Animals suffering, critics silenced?
There's so much to see in the eyes of a dog and there are plenty staring back at you from behind bars at the Lied Animal Shelter.
But it's what you don't see that insiders say is disturbing.
"I just want to see the animals at the shelter get the care that they're supposed to get," says George Dorsey, former animal control manager for the City of Las Vegas Detention and Enforcement division.
For two years, from December 2007 to November 2009, part of Dorsey's job was to regulate the shelter, oversee operations, write up "notices of default" and make sure Lied abided by their contract to provide humane care to the animals.
"The animals were certainly suffering," Dorsey recalls.
So much so that two shelter veterinarians sent dozens of internal records to the City.
In a City e-mail written back in July and obtained by Contact 13, Dorsey tells his supervisors that vets are complaining to the City and are unhappy about the operations and conditions at Lied.
He was asked to write them all up, which resulted in an 18-page letter of violation after violation at the shelter for things like excessive heat in the bungalows; cats with no water; animals neglected and suffering due to not receiving medical care in a timely manner; and aggressive, dangerous animals being adopted out to the public.
When he wrote to supervisor Timothy Shattler that the document was going to be sent out to the shelter, he got an e-mail back saying "Prior to sending this out, it will need to go through the chief."
That's Karen Coyne, chief of the City Detention and Enforcement division.
"These issues, I believe were raised to us, Jason?" Shelter Executive Director Chris Robinson asked her director of operations.
"We were never presented this letter," answered Jason Smith.
"Oh, I don't know what letter this is," Robinson said.
Here's what we know about the letter. Although neither the City nor the Shelter would comment on personnel matters, the two doctors who blew the whistle to the City about shelter conditions say they were fired, one of them just two days after our interview with shelter officials.
George Dorsey, the City Animal Control manager who took their complaints and wrote them up also says he was fired.
The City never sent the letter to the shelter.
"The concern wasn't necessarily on the care that the animals were getting," Dorsey said. "The concern was more that there was an actual document, public document that showed there were violations at the shelter."
Contact 13 knows what's in the letter, and obtained the internal shelter documents that go with it.
Take one about a lab mix named Batman. The vet records show in late July, the dog had to be euthanized due to heat stroke it suffered in a shelter bungalow.
"Temperature for the adoption area in the bungalows was over the limit which is allowable by State statute by probably 10-15 degrees," Dorsey said.
"Why was that allowed to happen," Contact 13 Chief Investigator Darcy Spears asked Jason Smith.
"It's actually, the two are not related," he responded.
But his own vet documented a problem with the swamp cooler where the dog was housed.
"If the vet's making notations of that, how are they unrelated?" Spears asked.
"The veterinarian, I cannot say what they actually did when they made those notations. I can tell you that the moment I was made aware that the situation occurred, I immediately went out with the facilities manager to the bungalows and checked that everything was in operating condition," Smith said.
That was late July, but another internal city e-mail shows in late August, the shelter was "ordering parts for their cooling system."
The City refused to go on camera for this story.
They did respond to written questions and called the 18-page-letter, which is addressed to the Animal Foundation, an "internal City communication."
They say the deficiencies were documented, and they had multiple meetings to discuss the areas of concern, which they say have all been corrected.
"If the City of Las Vegas brought issues to our attention, as they have from time to time, and others have as well, they are carefully addressed," Robinson said.
But a former shelter official who talked to us off camera says he believes animal welfare has at times not been properly addressed.
The shelter's own vet records echo that concern. Take a Chihuahua named "Skywalker" for example.
The vet wrote that housing and stress had become a welfare issue after Skywalker was found in "inhumane, overcrowded conditions in the cat tent, housed in a small cat cage."
The dog had to be mercy euthanized due to its condition. There are many more, like a Pit Bull named Zorro, who the vet said sat in the holding area for five days during the hottest temperatures of the summer in deplorable conditions.
And Rena, a Siberian Husky, who the vet says was left unattended for five hours after she was turned in stained with urine, covered in ants and maggots, and eating the flesh off her own wound.
Then, there are the kittens who were found alive in a box next to the crematory.
"It was a very regrettable event and we rectified it immediately," Smith explained. "The employee that was involved in that situation did not properly do their job. They went outside of what we hold as the standard for doing a euthanasia. They did not properly verify death and they were removed from their position."
The City reiterated their commitment to matters of public safety, including those having to do with animals, in a written statement.
They say, "issues brought to the Department's attention, whether via current or former employees, the public or our community partners are promptly investigated and appropriate action is executed based on the findings of such investigations."
We at Action News want to remind everyone that Clark County has a severe pet overpopulation crisis and there are many animals out there who need loving homes.
If you choose to bring a pet into your family, please adopt it from one of the many local shelters and animal rescue operations in the valley.