INDIANAPOLIS — Whistleblowers and animal welfare experts are speaking out with claims that animal care in Marion County is in grave condition. FOX59/CBS4 spoke with them exclusively.
These people, who range from animal care advocates to experts working with Indianapolis-area shelters, are voicing their concerns about the quality of care available for local Hoosier animals. The concerns these people listed include:
- Healthy, available dogs being euthanized,
- Good Samaritans being told to leave strays in the streets of Indianapolis, and
- Thousands of dogs being diverted from Indianapolis Animal Control Services (IACS) to other county shelters
The group we talked to consists of more than a dozen current and former employees, volunteers and surrounding county human society directors. These people came forward after they said Indianapolis Mayor Joe Hogsett did nothing when they first went to him and his team.
Healthy dogs being euthanized, abandoned
One of the first claims the group brought to FOX59/CBS4 was healthy, available dogs being euthanized when volunteers had fosters lined up.
Mianna Ruiz, a current IACS volunteer, said through tears that IACS employees and volunteers are devastated knowing, and sometimes watching, savable dogs be put down.
“They feel their last breaths,” Ruiz said. “They sit in trash bags. In a cooler and that’s it. And that is their story and they don’t get told.”
Ruiz said it has happened to hundreds of dogs like Maui, a dog that was adopted from IACS on Aug. 12 and euthanized just 12 hours later. An adopter, according to Ruiz, brought the dog back less than a day after taking the dog and claimed Maui bit her child.
However, IACS volunteers said the adopter didn’t provide any proof of Maui attacking anyone. Still, the dog was euthanized.
Ruiz also told us about Moe, a dog adopted on Dec. 4, 2022, only to be returned two days later.
The Border Collie, Ruiz said, was described by the returning adopter as “too jumpy.”
Multiple IACS sources said the shelter had a foster family lined up for Moe but were denied. The Border Collie, volunteers confirmed, was later euthanized as well.
A photo of Moe can be seen to the right.
The same volunteers and IACS sources shared the story of Kimona, a dog brought in as an injured stray in April.
Sources said that there was a foster home lined up by volunteers for Kimona as well.
Kimona ended up sitting at the shelter for 2 months in need of a leg amputation, instead of recovering in a foster home with someone who wanted her. IndyHumane finally pulled Kimona after 2 months, volunteers said.
Current IACS volunteer Mary Dombrosky said that Kimona couldn’t be fostered due to a technicality with the person who wanted to adopt her.
“A local police officer was going to foster the dog,” said Dombrosky. “But because she lived a half mile out of Marion County, they wouldn’t let her.”
A photo of Kimona can be seen to the left.
FOX59/CBS4 asked IACS about the policy requiring fosters to live in Marion County. Officials replied and said that is not their policy. However, it was noted on Kimona’s IACS chart.
In the first eight months of this year, 734 dogs have been put down.
That number is higher than before the COVID-19 pandemic hit the US, despite the fact the shelter is taking in less than two-thirds the number of dogs they took in before the pandemic. For more information on that statistic, and other IACS stats, click here.
Sam Ciancone used to work for IACS and was responsible for euthanizing dogs while there.
“People are out of touch about what really goes on in the county when it comes to people making the decisions,” Ciancone said.
Dombrosky is one of nearly 100 Indiana animal welfare advocates who took their concerns to Indianapolis Mayor Joe Hogsett on July 25, 2023. The concerns were written in a letter titled “The Crisis at Indianapolis Animal Care Services” which can be read here.
“They don’t focus on adoptions. They don’t focus on fosters. They don’t focus enough on rescues,” Dombrosky said of IACS. “They put all of the energy into euthanizing dogs. It’s not a shelter. It’s not a humane society. It is a pound.”
In the letter to Hogsett, the group described the issue of euthanizing dogs for space, not bad behavior, as “a moral failure” wherein IACS leadership and the mayor’s office “blatantly ignore” their own policies.
Former volunteer Justin Allen described a portion of those policies, identified as the “Dot System” and the “The Dog Routing Guide.”
“We have dogs that are being euthanized that their own written policies state are not grounds for euthanasia,” Allen said. “For example, a level one bite is basically a nick, a warning nip or a lunge. We have had numerous dogs euthanized without even having a bite on their record.”
Two current IACS employees told FOX59/CBS4 that working under the current IACS leadership led a group to walk off the job in August. IACS confirmed this, but added that the facility covered all the shifts with other union employees.
Dogs diverted from IACS
Another piece of the crisis that the advocates we spoke with touched on is the amount of Marion County dogs showing up at area county shelters.
The Hendricks and Johnson County Animal Shelter Directors and Hamilton County Humane Society all spoke with FOX59/CBS4 and said that IACS has stopped taking in their own strays, diverting them to other local taxpayers instead and telling people to lie about it.
“Lie a wee bit to get another shelter to take the animal.”
– IACS employee speaking to a woman on tape
Evidence of this practice being used at the Indianapolis shelter was recently captured by an anonymous whistleblower who taped a conversation with an IACS employee. Part of that conversation can be heard by clicking here or clicking play on the audio block below.
The woman who recorded the conversation asked for anonymity because she works for a local animal welfare organization and said she fears retaliation. In an interview with FOX59/CBS4, she said that an IACS employee told her if she left the stray with them the dog would be euthanized.
According to the woman, she was told that another option would be to let the stray loose. However, under Indiana law abandoning a dog is illegal, and that includes if you pick up a stray. Dogs, the law states, are supposed to go to the county where they are found.
“It shall be unlawful for a person to abandon any animal on public or private property in the city.”
– Indiana Law Sec. 531-402.
Despite this, other local humane society directors claimed that IACS has adverse policies in place.
“Their policies are hurting us,” the Johnson County Animal Shelter Director Cari Klotzsche said.
Klotzsche told FOX59/CBS4 that after taking in more than 40 Marion County dogs last year she started driving the dogs back to IACS and leaving them at their back door.
Others agreed that IACS has been causing problems. Hamilton County Humane Society CEO Rebecca Stevens said she doesn’t have the heart to drive dogs back to the doorstep of IACS because she has seen what happens.
After acknowledging many of these issues, Stevens herself also reached out to Indianapolis Mayor Joe Hogsett with a letter listing concerns. That letter, provided to us by Stevens, can be read by clicking here or by clicking the button above.
“I told the mayor’s office [that they] are causing my people pain. My numbers are up to crisis levels,” Stevens wrote. “My budget is extraordinary and I don’t get funding for that. We pay for that! You are hurting my people. I expect you to respond.”
FOX59/CBS4 requested an interview with both Mayor Hogsett and Katie Trennepohl, the deputy director of IACS. We were denied by both.
“When I receive what I think is an inflammatory letter, that wasn’t a last-ditch effort because they have reached out multiple times, I don’t want to address it to give it more strength,” said Abbey Brands.
Brands is the director of the city’s Department of Business and Neighborhood Services, which oversees IACS. She agreed to an interview and sat down to answer all our questions.
First, the audio tape.
Brands said that telling community members to lie to get other shelters to take their animals is not IACS policy.
“I think that it is unacceptable,” she said. “Staff should not have said it. I think training was misinterpreted.”
FOX59/CBS4 pressed her on that.
“I think our staff is realistically aware of the struggles our shelter goes through,” Brands added.
Brands said that the shelter is in crisis and taking in thousands of animals. However, she said that it is nothing new and that IACS has been in crisis for years.
The director said she was hired in January and that she was disappointed when IACS did not get chosen for two federal grants. The lack of grant money, Brands said, set back the plan to build a larger, more modern facility.
Mayor Hogsett announced plans in August 2021 to build a new shelter, and said that the facility would be ready by 2023. At the time, IACS Deputy Director Trennepohl described the current building as failing.
“The mechanical systems, the plumbing, the HVAC are all just continual issues,” Trennepohl said in 2021. “And the city just keeps investing money into this building but we’re just trying to keep our head above water.”
Brands said she is making changes despite the setbacks, starting with creating a new administrator position. She is also trying to hire another position that will hopefully allow a greater focus on higher adoptions, fosters and marketing dogs that are available instead of diverting dogs to other shelters or back on the streets of Indianapolis.
The group of advocates and whistleblowers we spoke with said they’ve been hearing the excuses Brands offered for years now.
“You are pretending you are coming up with this plan. There is zero plan,” said current volunteer Elaine Thiel. “There are animals running around right now.”
IACS is set to take in about 10,000 animals this year, which is down from more than 15,000 in 2019.
Still, the group of volunteers, staff and whistleblowers stressed that change is needed right now.
The community, the mayor’s office, and all the volunteers and rescues need to understand the dire situation, the group said. They believe the front-line staff is doing everything possible to keep IACS from failing completely, but said they can’t say the same for the current leadership.
“This is a philosophy,” Stevens said. “This starts at the mayor’s office. This is a government-operated shelter, [so] it goes to the top. You just can’t put another mouthpiece in charge, or nothing will change.”