Humane Society of St. Lucie cleared of allegations of animal abuse

ST. LUCIE COUNTY — Allegations of animal abuse against the Humane Society of St. Lucie County made by a former employee in December were "unfounded," according to a completed investigation by the sheriff's office.

According to the sheriff's report released Friday, veterinarian technician Cindy Wade said between February 2011 and October 2011, she witnessed several incidents of animal cruelty by two employees of the Humane Society. Wade was fired in December, but first made the allegations to the Fort Pierce Police Department in November while still working for the shelter.

In the sheriff's report, Wade, who was employed by the shelter for more than four years, said she witnessed one employee punch a dog in the chest as it was being euthanized. She also recounted an incident where she said she saw another employee hang a dog by its leash "almost to the point of death."

"The St. Lucie County Sheriff's Office has closed its investigation into allegations of animal cruelty at the Humane Society with a finding that all allegations were unfounded," said Sheriff Ken J. Mascara in a news release. "We investigated all of the claims made by the former employee, We questioned her as well as employees of the Humane Society named. ... The investigation determined that animal cruelty or abuse did not take place as alleged."

Mascara said although Wade didn't agree with actions made by Humane Society staff, she agreed the actions were not illegal or in violation of Humane Society policy.

Wade, however, said Friday she didn't agree with the investigation's findings and still believes the manner in how euthanasia is carried out at the shelter is cruel.

"I hope those things did stop," she said.

Frank Andrews, shelter director, said Friday he had no doubt the sheriff's investigation would clear the Humane Society and its employees of the negative allegations.

"A lot of effort was wasted. This was something that didn't need to be done," Andrews said. "People are passionate about animals and we are, too. We have a lot of wonderful people and they've been maligned by the allegations. We think our people are special and it vindicates them in a positive way."

According to the report, Andrews and David Robertson, director of shelter operations, told sheriff investigators on Feb. 9 Wade's complaints were without merit and they believed they were a result of Wade being bitter about being terminated. However, according to the investigation, Wade said she was terminated in December, after she was put on administrative leave that same month.

Andrews said he suspended Wade because of work-related issues and for making false allegations against the shelter — not for being " a whistle blower."

"It also was the general consensus that Wade is extremely sensitive to the needs of the animals, whether they are being euthanized or being kept for adoption, and she over-dramatizes the actions that are necessary to maintain the animal population at the Humane Society," the report states.

Investigators indicate they spoke at length with Wade about the allegations, the lack of corroborating evidence and witnesses and the fact that other employees denied the instances took place. Wade was told without proof, investigators would be unable to go forward with any criminal charges against any other Humane Society employee.

Wade joined former shelter veterinarians Sarah Matthews and Linda Gregard in speaking out against the shelter's euthanasia rate.

Andrews said on average for every 8,500 animals that enter the facility each year, about 4,400 are euthanized; 2,000 at the direct request of owners.

Annette Miller, chairman of the board, adamantly denied the allegations, assuring the care of the animals was a priority for members of the board, as well as the employees and volunteers at the shelter. She said she never witnessed or was made aware of any alleged abuse at the hands of employees or volunteers.

Miller said the allegations hurt the reputation of the organization and its employees, and potentially jeopardized donations to help the animals.

Wade told investigators, according to the report, she believed employees are afraid to come forward with abuse reports out of fear of also being terminated.

Staff writer Kelly Tyko contributed to this report.

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