BEE SPRING — Several parties in Edmonson County await a judge’s decision on whether the Edmonson County Animal Shelter violates state law governing care and control of companion animals. The ongoing civil suit in Edmonson Circuit Court entangles the county, the shelter and three taxpayers.

In Kentucky, a lawsuit is the only formal means available to enforce shelter standards. 

Plaintiffs in the case accuse the shelter of withholding necessary veterinary care and keeping dogs in poor conditions, according to court documents.

Lawyers for the three plaintiffs also argue the contract between the county and the animal shelter is illegal because the shelter owners operate as a for-profit entity. They argue state law, supported by a Kentucky attorney general opinion, says counties must contract with nonprofit shelters.

Interviews with and documents filed by the defense show shelter owners Kim and Greg Carroll deny alleged violations of the law. They await the judge’s ruling on the nonprofit question. 

The Carrolls shelter animals from Edmonson, Hart, Grayson and Metcalfe counties.

Few witnesses to the shelter available for comment and two years’ worth of court documents with opposing claims make for a murky story in Edmonson County, and it likely will remain so until ruled on by a court.

Multiple Daily News visits to the small facility and interviews with those familiar with the shelter revealed inconsistent upkeep and questionable practices. With no staff or volunteers, regular intakes from four counties and only four groups helping to move dogs out of the shelter and into rescues or adoptions, the Carrolls’ hands appear more than full.

Edmonson County Judge-Executive Wil Cannon said he fully supports the current shelter, but has started planning for a potential ruling against the county contract. He won’t take any steps before then.

“It’s the best we can do with what we have right now,” he said.

Chapter 258

Kentucky has depended on the initiative of county residents to make enough noise about animal welfare since the inception of the state’s shelter law found in Kentucky Revised Statutes Chapter 258.

Legislation altering state euthanasia policy and outlining some minimum care standards came after national media latched onto the story of a Henry County man who recorded a county employee shooting dogs at the dog pound and loading them into a backhoe.

Even with the video, it took several attempts before chapter 258 passed in 2004.

State law requires counties to have an animal control officer and an established animal shelter, though counties can pool their resources to contract with a single entity. 

From posted hours to well-lit facilities, Kentucky law outlines a few standards shelters must meet. It requires shelters to provide a clean, dry, ventilated shelter with protection from the elements. Kenneled animals should have enough space for normal movement, determined by their ability to stand up straight and turn around without touching another animal or the sides of the enclosure.

The law also includes requirements for quarantine areas, clean surfaces, food and water and record-keeping.

Advocates in the state encourage shelters to go beyond the law and follow guidelines put forth by the Association of Shelter Veterinarians, said Pam Rogers, state director in Kentucky for the Humane Society of the United States. 

The association’s standards, published in 2010, are based on providing animals a healthy, comfortable environment where they can express normal behavior. The guidelines cover all areas of shelters, from primary enclosures to sanitation to vaccinations.

State law lacks a way to enforce its shelter standards. Accountability rests in the hands of county officials and taxpayers.

The Animal Legal Defense Fund worked with residents of Robertson and Estill counties to settle cases in 2008 and 2009, respectively, that forced shelters there to comply with the law. Rockcastle County reached an agreement in 2010 with ALDF without going to court.

The ALDF ranks Kentucky worst among the states for animal protection laws.

Matthew Liebman, a senior attorney for ALDF, said in an email in March that some states have agencies that inspect shelters to ensure they comply with the law.

He said leaving enforcement up to taxpayer lawsuits is “not a very efficient way to ensure compliance.”

“The solution would be to pass new legislation to establish a shelter oversight agency with a true commitment to animal welfare and the task of regularly inspecting public shelters,” he said. “But given Kentucky’s last-place ranking and the legislature’s reluctance to pass animal welfare laws, I’m not optimistic that will happen.”

Kim Carroll and Cannon concluded such a change in Kentucky would help prevent lengthy lawsuits like the one in Edmonson, where collecting discovery and adding new plaintiffs in March have prevented setting a court date. The original suit was filed in April 2013.

“If Frankfort would do that, it would solve everything,” Cannon said.

‘Temporary guardian angels’

Out of five Daily News visits, the shelter was closed once during posted hours. On another visit, the shelter was closed because posted hours had been altered, though the changes weren’t reflected online.

The shelter takes in an estimated 850 dogs each year, according to Carroll and county records.

On a day in March, a sign on the door stated the shelter was closed during cleaning, but anyone dropping off an animal could knock to get staff attention. 

Kim Carroll said she has been bothered by people looking to record the conditions of the shelter before cleaning is done in the morning.

“I don’t have the ability to watch out for people and do all the stuff I need to do,” she said.

Two months later, the hours no longer account for the minimum 24 hours per week a shelter is required to be open because the only volunteer had to quit for health reasons. The Carrolls both work during the day. The shelter is open from 4 to 8 p.m. three days a week and from 8 a.m. to noon Saturdays. 

Two dogs shared an outdoor kennel without food and water. In empty outdoor kennels, the ground was covered with food and excrement, some of which was moldy.

During a visit a week later, Carroll said the described mess was three days old, adding that she’d been to the shelter but hadn’t cleaned the outside. She said she or her husband visit the shelter every day.

The shelter has several indoor/outdoor runs for large dogs, sometimes doubled up in a kennel.

Smaller dogs occupy small metal cages in a room in the shelter – cages meant for overnight or hospital stays, said Margie Patton, director of the Barren River Area Animal Welfare Association, which has helped the Edmonson shelter by “pulling” some of the animals to its own facility – a common partnership on which many shelters depend.

Stacked three high, the animals are separated vertically by pull-out trays that catch spills and excrement and can be cleaned without removing the animal. Several of the small dogs appear to crouch when standing in the cage. In March, a medium-sized dog appeared too large for the space and had little room to turn around. 

“We do have two or three dogs that are cramped right now,” Carroll said at the time. “I’ve got rescues and shelters that are coming to get animals. … If they have to stay in that situation for a day or maybe even a few days, it’s more humane than to put them down because we’re out of space.”

Carroll said the dogs are taken out of the kennels occasionally and she hopes to add a play area to the property to exercise the animals.

Rick Murphy, a Bowling Green animal welfare activist, said he visited the Edmonson shelter in May 2014 after hearing allegations about the conditions. He said he saw dogs that couldn’t turn around in their cages without touching the sides.

Peggy Beard of Woodstock Animal Foundation in Shelby County doesn’t mind the cages. She started rescuing animals from Edmonson about three years ago after encouragement from people who reported the shelter was euthanizing in high numbers.

“They might appear to some people as cages too small, stacked on top ... but to me, they appear like temporary guardian angels because I much prefer they stay alive and wait for me,” Beard said. Space is “not an immediate issue when an animal can wait a few days, weeks and sometimes months and get out and still be a normal animal.”

Beard said she has had only positive experiences with Edmonson.

The small cages are “probably most upsetting” to Patton, who said the facility tolerates overcrowding to keep from euthanizing.

“Too many are housed just in cages. A big Lab might be in a wire crate 24-7 for weeks at a time. Some of the smaller ones are there for weeks and weeks,” she said. “It doesn’t meet the kinds of standards we strive to meet (at BRAWA) with indoor/outdoor runs, not overcrowding.”

Dogs in small cages taken from the facility by BRAWA behaved oddly, she added. 

“Those kinds of cages are meant for very short periods,” she said. “It’s very stressful on them. We’ve had dogs that we took out of there that were just walking in circles really quick. They had been confined in a small space for such a long time, they didn’t know how to behave in an open space. It speaks to the resilience of animals that they can live like that for a period of time and be OK after a period of time with good care.”

Some animals at the shelter are visibly thin. Patton estimated “pretty much all” of the 60 animals BRAWA took between December and March weighed less than she’d like to see.

“All of them have gained weight after we got them and got rid of the worms,” she said. Each of the animals was adopted or placed in rescue.

Carroll said she doesn’t provide veterinary care to animals at the shelter except for de-worming medication that she gets from a veterinarian outside Edmonson County. Animals that need more care are pulled by BRAWA, Woodstock and two other Kentucky shelters.

One of those shelters declined to comment for this story. The other did not return calls.

“Some of our techniques or steps may be unorthodox for someone who has three or four vets around the corner,” Carroll said.

Beard said Woodstock specializes in ill, injured and old animals. She said she often takes animals that need veterinary care Carroll can’t provide.

“All animals coming from a shelter require some vet care,” Beard said. “There certainly have been animals that needed something, and that’s why they called me because I can do that – support that – more than they can. A sick animal that needs urgent, expensive care doesn’t belong in a shelter anyway.”

‘... and died soon thereafter’

Through her own nonprofit organization, Find A Home Pet Rescue, plaintiff Lillemor Schenk visited Edmonson County Animal Shelter to pull adoptable animals.

Schenk has worked 25 years in animal welfare, according to court documents. She started Find A Home in 2008 in Sweeden.

Schenk took between 100 and 200 dogs for rescue from Edmonson and other Kentucky shelters, according to her affidavit. She paid $50 per dog at Edmonson – a fee, she says, that didn’t include vaccinations, worming or spay/neuter procedures, “unlike fees paid at other Kentucky shelters to rescue animals.”

Subsequently, she paid at least $10,000 in veterinary bills for sick animals she pulled from the shelter.

Court documents state that veterinary records for animals Schenk pulled from the shelter showed they often had intestinal parasites, which cause malnutrition, diarrhea, and, depending on the parasite, can cause blood loss and anemia.

“One puppy in particular housed at the shelter was severely infested with intestinal parasites. Although the puppy received veterinary care as a result of (Schenk’s) efforts and expense immediately upon ... taking possession, the puppy was extremely ill by the time (Schenk) took possession several days after it entered the shelter and died soon thereafter.”

Schenk claims the puppy “might have been treated effectively while in the shelter.”

Junis Baldon, an associate attorney at Frost Brown and Todd in Louisville, represents Kathryn and Kenneth Smith – intervening complainants who joined the lawsuit in March. He said his clients became concerned and visited the shelter after hearing about the treatment of the animals.

“They want to make sure that not only are the animals being treated in a humane way, but that taxpayer funds are being spent in an appropriate manner that is consistent with the law,” Baldon said in an interview in March.

The defense doesn’t dispute the lack of veterinary care provided to animals at the shelter, except to add the use of de-worming medication.

An animal requiring care she’s not equipped to provide is rescued by one of four organizations, she said. Because of those partnerships, she didn’t euthanize any animals in the first three months of this year.

She said her euthanasia rate was above 80 percent in 2011 – a year Schenk was getting animals from the facility.

Court documents also highlight poor conditions at the shelter, including small cages that don’t have a proper barrier under their feet, standing water in pens and a lack of raised platforms or beds to keep animals’ feet dry and “limit the possibility of dogs developing pressure sores from lying on concrete,” court documents state.

Documents also allege problems with the facility, including inadequate protection in outside runs and inadequate heating, cooling and ventilation in the quarantine area.

The Carrolls deny those allegations. Kim Carroll said they’ve made improvements to the shelter since the suit that address the plaintiff’s concerns. 

Those improvements were planned, she said, but the timing was altered because of the suit. They poured concrete in outdoor runs and erected outdoor kennels with better protection from the elements, Carroll said.

The case against the shelter started based on accusations of conditions that break the law, but has shifted to an argument over the legality of the shelter’s for-profit status, Brad Sowell, attorney for the Carrolls, said in an interview.

“The entire action had nothing to do with that whatsoever when it was initially made,” Sowell said, adding that it came up after an inspector for the plaintiff went to the shelter and found no evidence of wrongdoing.

Kathryn Callahan, Schenk’s attorney, denied Sowell’s claim that inspectors came up empty at the shelter. She said experts in HVAC, mechanical engineering, sheltering and veterinary care had concerns about kenneling and found “deficiencies in the ventilation,” among other violations.

“There will be other things introduced later,” Callahan said. “There are multiple issues. ... There are issues involving the Kentucky humane shelter law and a failure of the county to contract in accordance with Kentucky law.”

The court has denied plaintiffs’ requests for summary judgment, which would decide the case before it goes to trial. A trial date is not set.

An Attorney General’s opinion written in January states that counties “may only contract with a governmental or nonprofit entity to operate an animal shelter.”

Carroll said her status as a for-profit doesn’t mean she’s making a profit on the shelter. She said she and her husband keep whatever is left over at the end of the year, but often borrow from their other income sources throughout the year to cover expenses as they arise.

She didn’t specify the amount left over at the end of last year.

The Carrolls contract with Edmonson County for $30,000 annually to provide a dog warden and sheltering services to the county. Hart County contributes another $30,000; Metcalfe, $21,100; and Grayson, $24,000. 

In total, the Carrolls receive $104,100 a year from the counties. The shelter brought in $4,760 from donations and fees in 2013, according to financial records provided to the court.

She couldn’t specify what eats up her revenue the most, but food is a constant cost, she said, and utility bills fluctuate with the seasons. Expense sheets provided to the court amount to handwritten lists of figures under different headings and include propane, paint and cleaning and office supplies, among others.

“We don’t keep records like other shelters do because we’re a private business,” she said.

She said she’s not interested in becoming a nonprofit entity because it wouldn’t benefit the shelter. She argues she would have to declare a salary, which would reduce the funding that goes to the animals. 

She talks about her status as a private entity with pride, insisting she doesn’t need grants or other public funding available to shelters. 

“I’m not a beggar,” she said. “My goal is not to have a bigger and better shelter. ... My goal is to have fewer and fewer animals.”

‘Really successful shelters’

Though shelter capacity and techniques for finding homes for animals vary, most area shelters depend on donations, volunteers, rescue partnerships and social media to do their work.

BRAWA works with one large organization – Rescue Waggin’ through PetSmart – and 20 to 25 purebred rescue organizations to supplement its local adoptions.

In all, they save about 78 percent of the animals brought to the shelter in a year. That’s up from less than 20 percent saved when BRAWA opened in 1996, Patton said.

Staff at the Bowling Green-Warren County Humane Society have said in the past that they work with more than 70 rescue organizations and are able to save 85 percent of the 10,000 animals they take in each year.

Carroll, however, doesn’t post photos online of adoptable animals at the Edmonson shelter and works with only four nearby groups for rescue, two of which haven’t visited the shelter since March.

Between the lawsuit and full-time jobs outside the shelter, Carroll said she doesn’t have the help she would need to give attention to those other aspects of sheltering. She prefers to maintain fewer relationships so she knows where the animals are going and doesn’t have to arrange transport, she said.

The Carrolls have never had the volunteers other shelters do – a problem she says would exist even if they were nonprofit.

“We’re in an area where everyone is struggling to survive. They either work out of town or they’re disabled,” she said. 

Carroll said she doesn’t put pictures online because the animals are unaltered. She said they do some on-site adoptions at the shelter, and the adoption fee consists of the new owner pre-paying for a spay/neuter appointment at a veterinary office to guarantee the animal gets fixed. 

But she doesn’t have access to a spay/neuter clinic otherwise. If she could, she would have a spay/neuter program.

“There’s not funding for it,” she said.

Some of the counties she contracts with provide spay/neuter vouchers to their residents, and they’ve been effective in reducing the population.

Rogers of HSUS said small, rural shelters can still be successful by HSUS standards when county officials place a higher priority on animal welfare. She’s seen shelters with one or two staff and little funding who make it work.

HSUS doesn’t operate or oversee local humane societies, though it offers support through training and evaluations, among other services. 

Rogers only visits shelters to which she is invited, recommending improvements and bringing copies of state law and national guidelines. She’s never been to the Edmonson shelter.

She said she sees the best results at shelters “where I see compassion and passion,” she said. “Transparency and allowing, embracing volunteers and concerned citizens – that’s what separates some of the really successful shelters from the not-so-successful.

“It’s not necessarily money. It’s about trying to negotiate a good place for animals to go and getting people to care about it – trying to make a difference. Sometimes money is an obstacle but it isn’t always.”

Patton said small counties in Kentucky can do a good job caring for animals in shelters.

“A lot of it depends on the people that get involved and the will they have to work and make it better,” Patton said. “And I think that can be done in a small county, too.”

— Follow Taryn Phaneuf on Twitter at twitter.com/tarynphaneuf or visit bgdailynews.com.