STUART, Fla. — A former St. Lucie County Humane Society veterinary technician filed a wrongful termination suit against the shelter claiming she was fired after voicing concerns of alleged animal abuse at the hands of two shelter employees.
Cindy Wade, 37, filed the lawsuit Monday nearly a month after the St. Lucie County Sheriff's Office closed an investigation finding her allegations unfounded. Gladys LaForge, Wade's attorney, said Wade's complaints from February 2011 to December 2011 went ignored by Society managers, who then decided to fire her for being a whistleblower by speaking to the media.
Wade was fired in December, after going to police with allegations in November.
"I did see these things happen and I believe they need to be rectified," Wade said. "The people in charge of that organization need to look inward and take charge and do their own inside investigation ... I just want something done. It's fallen on deaf ears for so long."
Attorney Stephen Navaretta, representing the Humane Society, had not reviewed the suit and had no comment.
LaForge said Wade is seeking more than $15,000 in damages, as well as her job reinstated. The suit also requests a court order prohibiting the Society from firing Wade in the future for a similar cause. If there's a monetary settlement, Wade said she'd consider making a donation to an animal organization.
LaForge said she believes they have a good chance of winning the case, despite the Sheriff's Office findings.
"Unfounded means they didn't find enough evidence in the limited investigation to support the charges to bring a criminal complaint, it doesn't mean it didn't happen," LaForge said.
According to the sheriff's report, Wade said she witnessed one employee punch a dog in the chest as it was being euthanized and an incident where another employee hung a dog by its leash "almost to the point of death."
In support of Wade was former Humane Society veterinarian Sara Matthews, who was the first to speak out against the shelter's high euthanasia rates at a St. Lucie County Commission meeting in November. Matthews said she made several complaints to Shelter Director Frank Andrews and Shelter Operations Manager David Robertson about how euthanasias were done at the shelter, and was fired after speaking to Commissioner Chris Dzadovsky.
Matthews has not filed suit against the shelter and said she doesn't know why. She has since opened her own Vero practice and has hired Wade.
Wade said the decision to file a suit is not about clearing her name, but about ensuring care for the animals.
"(The suit is) going to get them more exposure," Wade said. "It's going to bring more attention to their needs. What I want most is the best quality of care they can get."