Animal Shelter Board addresses allegations of wrongdoing

Published 4:07 pm Wednesday, June 6, 2018

After members of the Elizabethton/Carter County Animal Shelter Board completed their business during Tuesday evening’s meeting, the chairman of the Board took time to address allegations made against the shelter.

Board Chairman Mike Barnett said he feels rumors and allegations continue to hang over the shelter and could impact shelter operations and donations. He said he would like to address the Board and “go on the record” with some issues he had encountered regarding allegations made by Carter County Mayor Leon Humphrey and others about illegal activity or misconduct at the animal shelter. He cited specifically a civil lawsuit filed in Wise County Virginia alleging the shelter illegally seized two dogs and sold them to a rescue group.

“Perception is reality in some people’s minds,” Barnett said. “The perception to some is that our animal shelter has not been cleared of any wrongdoing.”

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The civil lawsuit was filed by Kimberly Buckles, the previous owner of the two dogs, against the woman who adopted them from an animal rescue organization, Sandy Blanton.

The case of Buckles vs. Blanton involves allegations by Buckles that her two Shih-Tzu dogs were illegally seized by the Elizabethton/Carter County Animal Shelter and sold to another organization, which eventually adopted the animals out to Blanton.

During a hearing in the case on Feb. 22, During the Feb. 22 hearing, Carter County Mayor Leon Humphrey testified regarding what he claimed was the illegal seizure of the dogs by animal shelter staff as well as allegations that animal trafficking had occurred under a previous director of the shelter. The General District Court ruled in favor of Buckles following that hearing, but Blanton’s attorney filed an appeal which led to a new hearing in the case. For the second hearing, Blanton’s attorney subpoenaed several individuals to testify, including three employees of the Elizabethton/Carter County Animal Shelter, the veterinarian who provides medical care for the animals at the shelter, a master groomer who treated the two dogs, and the woman who placed a call to animal control regarding the two dogs.

The Circuit Court of Wise County and the City of Norton heard the case on April 19 during a hearing that lasted for several hours. The following day, Circuit Court of Wise County and the City of Norton Judge Chadwick S. Dotson issued a ruling overturning the lower courts decision and granting custody of the two dogs to Blanton.

Barnett said both the Carter County Sheriff’s Office and the District Attorneys Office have stated they have seen no evidence of animal trafficking at the animal shelter. In response to the allegations, Barnett said he had asked Humphrey “multiple times” for the release of any information related to the claims, but he has received nothing in response.

According to Barnett, the ruling in the Virginia civil case found no wrongdoing on the part of the shelter, but he said he feels the shadow of the allegations is still hanging over the shelter.

“People are not going to support something if they feel they are going to be dragged into court if they foster an animal, or adopt an animal, or if they donate,” Barnett said. “I don’t want us to be a rumor. I want to be the best animal shelter we can be with what we’re given.”

The animal shelter obtained a copy of the court transcript from the April 19 hearing. Barnet said he felt the shelter should make the transcript part of the shelter’s official records regarding the allegations and should affirm the court’s ruling that there was no wrongdoing on the part of the shelter. Barnett then made a motion to that effect, which was seconded by Commissioner Sonja Culler and approved unanimously by the Board.

The Elizabethton Star obtained a copy of the transcript as accepted by the Board. A copy of the transcript is available on the Elizabethton Star’s website  by clicking here: Buckles vs Blanton – Full Court Transcript