Animal abuse story sparks strong Summit Daily News reader reaction
January 29, 2015
Editor's note: We recently received two letters responding to a Jan. 9 article looking into why a Summit County animal control officer resigned in protest and how that resignation sparked changes within the department. Everyone is entitled to their opinion, but we believe the letters misrepresent the article we published to such an extent that a detailed response is necessary to set the record straight. Please read that response after the letters. We also urge you to go back and read the story in question at http://bit.ly/1zVoRcy.
Photos of Jameson the dog in bad taste
I am disgusted at the photos you published of the dog named Jameson in the Jan. 8, 2015, SDN article titled "Summit County animal control officer resigns, prompts internal investigation" and, in so doing, implied that his owner was guilty of animal cruelty. Publishing the photos of Jameson's dead body shows your insensitivity to your local reading audience, your ignorance that this dog was known in the community and your bias by pairing the photos with the article implying guilt on the part of the pet's owner.
Jameson was a pet who lived in our community. I personally knew Jameson and so did many other locals. Although he had a visible medical condition most of his life, Jameson was a happy dog with a caring owner who raised him from a puppy. His owner tried to make his life as normal as possible and took him for walks in our neighborhood, swims in the local lake, and they were often seen together. Jameson was also lucky to have the company of a normal healthy dog who was his companion. Jameson's owner loved both of his dogs, and I can only imagine the pain he felt when he saw the photo of his dead dog in your newspaper. I myself was shocked and sickened that you posted it. I hate to think of the awful feelings you have inflicted on his owner, not to mention the negative social connotations that come along with accusations of animal abuse.
Jameson was a loved pet. He was also a pet that had a horrible condition called cancer. At the end of Jameson's life, his owner properly cared for his body by taking it to our local animal cremation facility and saved his ashes in his memory. You have implied guilt and condemnation on a person who should be commended for caring for an ill pet and giving it a life with a loving home, a companion and healthy activities. Shame on you for using photos of this dog with your story to propagate your own interests, biases and conclusions.
Animal cruelty is a very serious problem in our society and, as your article reported, it is difficult to discern and detect even for the trained professionals in the animal control agencies. Therefore, take note of your own article and leave it up to the professionals. The conclusion you printed in your article stated, "There wasn't any animal cruelty," (undersheriff Derek Woodman) said. "The dog had cancer." At that point, did you not realize you were publishing the photos of an innocent person's dead pet? Did you think about any emotional consequences or responsibilities? Didn't his owner have the right to privacy? How and why you even have access to these photos ("Courtesy of Ian Andrews") is disturbing and I question how they were released to you. I would think some people would think twice about having their pets cremated at the animal shelter knowing their privacy could be violated in such a way.
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Regardless of the problems within the Summit County Animal Control and Shelter addressed in your article, Jameson's photos should not have been published by your newspaper and your implications of abuse by his owner were cruel and speculative. Your actions are disturbing and disgraceful to Jameson's memory.
I believe a formal apology is warranted for Jameson's owner.
Nancy Wydner Anderson
Emphasize the good, not the bad, about the animal shelter
A recent "investigative" article published in your newspaper painted the Summit County Animal Control and Shelter as an organization more interested in its public image than the welfare of the animals in our community. I know of many inaccuracies, quotes taken out of context and omissions in this article. The staff of the SCAC take their responsibilities very seriously and are dedicated to protecting the people and animals of Summit. One statistic will prove that: In 2014, 430 adoptions were processed, beating a record of 335 that had stood since 1999. This included disabled cats and dogs, snakes, guinea pigs, mice, birds, rats, surrendered animals, those taken from dangerous environments, other kill shelters and strays. Why not focus on the good done by the SCAC rather than a single, poorly investigated sensational incident?
Summit Daily response
Ultimately, the story we published on Jan. 9 was not about whether Jameson the dog was or wasn't abused. It was about whether Summit County Animal Control and Shelter has historically neglected to pursue animal cruelty investigations. The story, written by Alli Langley, focused on one animal control officer's growing frustration in being regularly dissuaded from looking into possible cruelty cases he believed merited investigation.
Jameson's case happened to be the one that led the officer, Ian Andrews, to resign in protest. That's why we included Jameson — photos and all — in our story. Andrews may very well have found that Jameson was not abused and that his owners took good care of him. However, Andrews wasn't allowed to make that discovery. The investigation was curtailed before it could begin.
Andrews believed Jameson's case was one piece of a disturbing pattern. But we didn't just tell his story. We also talked with Andrews' boss, animal control director Lesley Hall, and undersheriff Derek Woodman. (The sheriff's office oversees animal control.) Both denied a reluctance to pursue animal cruelty cases. Both said Jameson was properly cared for by its owner. However, the question remains: How would they know unless a proper investigation was conducted?
Andrews' claims did result in an internal sheriff's office investigation. It didn't find the pattern of neglect that Andrews' alleged, but it did lead to policy changes within the department regarding documentation and other concerns. However, we believe the numbers on animal welfare speak for themselves.
From 1998 to 2014, the county has averaged 57 animal welfare calls a year. The 962 total calls over the 17-year period resulted in outcomes ranging from warnings to impounds to referrals to other agencies. One-third of the calls were simply documented because officers found no action warranted. Close to another third were resolved with non-punitive measures such as warnings and education of pet owners. Few of the calls resulted in the animal owner being issued a citation for animal cruelty.
For the period between 1999 and 2014, animal control could produce 14 incident reports that resulted in criminal charges filed or court summonses issued. Of those cases, five ended in guilty convictions, and two resulted in guilty pleas. The other seven were dismissed, deferred or voided.
In the end, our responsibility as a newspaper isn't to one pet owner or any one resident but to the community as a whole.
If readers care about animals, they should be glad to know the Summit Daily looked into possible policy violations at animal control that could have meant animal abuse was going unwatched and unpunished.
Additionally, Garth Preuthun is wrong in saying we have not emphasized the good that animal control has done. We reported on the success of Summit County Animal Control in lowering its impoundment rate and raising its adoption rate on June 26, 2014. We also included statistics from that story in a photo caption that accompanied the story about Ian Andrews' resignation and the subsequent internal investigation.
—Summit Daily News
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