An incident involving the Fayette County Animal Control Officer and the euthanizing of a dog has received a lot of attention on social media. On Thursday, April 10, Fayette County Sheriff Steve Kessler and Fayette County Prosecutor Carl Harris released a statement concerning the incident.
On Tuesday, March 11 it was reported that a dog had bitten a child near Elizabeth Street in Oak Hill. The boy who was bitten needed 21 stitches to treat the dog bite. Animal Control Officer Russell Parker captured the dog and spoke with the child's parents and the dog's owner. The owner of the animal told Parker the dog had not been vaccinated against rabies and asked for the dog to be euthanized.
On March 12 the Sanitarian for the Fayette County Health Department talked with Officer Parker and personnel at the Fayette County Animal Control Shelter about the need to quickly euthanize the dog. However, the only person at the shelter licensed to euthanize animals was unavailable to perform the procedure until late in the afternoon. The need for urgency in this case was in order to keep the child who was bitten from the need to undergo a lengthy vaccination process (rabies is universally fatal for humans and animals if left untreated).
Officer Parker advised the county sanitarian that he could euthanize the animal by shooting it, which is allowed by the WV Code "In an emergency or in a situation in which a dog cannot be humanely destroyed in an expeditious manner." Parker killed the dog at the Animal Control Shelter and sent the head to be tested for rabies.
A formal complaint was filed by Carrie Carr, the Director of the Animal Control Center, on March 13 in connection with the incident. She told deputies that Officer Parker had to shoot the animal more than one to kill it, which is not in compliance with the WV Code (which can be read at the link above).
The Fayette County Sheriff's Office conducted and investigation into what happened. During the investigation it was found that Officer Parker used a small-caliber rifle to kill the dog. Parker had to fire a total of three shots to complete the task.
Sheriff Kessler and Prosecuting Attorney Harris agreed that while the dog unquestionably suffered pain in the incident, there was no evidence that Officer Parker acted maliciously when killing the animal. The Sheriff has now put policies in place to ensure an incident like this does not occur again. The Sheriff also said that Officer Parker has been disciplined.
"I fully understand that certain employees of the Fayette County Animal Control Center and their friends and associates are unhappy with my decision not to terminate Russell Parker's employments as the Fayette County Animal Control Officer," said Sheriff Kessler. "I'm certainly not defending what he did, and if an incident even remotely similar to this occurs in the future then I would certainly dismiss him from his employment. That being said, given the totality of the circumstances in this case, I do not believe that terminating his employment is appropriate at this time. The job of Animal Control Officer is a dirty, nasty and dangerous job and the pay is not much above minimum wage. Animal Control Officer Parker has been injured several times during the course of his employment while dealing with vicious animals, but he continues to do his work each day with enthusiasm and no small degree of skill."
Officials with the Sheriff's Office confirmed that Parker was not fired, but further details on disciplinary action are not available for reasons of confidentiality.
"I regret this incident occurred," Kessler added. "I certainly care for animals, but I consider the health and safety of the human citizens of Fayette County to be more important. The bottom line in this incident is that a young child was severely injured and Animal Control Officer Parker was acting in what he believed to be the best interests of the child."