A dog was mistakenly euthanized after a mix-up in paperwork at the Davidson County Animal Shelter earlier this week, county officials said.
The 16-month-old Australian Cattle Dog, named Blaze, was sent to the shelter for a 10-day quarantine, owner Joey Varker said, after the dog bit a child in the family.
Varker said that when his wife, Rhea, went to the shelter to visit Blaze on Tuesday, she was shown a picture of a different dog.
“She said ‘That’s not our dog,’ so they took her back to the kennels and found out they had actually euthanized the wrong dog over the weekend,” Lexington resident Varker said. “Now my 8-year-old son cries himself to sleep at night because of this mistake.”
The Davidson County Animal Shelter declined to comment on Saturday’s accidental euthanization, deferring to the county.
Assistant County Manager Casey Smith said the incident was due to a mistake in the intake paperwork.
“Due to the overwhelming number of animals coming in and a limited staff, especially on weekends, this dog was crisscrossed with another dog scheduled to be euthanized that probably looked similar,” Smith said. “It was an unfortunate mistake.”
Blaze, a mid-sized dog who weighed about 40 pounds, had been at the shelter since June 4 after he nipped Varker’s cousin’s 6-year-old son, Varker said. He said the dog did so by accident.
The child had minor injuries, but the doctor was required to report it, he said.
Varker said that, because the family didn’t have the dog’s vaccination records readily available, they had to take Blaze to the shelter for 10 days.
“He was a puppy, pretty rambunctious, but not a dangerous dog at all,” said Varker, who has sons ages 5, 8 and 10. “Our kids, they don’t understand how or why it happened. Neither do we, but we can handle it better. They’re really broken up.”
Blaze was supposed to return home today after his quarantine.
Instead, the county will have the dog cremated, and its ashes will be returned to the family in “a nice urn,” Smith said.
Smith said he offered the family what he could, but the gestures were not well-received.
“The county manager offered us $300 for our dog, which is insulting. You can’t put a price on family,” Varker said. “They also offered us another dog at the shelter, and that was just a slap in the face.”
Varker said the family wants an explanation for how this happened and why three days passed between when the dog was euthanized and when the family found out.
Smith said he sought out the family to apologize.
“I offered what I could do to make it less painful for them, but obviously we can’t undo this,” Smith said.
About 40 to 50 “bite dogs” are taken into the shelter each month for quarantine, Smith said. Ten were admitted on Saturday alone.
While there is a separate room to segregate sick dogs from healthy dogs, the bite dogs are put in kennels alongside other dogs due to space constraints.
Like many county shelters, the Davidson County Animal Shelter is stretched thin on resources and kennel space, he said. The shelter has the capacity to hold up to 200 animals at a time.
Smith said that, in the last four years the shelter has been partnered with the county, they have taken in about 20,000 animals.
“This is the first time this has ever happened,” he said. “I don’t say that to demean this situation. I just want to note that our error rate is extremely low, and we want to make it even lower.”
Smith said they are looking at a number of internal preventative measures, including matching the dog set to be euthanized to a smartphone picture taken at intake and expediting the rate at which they get the animals into the system.
They have also talked about putting a tag on the dogs’ ankles, although that would be difficult for aggressive dogs, or using animal-safe paint to mark certain dogs with an orange dot on the shoulder to make them visually distinct.
While the measures aim to prevent future incidents, the shelter can’t rectify the mistake that was made.
“I just want to know what they’re going to do so this doesn’t happen to anyone else’s family,” Varker said. “We don’t want money, we want answers. We want someone to be held accountable.”
The North Carolina Department of Agriculture is investigating the incident.