URBANA – The mistaken euthanizing of a dog by Champaign County Animal Control over Christmas has raised a storm of controversy. Now, Champaign County officials say they want to make sure it never happens again.
After her dog Dada was impounded by Champaign County’s Animal Control Department, owner Monica Lopez was told by a department employee that she would have extra time to pick the animal up after the holidays. But the euthanasia technician didn’t get the message, and Dada was put down on December 24th.
Both County Executive Darlene Kloeppel and Animal Control director Stephanie Joos issued memos reporting on the incident (they can be seen below, following this article). In her report, Joos said she’s taken steps to prevent future mistakes. Because there was confusion over the description of Dada, additional fields have been added to the department’s loss report form, so staff can provide more details. And kennel cages at the department’s pound will have additional signs showing the status of each animal.
“These new measures have been implemented to assure this will not happen again,” Joos wrote in the memo.
“You know, I’ve had more outreach over this issue than I have over probably any issue since I’ve been on the board,” said Champaign County Board Chairman Kyle Patterson, speaking at Tuesday’s county board Committee of the Whole Meeting. The Champaign Democrat had called for an investigation into the mistaken euthanasia incident, shortly after it became well known. In a news release, he questioned the competency of the Animal Control Department.
At Tuesday night’s meeting, Patterson was more restrained in commenting on a report released that day by Kloeppel and Joos. County Board Justice and Social Services Chair Leah Taylor reminded board members at the meeting of rules against disparaging county employees in public.
County residents were angered by the incident and the mistaken euthanasia of Lopez’ dog sparked a firestorm of criticism. Some of it came from the six members of the public who spoke at Tuesday’s county board meeting.
Sara Ragnofsky of Champaign, who says she knew both Lopez and her dog Dada, noted that the dog was a Labrador-pit bull mix. She claimed Champaign County Animal control is more likely to euthanize dogs who were pit bulls or other breeds considered by some to be aggressive or threatening.
“I don’t care if it’s a Rottweiler, pit bull, I don’t care if it was a golden retriever,” said Ragnofsky. “It still doesn’t matter. You can’t just kill a dog just because you take it into Animal Control. Like, are you serious right now?”
In Kloeppel’s report, the Democratic county executive reminded board members that the county’s Animal Control department is only set up to impound animals, not to operate as an animal shelter, or find new owners to adopt cats and dogs. She noted in her report that other counties do offer those services, but that in Champaign County, that work is done by private agencies, like the Champaign County Humane Society.
Kloeppel says the Animal Control department is required by the county board to be self-funding and “has limped along on an inadequate budget for many years” with a full-time staff of seven, plus a part-time veterinarian.
Meanwhile, Taylor, the county board’s Justice/Social Services chair, wants to form a task force of county board members and stakeholders to examine possible reforms for Animal Control’s policies and funding, in order to “just make it the most humane place”.
“We want it (the Animal Control Department) to serve all of our residents, whether they are on two legs with skin, or on four legs with fur,” said Taylor.
(Below are the memos from Champaign County Executive Darlene Kloeppel and Animal Control Director Stephanie Joos, issued January 12 — JM 1/13/21)
TO: County Board Members
FROM: Darlene Kloeppel, County Executive
DATE: January 12, 2021
RE: December 25, 2020, Animal Control Incident
Attached you will find a memo from Stephanie Joos, Animal Control Director, regarding the Animal Control incident occurring over the holidays in December. In the 14 years that the county has operated an impound facility, this is the first and only incident of this type. New measures have been implemented to assure this will not happen again.
This incident has raised broader questions about the management and general operations of this department from some board members and the public who may not be familiar with our Animal Control Department, so we include this summary here:
Champaign County’s Animal Control facility is an impoundment facility, not an animal shelter adoption agency, unlike many counties that combine the two functions. Our first priority is the safety of the public, followed closely by returning loose animals to their owners whenever possible. For animals that do become the property of the county, the staff works with shelters and rescue operations both locally and across the nation to place unclaimed animals for adoption. Animals who are under court order, too injured or ill, unsocialized and aggressive or unable to be placed with partnering agencies for adoption may be euthanized. Animals are evaluated individually, not by breed, to assess fitness for adoption. Summary statistics are attached for 2019 and 2020. Policies are updated regularly to reflect any state and federal law changes.
As with other county departments, Animal Control has limped along on an inadequate budget for many years. Upon its creation, the County Board mandated the department be self-funded (no general fund support). To address ongoing funding issues, management reviewed and updated our municipal contracts and fees/fines structure to better reflect the actual cost of providing both animal control services and impound services. In September 2020, the board recently approved our recommended intergovernmental agreements and ordinance changes. In December, due to retirement of their animal control officer, Rantoul contracted with the county to provide these services. We are currently determining how to best utilize this accompanying revenue increase for the needs of the department.
Capital Assets –
Animal Control occupies a separate building on the county’s campus that is primarily the department’s responsibility to maintain.
- In 2019, Stephanie identified the highest priority facility and technology needs. A large scale for weighing animals was purchased to replace the broken scale.
- In 2020, a replacement vehicle was purchased, which is currently being outfitted with animal transport cages. A glass barrier at the service counter became a priority for COVID-19 distancing and was installed.
- In 2021, funds are budgeted to replace the hail-damaged facility roof and to put a layer of epoxy on the concrete floors. Due to the recent threats to staff, additional facility security upgrades have risen to the top priority for staff safety.
- Concurrent with the rollout of the county’s new ERP financial system in 2021, Animal Control is scheduled to serve as a pilot program to develop an ERP module for that type of departmental function, which will modernize recordkeeping and animal tracking.
- Also planned in 2021, the Treasurer has committed the addition of an account to allow payments made by credit card to the department.
- In 2022, electric panel replacement, installation of an emergency generator and central air conditioning are included in the 10-Year Facilities Maintenance Plan approved by the board in November 2020. These improvements will benefit both staff and the impounded animals.
The staff of Animal Control is small (1 director,1 part-time vet, 3 wardens, 2 kennel workers, 1 clerk) and due to the nature of the work, turnover can be high, creating a constant need for recruitment and training and stress for staff to cover a 24/7 operation. In 2020, with human resources support from Administrative Services, management began implementation of several measures to better support the workforce of this department, including the following elements:
- Improving wages & benefits for the county’s lowest paid workers to $15/hour
- Making employee orientation and annual required employee training available from Administrative Services
- Offering employer-supported opportunities for leadership development, team-building, mentoring and other relevant training
- Holding monthly staff meetings to provide opportunities for communication among shifts and for group training
- Developing scheduling strategies to reduce overtime
In addition to this brief operational overview, Champaign County ordinances, department policies and other information for pet owners and county residents can be found on the county’s website.
Champaign County Animal Control
MEMO FROM STEPHANIE JOOS:
To: County Board Committee of the Whole
From: Stephanie Joos, Animal Control Director
Date: January 12, 2021
Re: December 25, 2020 incident
Per the request of the County Executive and County Board, I respectfully submit this memo concerning the euthanasia of dog impound number 202001183C.
On December 18, 2020, at approximately 8:30 am, an unidentified, intact male, brown and white pit bull type dog was impounded from the City of Champaign for running at large. Said dog was scanned for a microchip (not present) and then placed into the kennel. Per the animal control policy, the unidentified dog was placed on a five-day hold to end at 5 pm on December 23rd. On December 21, Animal Control received a phone call from a resident looking for a missing chocolate Labrador retriever mix and was told no such animal was impounded. She called again on December 22 and was again told no dog of that description was impounded. The dog was identified as this owner’s through a photo sent at approximately 3:30 pm on December 23rd and the owner was told the dog must be claimed by 5:00pm. The owner of the dog contacted animal control again at 5 pm closing time and was told by another staff member that the dog would be held past its holding period. A step was missed in communicating this last minute exception to the euthanasia technician who was on vacation. On December 25, 2020 the dog was euthanized by the euthanasia technician per policy, because it had failed the behavior evaluation for possible adoption (aggression towards the staff). On December 28, 2020, the error was realized when the owner attempted to reclaim the dog.
The Animal Control Department is taking this tragedy very seriously and has investigated every step of what happened and what can be done to prevent this type of incident from recurring. These include:
- This owner’s description of her pet did not match the staff’s description in the loss report, delaying identification and possible retrieval of the dog. To better address incomplete/incorrect match by callers looking for an impounded animal and staff-completed loss reports, additional fields have been added on the loss report to assist with animal identification. While owners can come to the facility for identification and email can be used to send photos, Animal Control also is looking into adding a website feature for photo transmission for an additional option for identification.
- To eliminate possible missed communication from front desk staff to the euthanasia technician, even during holidays/vacations, additional types of signage indicating animal status have been made that will be posted as appropriate on kennel cages. Staff also are now duplicating the animal status log for both the front desk location and the kennel animal care notebook for easier reference by all staff in both locations.
These new measures have been implemented to assure this will not happen again.
Recent Animal Control Statistics
December 2020 80 total animals impounded
43 transferred to other groups for adoption 54%
27 returned to owner 34%
7 euthanized 1%
1 owner requested euthanasia
1 direct adoption
1 hold for court
November 2020 117 total animals impounded
66 transferred to other groups for adoption 56%
26 returned to owner 22%
22 euthanized 19%
2 direct adoptions
1 hold for court
Statistics for 2019 and 2020 for reference
Total Animals Impounded
Returned to owner
Total Animals Impounded
Returned to owner
Additional information about Animal Control may be found on the county’s website.