Complaints investigated about animal control
A discussion about replacing the animal control officer turned into a tense session of accusations at the Morgan County Commission meeting on Thursday afternoon, January 21.
By the meeting’s end, the commissioners and Sheriff Vince Shambaugh agreed to have an outside investigator look at some of the allegations made against Laura Klein, who resigned as animal control officer on January 11.
Klein’s resignation had prompted Sheriff Shambaugh to tell the commisssioners that he no longer wanted to oversee animal control duties. The commission responsibility had originally been taken on by former sheriff Ronald McIntire.
At the start of the January 21 session, Shambaugh reported that Klein was moving from the county-owned kennel property that day and wouldn’t be on the job after that evening.
There were presently five dogs in the kennel and parttime animal control officer Corey Barch remained on the job, Shambaugh said.
Commissioner Brenda Hutchinson said the commission couldn’t make a decision on what to do without the animal control records.
Commissioner Tommy Swaim said he had been asking about intake records for months.
Shambaugh turned over a pile of papers in a plastic bag. He said they were the documentation that Klein had provided, but her computer records could not be accessed because of a computer virus.
During the conversation, Hutchinson said Klein had requested a laptop computer to use for entering information in the field, but the request was never acted upon.
The commissioners asked if the Sheriff’s Department would continue to run the kennel and provide animal control services until they could post the job and make new arrangements.
As these details were being worked out, members of the standing-room-only audience began making comments and raising questions.
Barbara Andreadis, a Humane Society board member, and Dawn White alleged that Klein had been selling dogs that she had taken in as animal control officer.
Andreadis specifically cited a dog named Daniel that was advertised for adoption on the Safe Haven Dog Rescue website. She claimed that a person who inquired about Daniel was told that if the dog was “a good fit,” they would be paying $200 to Klein.
White gave the commissioners a printout of a Google page showing several websites where Klein had listed various dogs. White pointed out that the site names mentioned “pets for sale.”
The websites are also used for adoption
of animals, and some of them listed dogs offered by the Morgan County Humane Society.
Andreadis said that if dogs from the kennel were being sold, the money should have come back to the county.
Sheriff Shambaugh said some donations have gone into the animal control budget.
Commissioner Swaim said complaints about Klein should be given to the sheriff and prosecutor to investigate, and Commissioner Hutchinson agreed.
“I would like to see this cleared up so there is not a cloud hanging over it,” Hutchinson said.
She said she always felt Klein did an outstanding job, but that the complaints needed to be investigated.
Lost dog incident
The discussion kicked into another gear with allegations from White and Arthur Ridgeway about how animal control officers may have handled Ridgeway’s missing female border collie early this month.
About the same time, a male border collie was picked up and Klein later returned it to its owners. That dog had a chip so its identity was clear, according to Klein and Shambaugh, who spoke to the owners during his investigation of the incident.
Ridgeway, however, has continued to believe that Klein may have given his dog to other people.
“Is she selling dogs?” he asked during last week’s meeting.
White insisted that an independent investigation be made into whether Klein was selling dogs from the county kennel. She asked if she and Ridgeway could go see the border collie that had been returned to its owners, but got no response.
During the meeting, Shambaugh depicted the accusations against Klein as a “witch hunt” and other law enforcement personnel spoke glowingly of her.
But Shambaugh said he would step away and let someone else investigate.
If the claims of selling dogs had been brought to his attention earlier, “they could have been dealt with a whole lot easier,” Shambaugh said.
In prosecutor’s hands
Assistant Prosecutor Dan James said the Prosecutor Attorney’s Office would take “a neutral and detached” look at the allegations.
The issue, along with the animal control records, was then handed over to Prosecutor Debra McLaughlin.
On Monday, McLaughlin said she had asked the West Virginia State Police to investigate the claims and determine if anything illegal had taken place.
Anyone with information should contact Trooper Peer at the Berkeley Springs State Police detachment, 304-258-0000.