John and Caren Burton returned from a trip to find that their 6-year-old collie had six rib fractures after staying at a kennel. They also found that they had little recourse, so they’re lobbying the state to create rules to protect pets.OREGON -- When John and Caren Burton’s 6-year-old collie, Zoe, ended up in the veterinarian’s office in August, she was having trouble breathing and seemed dehydrated and unusually exhausted.
Examinations revealed that the dog had sustained six rib fractures — the kind of injuries veterinarians said could only come from a significant trauma. After they got the veterinarians’ reports, the Bend couple started asking questions about the kennel where Zoe had recently stayed.
Four months later, a Redmond woman who worked at the kennel has been arrested in connection with the case, but it’s still not clear what happened to Zoe. Now, as they wait for the matter to be settled in court, the Burtons are reaching out to lawmakers to gather information about the rules surrounding pet boarding facilities and provide resources to the pet owners who use them.
Oregon laws regarding pet kennels have specific provisions for facilities, including lighting, storage facilities and ventilation. But currently, the state requires no specific kennel license and does not regulate who can work at a kennel, said Dr. Don Hansen, state veterinarian with the Oregon Department of Agriculture.
Hansen said the rules for kennels are largely aimed at controlling the spread of disease.
“It’s complaint-driven,” Hansen said. “If we get a complaint, we say, ‘OK, under these rules ....’
From my perspective as state veterinarian, we look at intent and purpose. It puts our emphasis on controlling diseases. If it’s an abuse case, that usually involves state police or local law enforcement.”
The Burtons believe Zoe’s injuries stem from her three-day stay at Deschutes Pet Lodge in Redmond in late July. The facility’s owners, however, say they were not aware of any problems with the dog until they received a call from the Burtons several days after they picked her up.
No charges have been filed against Deschutes Pet Lodge.
When the Burtons returned home from a trip out of town, the couple said Zoe seemed lethargic and wobbly on her feet, but they chalked it up to the high temperatures, which were nearing 100 degrees.
In the following days, Zoe continued to appear under the weather, and it seemed like she was struggling to breathe. The Burtons took her to an emergency clinic, where a veterinarian determined she had fractured ribs. Another veterinarian, Dr. Jodi Kettering of the Deschutes Veterinary Clinic in Bend, and Dr. Cassandra Brown, an internal medicine specialist at Northwest Veterinary Specialists in Clackamas, both later confirmed the rib fractures. The fractures had caused pockets of air to get trapped in the dog’s chest, making it difficult for her to breathe.
Both veterinarians said the injuries were severe and likely caused by some kind of substantial trauma.
“My experience has been that it takes extreme force to have this sort of thing happen, especially to have that many ribs fractured,” Kettering said. “The only rib fractures that I’ve ever seen were dogs hit by cars, it takes that kind of force.”
The Burtons called Deschutes Pet Lodge to ask if something had happened to Zoe during her stay.
Gary George, who owns the facility with his wife, Maria, said he immediately started investigating.
“We don’t know whether the dog was injured while it was in our care,” he said. “When they contacted us and said that their dog had been injured, my wife, who is the co-owner, interviewed all of our staff because under no circumstances do we condone any physical force with any animals.”
George said all of the staff members denied abusing or seeing anyone abuse the dog.
The Burtons then contacted the Deschutes County Sheriff’s Office, which assigned a deputy to look into the situation.
After gathering evidence, officials arrested Martie Davidson, of Redmond, who worked at Deschutes Pet Lodge at the time of Zoe’s stay.
Davidson, 39, was formally charged last month in Deschutes County Circuit Court with one count of first-degree animal abuse and is scheduled to enter a plea on Thursday.
Police records on the case were not available because it has been turned over to the Deschutes County District Attorney’s Office, said Dana Whitehurst, administrative supervisor of the records division at the Sheriff’s Office. Available court records in the case do not provide any details about the alleged abuse.
Davidson’s attorney, James Dillingham, could not be reached for comment. When reached by phone by The Bulletin, Davidson hung up before she could be asked to comment.
George said Davidson is no longer an employee of Deschutes Pet Lodge, though he is not aware of any wrongdoing on her part. He said Davidson chose not to return to work after her arrest.
“Neither my wife nor I saw her mistreat any animal at any time during her employment,” he said. “If we had, she would have been immediately dismissed. If the dog had been injured, if we saw that, we would seek help for the animal, contact the owners and say, ‘This is what’s going on, we’re filing charges against that person.’ None of that has happened.”
Deschutes County District Attorney Mike Dugan said he couldn’t comment on the case but said his office takes animal abuse cases very seriously. He said animal abuse cases that end up in court often involve dogs and typically some kind of neglect on the part of the owner or other caretaker, such as those who leave their dog in a vehicle on a hot day.
Shortly after the Burtons discovered Zoe’s injuries and took her to get treatment, they started researching the rules surrounding kennels in the state and the rights of the people who use them.
The Burtons said they were disappointed to find that most of the regulations were focused on preventing the spread of disease, rather than abuse, and confused about where they should turn for advice.
“We turned to the Humane Society, various other areas you think you would go, but we didn’t realize you are supposed to go directly to the Sheriff’s Office,” Caren Burton said.
The couple joined with a few other like-minded people in the community and formed a group they call SAFE — Saving Animals From Endangerment. They contacted state Rep. Judy Stiegler, D-Bend, to see if she could provide any help.
Stiegler said she told the Burtons where to find more information about kennel regulation and said she’d do some research of her own and consider drafting legislation to tighten the rules. She said it’s not likely to come up in the 2010 legislative session but could be a possibility for 2011.
“I understand their situation, and I’m very empathetic,” she said. “We want to be sure when people send their pets off, they can do it with some certainty that their pets are safe.”
Hansen said the topic of more regulations for kennels comes up occasionally at the state level, such as earlier this year when lawmakers passed a bill that outlawed puppy mills. The law signed by the governor limits the number of dogs that can be used for breeding and regulates care standards and the disclosure of puppies’ medical histories by pet stores.
To change or tighten regulations, Hansen said people should start by talking to their local elected officials.
“If they want the kennels and pet shops regulated, then I think they’re going about it the right way: Contact their lawmakers, say, ‘Make it a law, put it in a statute, like they’ve done with the puppy mill.’”
For Caren Burton, the work is about letting people know that animals — and their owners — have rights.
John Burton said his goal is to provide information to members of the public, who he said have limited information about how kennels operate.
“What I want people to know is when they walk into a kennel, they’re pretty much unprotected as a consumer,” he said. “It’s time for people to realize that and to do something about it.”
(Bend Bulletin - December 16. 2009)