ST. LOUIS COUNTY, Mo. — The I-Team has uncovered new testimony and new allegations about a St. Louis county animal shelter.
Last week, we told you about one woman's heartbreak after she said her dog was euthanized without her permission.
Now, a former manager tells investigative reporter Paula Vasan that's not the only problem at the facility.
“I don't know what dogs think or do not think. I don't know if they think I want to live, I do not want to live, I don't think they think that," said Vanessa Duris, director of St. Louis County Animal Care and Control, in deposition testimony from May following a lawsuit against the shelter over the death of a beloved family dog.
“And I stood in disbelief for what seemed like an eternity, probably only a moment, and went out to my car and called my husband and... just cried... and I just was in complete disbelief," said Erin Bulfin, a dog owner who has filed a lawsuit against the shelter.
Bulfin said her dog Daisy had been euthanized and then decapitated at the facility after her husband dropped her off as part of mandatory quarantine. Daisy had bitten their daughter. One of Bulfin’s attorneys Daniel Kolde said deposition testimony from witnesses, time stamps from dog kennel software within the animal facility that tracks the timing of euthanasia, and other evidence shows Daisy was likely euthanized less than an hour after Bulfin’s husband dropped her off. She was later decapitated.
“They told us that they would take good care of her and we believed them," said Bulfin.
She believes her experience back in late 2019 stems from employees here misleading pet owners, partly with knowingly inaccurate forms. New court evidence shows over the last five years, at least 1,000 people who brought their pets into the facility may have signed inaccurate forms. Court records show people like Bulfin brought their dogs to the animal facility specifically because they were involved in bites, then were told to sign forms that said “...No person has been bitten by this animal within the past 10 days.”
“And they just said, sign here, here and here," she said.
Bulfin also said a box on the form — owner requests euthanasia — was checked by a staff member without the family’s permission.
Mandy Zatorski was a manager at the shelter until December 2020.
“I noticed that they were doing things that were illegal and I called them out on it and they didn't like that. I was not OK with what they were doing," said Zatorski.
She tells the I-Team she spoke up about animals dying in cages, living in filthy conditions, and staff misleading pet owners about euthanasia to keep their reported numbers down.
“And it's been going on for a very long time," said Zatorski.
Zatorski and others who worked at the shelter tell us staff is pressured to rush euthanasia because the facility is so full.
“I was holding them accountable and I got fired for it," she said.
The latest data available shows the facility’s reported euthanasia rate in June was 11.4%. Zatorski believes it’s actually much higher.
“I was told numerous times to stop rocking the boat. That happened a lot," she said.
So she filed a lawsuit against the facility about 7 months ago, alleging wrongful termination and retaliation. Right now, she and her attorney are sifting through hundreds of emails and other evidence.
Zatorski and Bulfin said they just want change at the animal facility to prevent another death that shouldn’t happen.
“I feel disgusted that not only have they not given us any explanation as to why this happened or been apologetic in any way, but they're still allowing these things to happen. There have been no changes," said Bulfin.
We’ve been pressing St. Louis County Animal Care and Control for answers. Will the facility be changing its paperwork to prevent what happened to the Bulfin family? Are staff members intentionally asking people to sign inaccurate forms, and if so why? A spokesperson tells us they can’t comment on pending litigation.
Bulfin said the shelter hasn't taken responsibility, and instead counter-sued her husband for signing the form. A judge dismissed that case.
St. Louis County Counselor Beth Orwick and Christopher Ave, a spokesperson with St. Louis County Animal Care and Control, declined to comment because of pending litigation.