Critics of the animal control division of the Yellowstone County Sheriff’s Office (see the top story on Last Best News) say the disorganization and sloppiness there are partly to blame for some dogs being killed unnecessarily and other dogs being adopted out rather than returned to their owners.
Just ask Cassie Dennison. Her family’s 8-year-old purebred black Lab went missing on Nov. 26, the day before last Thanksgiving.
Dennison said Mac bolted when Cassie’s nanny let him out of their house near Shepherd. He was wearing a camo collar but no tags. Dennison was working that day and on the Friday after Thanksgiving, and her husband and nanny called the county and various shelters.
Dennison said she doesn’t have a record of when calls were made, but she knows the county was called at least twice before Dec. 8 and they weree told that no dog matching Mac’s description had been picked up in the past two weeks.
She remembers Dec. 8 because that was the day someone on the Lost/Found Pets of Billings MT Facebook page advised her to check with Fleming, whom she had never heard of before. She spoke with him on Dec. 9, and though Fleming disputes this, Dennison said he first told her that he had picked Mac up himself at the intersection of two roads in Shepherd, which Dennison said was basically the end of her driveway.
She said Fleming told her he didn’t know what had happened to her dog since then.
She said Fleming told her, “He was either euthanized or adopted out.” When she pressed him for more details, she said, he answered, “I just don’t know. My book’s not in front of me.” He said he’d call her back the next day, after he reviewed his report.
When he failed to call back, Dennison called him late the next day, Dec. 10, and this time, she said, he had a completely different story.
He said someone else, an unidentified person, had brought her dog to the Yellowstone Valley Animal Shelter on Nov. 26. YVAS is a private agency that contracts with the city of Billings to handle stray and lost dogs and cats.
He said he was called later that same day, Nov. 26, to pick the Lab up because the YVAS said he was unadoptable. Fleming said he took the dog to the Big Sky Pet Center.
Dennison said they talked for quite a while before Fleming, who had previously said he didn’t know what happened to Mac, said her dog had been euthanized. Pressed again for details, he said he was just reading from his records, and either a veterinarian or a “county official” had put Mac down on Dec. 2.
Dennison said she had already made calls to several agencies and vet clinics, trying to find out if any effort had been made to find a new owner for Mac. She asked Fleming for a statement saying he had tried to adopt Mac out, but he refused.
At one point, when she asked to see his records, she said, Fleming shouted at her, “Who do you think fed your dog for six days?”
Dennison admits she became very angry and as their conversation grew more heated, he said to her, “Your dog is dead! Your dog is dead! Your digging (for information) isn’t going to bring him back.”
Earlier this year, Dennison said she still hadn’t heard exactly how Mac was killed or what happened to his remains.
“I don’t think he had the decency to euthanize him,” she said, referring to Fleming. “I feel like he just shot him.”
Jenny Michaelson had better luck than Dennison. Michaelson lives just west of the city limits off Grand Avenue. She acknowledged that Nacho, her golden retriever, was not wearing a collar or tags the day it ran off.
“Full responsibility,” she said. “It’s my fault.”
But Nacho is 12 years old and is a strong-willed dog. He’d gotten out before by digging under the fence behind her kids’ playhouse. When he does get out, he generally stays close to home, Michaelson said, but “if his nose is down, all bets are off.”
Her dog disappeared on Thursday, Oct. 16. Hoping he’d return, she didn’t call the sheriff’s office until Friday the 17th. She called the non-emergency number and was transferred to someone in the sheriff’s office, who told her there was no record of animal control having picked up a golden retriever.
She got the same answer that evening and again Saturday morning, so she started calling West End veterinary centers, including Big Sky Pet Center, where Nacho had been taken once before. She said the person who answered the phone at Big Sky told her, “I can’t tell you anything. You need to go through the sheriff’s office.”
Michaelson called the sheriff’s office again Saturday night and Sunday morning, and on Saturday she placed a lost-dog ad in the Gazette, which ran Tuesday. She also put a notice on Craigslist and checked the Billings Lost and Found Facebook site.
After the ad ran in the paper on Tuesday, she got a call at dinnertime from Sandy Church, with the Rimrock Humane Society, who said they had Nacho. Church said one of her volunteers had seen Nacho at Big Sky Pet Center and, figuring he was someone’s pet, offered to take him. The Humane Society then put a notice online saying they had an older golden retriever. Someone who had seen that notice alerted Church to Michaelson’s ad in the Gazette.
Church told Michaelson she was surprised Nacho was still alive, since he’d been picked up by animal control five days earlier.
When she got home with her dog, Michaelson said, “I was so mad.” Now she knew that the county had her dog and held him for five days, but no one at the sheriff’s department could tell her they were holding a dog that fit Nacho’s description, and Big Sky Pet Center would tell her nothing.
With her dog back home, Michaelson called the sheriff’s office one more time and asked a receptionist if she was positive no dog fitting Nacho’s description had been brought in. She said, “No. I have no knowledge of it.”
Michaelson said she can’t figure out why the county not only made no effort to find Nacho’s owner, but seemed to resist her efforts to bring him home. She wonders why the county couldn’t maintain a simple website listing found dogs, with photos and descriptions. Cost must not be a problem, since she was never charged for the five days Nacho spent at Big Sky.
“To me, Nacho’s little five-day stint would have paid for a website,” she said.
If the county is going to pick up animals, she said, “you have to go that extra step and try to get them home. They have to log everything anyway. What’s pushing one more button?”—a reference to her suggestion that the county maintain a lost-and-found page on its website.