Tuesday, August 06, 2002
Dog-pound killings caught on tape
Shootings were secretly photographed
By Karen Gutierrez
The Cincinnati Enquirer
CAMPBELLSBURG, Ky. - The two men dressed in camouflage and smeared their faces with black paint. Then, for several weeks this summer, they crept up behind the Henry County dog pound, crouched in the weeds and trained their video camera on a shocking scene. One by one, stray dogs were shot in the head by the overseer of the pound. Many went limp immediately, but some did not. The overseer slung them into the front end of a backhoe, where they wiggled and twitched atop a pile of other freshly shot dogs.
Eventually, they either stopped moving on their own or were shot again.
TV image shows Ted Chisholm, overseer of the Henry County pound, putting a dead dog onto a pile of other dogs after shooting the animal.
(From video by Mike Crowe and Mike Mathena)
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Hiding in the weeds, the amateur spies struggled to maintain their composure. This is what they had wanted: proof of a brutal practice ordered by their county government.
But they had befriended some of these dogs, and they could hardly keep from crying out.
I can't sleep at night anymore, says Mike Crowe, leader of the homegrown sting operation. If I don't get something done about this, my conscience won't let me.
He soon may get some rest.
The shooting images - beamed into Henry County homes by Louisville television stations - have rocked this farming community 70 miles southwest of Cincinnati.
Mike Crowe near the county dog pound where he secretly taped a kennel worker shooting dogs.
(Patrick Reddy photo)
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In July, county officials temporarily halted all shootings. Now, for the first time, there is talk of a permanent end to a practice the Humane Society of the United States calls one of the most disturbing it has seen.
It sickened me, says Harriet Botner, a safety coordinator at the county Wal-Mart. It was appalling. I still have flashbacks of the one German shepherd that was wagging its tail.
Tapes shock county
Henry County residents have known for years about the shooting of strays at the pound. The Cincinnati Enquirer published a story on the practice two years ago, but county residents mostly shrugged. Such deaths were considered quick and painless. When animal advocates complained, they were dismissed as meddlesome outsiders.
The graphic reality of the tapes changed all that.
It took a lot of courage for him to do what he did, Ms. Botner says of Mr. Crowe. I've told him many times, "Mike, watch your back.'
If he's listening, Mr. Crowe gives no sign. For the first time in his life, the plain-spoken housepainter is involved in a cause, granting interviews and attending county meetings.
He makes for an unlikely crusader.
Born and raised in Henry County, Mr. Crowe acknowledges spending much of his adult life battling a drug-and-alcohol problem that gave him a certain reputation in town.
A Dalamatian and puppy in the Henry County dog pound.
(Patrick Reddy photo)
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I used to get locked up every other week. I was like that guy on Andy Griffith, he says, referring to Mayberry's Otis.
Indeed, court records show 16 cases against Mr. Crowe, mostly alcohol-related misdemeanors from the 1980s. Beginning in 1988, he served three years in state prison for having sex with an underage girl.
Mr. Crowe, 43, says he has learned from his mistakes and has stayed sober for the past four years. Court records show no charges against him since 1998.
He's just an ol' country boy, says Wayne Gunnell, a Henry County magistrate who wants the shootings to stop. You don't have to be the richest or classiest person in the world to have a human heart for animals, and that's what Mike has.
Still, Mr. Crowe's history comes up in whispers around the courthouse, where some people don't appreciate the media scrutiny brought by his camerawork.
A county employee conspiratorially tells a reporter that Mr. Crowe's background should be investigated. The circuit court clerk, Leland Payton, says he has heard Mr. Crowe sold his tapes to the news stations.
Reporters at Cincinnati's WKRC and Louisville's WLKY and WHAS deny any such transaction, saying Mr. Crowe never mentioned money. Nor did he receive any payment from People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, which posted the tapes on its Web site.
Mike Crowe is my hero, says Daphna Machminovitch, a PETA manager.
Without him I don't think the change that has taken place would have been possible.
Whistle-blowing is unusual in small-town Kentucky, where government officials tend to go back years with just about everybody.
The close ties discourage people from rocking the boat, especially if they have their own troubled histories.
In publicizing the shootings, Mr. Crowe not only risked gossip about his past but also forced a reckoning with popular attitudes about animal control in rural Kentucky.
Because of the lack of a spay/neuter tradition, stray dogs are abundant, and people like Mr. Payton, the court clerk, see them mainly as threats to livestock and human safety.
At the courthouse, Mr. Payton complained bitterly about the bunch of idiots who have called news stations to criticize the shootings.
You'd think we had a serial killer loose in the county, he says. These damned old stray dogs. What they do with them don't bother me a damn bit.
Mr. Crowe is different, and his efforts have struck a chord with those who harbor similar sympathies.
Witnesses to shootings
The Henry County pound is an inhospitable concrete building tucked in the midst of weedy fields. It has no adoption program nor staff person on duty. Ted Chisholm, the overseer, is paid about $13,000 a year, from which he must buy food for the dogs. His job is to feed, water and periodically dispose of them.
Mr. Crowe says he has personally removed dogs from the pound and given them to friends and family. On the videotapes, he can be seen visiting the caged animals, who wag their tails and lick his outstretched hands.
Most of the time when I would leave out of there, I would be in tears, he says. To have gotten to know these animals, and then see him shooting them ...
To catch the action, Mr. Crowe worked with his friend, Mike Mathena, who owns property around the pound. Whenever he saw Mr. Chisholm headed down the path, Mr. Mathena would inform Mr. Crowe in time for the two to stake out their position.
The videotape shows Mr. Chisholm bringing out the dogs, one by one, with their heads cinched in a rope at the end of a pole. Many squirm as he takes aim at their heads.
In one case, a German shepherd wags its tail just before it is shot and thrown into the backhoe. It continues wagging its tail, so Mr. Chisholm shoots the dog again, then uses his foot to stuff it further into the pile.
In another case, a medium-sized white dog moves so much after being shot that it slides off the pile and onto the ground, where it continues to thrash as Mr. Chisholm leaves to get another dog.
Mr. Chisholm did not return a phone message left by the Enquirer. His daughter, who answered the phone, said he would not be making any comment.
Judge-executive Tommy Bryant defends Mr. Chisholm, saying he was just doing his job.
As far as inhumane, I don't know. How else would you shoot them? Ted was doing what we paid him to do, making a living for his family.
At his own expense, Mr. Chisholm in 2000 completed a course in euthanasia by injection. But bullets are cheaper - about 2 cents each versus 80 cents per dose of drugs - and getting the shelter certified to store the drugs would have been too expensive and complicated for the county, Mr. Bryant says.
So Mr. Chisholm was told to continue shooting.
Kentucky law is notoriously sketchy with regard to such issues. It sets no standards for animal shelters or their staffs. Shooting is allowed as long as it's done humanely, but the law doesn't define what's considered humane.
Mr. Crowe first took his videotapes to the Henry County Local newspaper. But the editor told him it wasn't a story, because the practice is legal and residents had shown little interest when activists complained in the past.
My first impression was, "We've been here before,' Editor Melissa Blankenship says.
Deeply disappointed, Mr. Crowe next made contact with the Humane Society in neighboring Gallatin County. It helped him get the tapes on Cincinnati's Channel 12 and on the PETA Web site.
That's when the floodgates opened, with hundreds of PETA supporters sending angry mail to Henry County. The story was soon picked up by the Louisville stations. Mr. Gunnell, the magistrate, says his mother and daughter cried when they saw the footage.
Ms. Botner, the Wal-Mart employee, is organizing Henry County's first Humane Society. Others are circulating petitions calling for an end to the shootings and termination of Mr. Chisholm's contract.
Judge-executive Bryant downplays residents' reactions, saying he has received five or six phone calls from them and 1,700 from people in New York and California.
He resents the way those callers have portrayed his county, which recently raised $65,000 in the American Cancer Society's Relay for Life.
They're good people, he says: They don't need to be called rednecks and barbarians and a Third World country.
Mr. Bryant has served five terms as judge-executive. He'll retire in January. Having weathered previous storms over the shootings, he acknowledges that this time feels different. He looks pensive when asked why.
I don't know, he finally says, gazing out the window. Maybe we're just trying to change a bit, trying to make things a little better.
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