ST. LOUIS COUNTY, Mo. — A Webster Groves family is suing St Louis County Animal Care and Control after their beloved terrier mix, Daisy, was put down. The family said the shelter didn't have permission to euthanize Daisy.
"She'd get really excited to see squirrels and chipmunks and birds," said Erin Bulfin, a dog owner and plaintiff.
Bulfin used to come to Blackburn Park with a leash and Daisy.
"I have good memories of her here," she said, "She was a big goofball."
Daisy was also a best friend.
"And my daughter Skyler would always yelp, 'There goes my noble steed,'" said Bulfin.
Then, one day after Christmas in 2019, Daisy's life took an unexpected turn.
"We had given Daisy a new toy, and when my daughter walked past her, she accidentally kicked it out of the way, bent down to hand it to Daisy, and Daisy nipped at her," said Bulfin.
Her daughter recovered.
"She has just a tiny little scar on her nose at this point, but it's not very noticeable," said Bulfin.
As for Daisy… it meant a 10-day quarantine.
"I was following the law and I wanted to make sure that we did everything correctly," said Bulfin.
Her husband brought Daisy to St. Louis County's Animal Care and Control. It's part of the county health department, responding to everything from stray dogs to bite cases.
"And the intake woman filled out all the paperwork, told him to sign, said, we're going to take really good care of her," she said.
The next morning when Bulfin discovered Daisy could quarantine at home, she went to pick her up. A woman at the front desk told her the news.
"She just told me she's gone. And at first I thought, well, they've moved her somewhere else for quarantine. And I asked her what she meant and she just said, she's she's dead," she said.
Court records show Daisy was euthanized less than two hours after being dropped off. She was then decapitated.
"I was in complete disbelief," said Bulfin.
"Because they had to send a brain sample to a lab. So, I mean, it just the nightmare just got worse and worse as we learned more information about the practices there," she said.
Bulfin said she never expected to walk out of St. Louis County's Animal Care and Control without Daisy. She later learned the reason for Daisy's death stemmed partly from an intake form that her husband signed when he dropped her off, and from a box that he said he didn't check. It said "owner requests euthanasia."
Her husband didn’t get a copy of the document after signing. They don’t know when or how this box got checked.
"Now, they are using that form as an excuse as to why they had the right to euthanize our dog," said Bulfin.
She filed a lawsuit against the facility. Sources who've worked at the facility tell the I-Team they've been told to check this box because the shelter is too full. By checking the box, they say they’re not liable when animals are euthanized for space. Another reason, Bulfin believes, is to keep reported euthanasia numbers down.
"If it's owner-requested, then it's not counted toward the number of euthanasia that the facility chooses to do," said Bulfin.
Bulfin said the facility hasn't taken responsibility, counter-suing her husband for signing the form. A judge dismissed that case.
"They weren't apologetic. They didn't seem to care," she said.
"Do you feel you were misled?" asked the I-Team's Paula Vasan.
"Absolutely," said Bulfin.
"What do you want to see changed?" asked Vasan.
"Number one: I want the way that quarantines and intakes of animals are handled to change," she said.
A shelter spokesperson wouldn't answer our questions on camera citing pending litigation.
A spokesperson did send us an example of what an intake form looks like today. The same "owner requests euthanasia" box is still there.
"So this is serious," said Mark Pedroli, Bulfin's attorney.
"Governments can't just file forms that they know are false. That violates the law," he said.
Bulfin also said she lost trust.
"We had all faith in them and thought that because it was, you know, a county organization, that that they would be truthful and take care of our Daisy," she said.
A spokesperson with St. Louis County Animal Care and Control told the I-Team if a dog owner requests euthanasia, it is counted separately from the euthanasia rate due to decisions by the shelter. Both are reported to stakeholders on a monthly basis. He also said all area shelters are full now.
During the month of May, the latest data available, the facility’s euthanasia rate was 14.6%. That’s the euthanasia rate of all dogs and cats that enter the facility, where the facility made the decision to euthanize, if for example an animal is too sick or dangerous.
St. Louis County Animal Care and Control is part of the county’s health department. It’s created to protect public health and welfare, as well as welfare of animals, through rabies control, investigations of dangerous dogs and cruelty allegations and enforcement of nuisance ordinances related to animals. It also enforces county ordinances to oversee population control of animals through adoption, spay and neuter voucher program and euthanasia, among other measures.
We asked St. Louis County Animal Care and Control spokesperson Christopher Ave about their policy and process when people come to drop off their animals. We asked if employees are required to verbally verify with people who drop off animals that they want euthanasia. We asked them if everyone coming in receives a copy of their intake form after signing. We’re waiting to hear back.