was leaking shelter details to friends in Escambia Animal Advocates and other animal rights groups. He found that ironic since Trout was the one ordering the animals to be killed.
He said, “If her friends knew how many animals she would sign off every week, they wouldn’t be as friendly to her any more. She signs off as many as 20-30 animals a week.”
Since leaving the shelter, Steward said he has been ridiculed in social media and that people had taken pictures of his Milton office to intimidate and harass him.
“It makes me angry how these lay people can take a rumor out of the blue and say that I’m some sort of buffoon and that I don’t know what I’m doing,” said Steward. “I lost the joy of practicing because they were trying to assassinate my character the whole time.”
The Escambia County Commission will discuss the animal shelter tomorrow at its regular board meeting at 2 pm.