By Megan Backus, Animal Legal Defense Fund (ALDF)
Clay County, KY — In a big step forward for Clay County’s homeless dogs and cats, an order of judgment was filed in Clay County Circuit Court today resolving a lawsuit against the county that alleged systematic abuses at the county animal shelter. Plaintiff and lifelong Clay County resident Tori Smith alleged that the Clay County Animal Shelter failed to meet the minimum standards of care mandated by Kentucky’s Humane Shelter Law. The Animal Legal Defense Fund (ALDF), with the assistance of the Louisville office of the law firm Frost Brown Todd, represented Smith in her claims against the county. According to the order of judgment, which is a settlement agreement that can be enforced by the court, Clay County will now send its dogs and cats to the Knox-Whitley Animal Shelter in Rockholds, Kentucky for the provision of sheltering and animal control services that comply with the state’s required standards of care.
Why does the Clay County settlement agreement have tails wagging? The settlement will drastically improve the lives of animals who are lost or abandoned in Clay County by making sure they receive all the protections of Kentucky’s Humane Shelter Law. The Humane Shelter Law sets minimum standards that counties must meet in caring for their homeless animals, including operating animal shelters, or contracting with other shelters—as Clay County will now do with the non-profit Knox-Whitley Animal Shelter—that provide for basic care, food and water, shelter, public access, and humane euthanasia. Counties must also have a program allowing lost dogs and cats to be reunited with their families and potentially adopted when they are abandoned.
According to today’s order of judgment, homeless animals may still be kept at the Clay County shelter until they are transported to the Knox-Whitley shelter, but Clay County will now fully comply with all state standards at its facility, including:
- Providing veterinary care to all ill or injured animals and humane euthanasia to those who are irremediably suffering;
- Protecting animals from extreme cold and heat;
- Segregating dogs from cats, males from females, sick animals from healthy ones, and aggressive animals from all others;
- Providing fresh food twice daily and constant access to clean water;
- Keeping records of all animals entering the shelter and making efforts to facilitate the reclamation of lost and stray animals by their human families.
Ms. Smith and her attorneys will have the right to inspect the Clay County shelter unannounced for the next year and to request any and all records from the shelter.
These improvements, which coincide with a recent change in the county’s fiscal court, are a far cry from the deplorable conditions that existed when Ms. Smith filed her lawsuit against the county in 2010. At that time, Ms. Smith described seeing filthy cages infested with fleas and ticks, dead and dying puppies, and dog food strewn amongst urine and feces. The county’s stray dogs were housed in one large, open-air pen that exposed animals to freezing weather in the winter and sweltering temperatures in the summer. Nearly all of the cats had serious upper respiratory infections, yet none of these sick or injured animals ever received any veterinary care whatsoever and were often left to languish in their cages until they died or were eventually euthanized or adopted.
Lawsuits filed by ALDF in two other particularly problematic Kentucky counties—Robertson and Estill—also resulted in settlement agreements leading to vastly improved conditions for homeless animals in those counties. As part of the terms of the Robertson County settlement, a new shelter was constructed; that shelter opened in 2009.
“Despite Kentucky’s notoriously weak animal protection laws, ALDF and Kentucky counties have been able to create real and lasting change for the states most desperately needy animals,” says ALDF Executive Director Stephen Wells. “We are delighted to now be working with the current Clay County government to make life a little bit kinder for the homeless dogs and cats of Kentucky.”