Report: Investigation finds “deep organizational dysfunction” at Ingham Co. Animal Shelter

Report: Investigation finds “deep organizational dysfunction” at Ingham Co. Animal Shelter

By: Alexandra Ilitch Jul 31, 2018

The Ingham County Controller’s investigation into possible wrongdoing by the county’s animal shelter director and deputy director is complete.

During the Ingham County Board of Commissioners meeting Tuesday night, the board will discuss the findings of that report and decide if the details warrant any further action.

A local online newspaper, Lansing’s Online News, obtained the 21-page report and shared it with 6 News. The details are shedding more light into how staff feels about the leadership, or lack thereof, at the Ingham County Animal Shelter.

Last week, the shelter’s Director, John Dinon and Deputy Director, Anne Burns were suspended with pay while the county Controller’s Office launched an investigation into any potential wrongdoing.

On Tuesday night, commissioners announced that Burns retired from her position, effective by the end of this week.

The findings of the report focuses on the care and treatment of five dogs seized in a dog-fighting ring in the summer of 2017. A total 47 fighting dogs were seized in Ingham County; 30 of them were re-homed, 15 euthanized for “behavioral reasons,” and two of them for “medical reasons.”

According to the Controller’s report, the average length-of-stay for these dogs was 181 days. Two dogs included in this report were housed at the shelter for more than 300 days.

Dinon and Burns have come under fire for the way they allegedly cared for the seized dogs. A report commissioned by the Michigan Humane Society detailed disturbing accounts from medical records and shelter staff about the way the dogs were handled.

According to the Controller’s report, nearly all people interviewed acknowledged there to be “deep organizational dysfunction” at the shelter.

One employee said the staff does not work as a team. Another cited “territorial infighting” between animal care employees and officers.

Many told investigators that Dinon and Burns are not responsive to issues and believe there is a “need” for training because there were “no standard operating procedures or policies.”

A private veterinarian said Burns “never seemed to be able to accommodate” without Dinon’s approval.

“I often felt that there was a disconnect between them, at least as far as working with veterinarians on neglect and abuse cases,” the vet said.

A breakdown of email messages is also showing examples of the way management operates.

An email from April 24 reveals that Dinon “issued a directive” about weighing the dogs which said, “The animal care staff are weighing Skully and Jonah and the Darling dogs daily. It is not necessary for you to do so also. Please discontinue weighing the dogs.”

Burns was copied on Dinon’s message.

Animal Care employees also cited frustrations with Dinon and Burns when help was requested when the dogs were seized, according to the report.

Dr. Karen Worthington said she believed the shelter was “too short-staffed to handle all of the dogs seized in 2017.”

Dinon, however, said the staffing levels were adequate for the number of dogs seized.

The report continues: “Complaints about non-medical staff handling medical issues were common. Tensions between Animal Control Officers and Animal Care employees were emphasized.”

During a meeting earlier this month, Dinon answered several questions from commissioners regarding the claims detailed in the MHS report.

”I wish we had done some things different,” he said. ”I do take responsibility. At the time I thought we were making appropriate decisions, in retrospect, I think we did not make the best decisions.”

Last week, commissioners suspended Dinon and Burns during another Board of Commissioners meeting. 6 News talked with its Chair, Carol Koenig after the meeting about what the public can expect to happen during Tuesday nights meeting.

“It’ll be a personnel meeting and historically you do personnel meetings as a closed session,” Koenig said. “So that people have the opportunity to ask those hard questions of people in a way that they can have the opportunity to be more candid should we say.”

Tuesday night’s meeting is open to the public however, the board will be going into closed session to discuss some of the findings of the report.

Commissioners could take action tonight, however, they do not have to.

6 News is at the meeting and will provide updates as soon as they become available.