Investigator files complaint against county animal shelter
A breakdown in cooperation among various groups was largely responsible for the relocation of the county animal shelter in Marlinton to an out-of-the-way facility in the north end. According to a complaint filed on September 2, the animals were the biggest losers.
County commissioner Jamie Walker and others visited the shelter on Back Mountain Road on September 1. As a result of that visit, an investigator filed an animal abuse complaint against the shelter operator with the Pocahontas County Sheriff's Office.
In June, the Pocahontas County Commission awarded a contract to Sandy Mallow to operate the county animal shelter at her property on Back Mountain Road, above Durbin. A relationship between Marlinton shelter operators John Fitzgerald and J.P. Duncan and the local SPCA soured and the parties submitted separate, unsuccessful bids for operation of the shelter.
Although Mallow's shelter was not prepared when she was awarded the contract, the commission allowed approximately 25 dogs and 20 cats to be transported to her property from the Marlinton shelter. Mallow's contract took effect on July 1 and the animals were transported on the same day. Mallow promised she would have her shelter prepared for inspection no later than September 1.
On September 1, Walker, Fitzgerald, Duncan, private investigator Christopher Giannini and others inspected Mallow's facility.
Giannini, who has family in the Cass area, is the president of International Investigations Consultants and Training, Inc., in Cleveland, Ohio. The investigator has experience exposing governmental corruption in Ohio and is working at no cost to investigate the situation with the local animal shelter.
Giannini visited Mallow's property on July 5, after the commission awarded the contract, and again on September 1, when Mallow was supposed to have her shelter ready.
During the July visit, Giannini asked to see some of the dogs housed in a wooden shed-like structure. Mallow told the investigator that the structure was for her dogs and not part of the shelter. When Giannini told Mallow that he recognized one of the dogs from the Marlinton shelter, Mallow allowed him to look at the wooden pens.
In his complaint, Giannini describes the conditions he observed during the July visit.
"I walked over to the structure and observed that the Malamute and the other dogs held in the cage-like structures were all restrained by a short, approximately three-foot long chain," the complaint reads. "The chain was fastened either to an eye hook at the top center of the cage or to a post on the side-center of the cage. There were wire mesh doors on the front of the cages, but none were secured or fastened to the structure. There were food and water bowls in the cages, but most of the water bowls appeared green from possibly algae or mold. Food, feces and urine covered the cage floors."
Conditions only worsened by September, according to Giannini's complaint.
"I found the same Alaskan Malamute in the same cage, still restrained to the pen with a short chain," the complaint reads. "However, the dog appeared to have lost a considerable amount of weight and was losing its fur. Furthermore the conditions of the pen were terrible. There was feces and urine throughout the floor area. Wads of fur were intermingled with feces. The dog appeared to have developed diarrhea as evidenced by the amount and type of feces on the floor of the cage.
"Near the dog pens, I observed five horses in an enclosed area. The shelter for both of the horses was barely high enough for the horses to walk under the roof. The horses appeared to be in bad physical condition."
Giannini wrote that Mallow's facility is not equipped for the number of animals it holds.
"The area that [Mallow] was providing to the Pocahontas County Animal Shelter was near the roadway at the front of the property," the complaint reads. "I counted 17 gray metal cages. However there were 24 dogs in this area. Some of the cages contained two and three dogs. Some of the cages were covered by a wood structure roof. Other cages were covered by a couple of blue poly tarps."
The complaint reports that Mallow became angry when Walker told her she had failed the inspection.
"In my presence, Commissioner Walker told Ms. Mallow that she had not met all of the conditions of her bid proposal," the complaint reads. "She became angry and replied, 'I admit it. I'm only one person, I don't have any help. I can't take care of all of these animals by myself. So do what you want - take the cages and take the animals.'"
The commission required Mallow to have general liability insurance for an animal shelter, no later than September 1. Mallow did not have insurance on the day of the visit, but reportedly told Walker she "would get it today."
During the county commission meeting on September 5, clerk Sue Helton informed the commission that she had received a copy of an insurance policy for the shelter, effective September 1.
At the meeting, Fitzgerald provided a copy of Giannini's complaint, but commission president David Fleming refused to allow Fitzgerald to present a proposal to re-locate the shelter back to Marlinton for the remainder of the fiscal year.
Walker expressed concern with Mallow's contract compliance.
"We gave her 60 days, or two months, however you want to determine it," he said. There were 62 days through July and August. I went up on September 1. The hot water heater was sitting in a box on the floor. The sink had not been hooked up, at that point, to the hot water or to the cold water.
"We talked about the insurance. She said they had been working on insurance but she had not been able to get it worked out yet. Then, the food storage - she had one bag of dog food that she showed me, sitting in the room where she keeps her cats.
"[Those] were the three things that bothered me and, in my opinion of it, she voided her contract. When I come home I read the emails that she had all three things taken care of. So, it was obvious to me at that point that she didn't make too much effort to get it done, or it would have been done prior to me going up there."
Fleming disagreed with Walker's assertion and said he had visited the shelter three times and seen a lot of progress.
Commissioner Martin Saffer said the commission should disregard deadlines with regard to the animal shelter contract.
"I want to make a statement about the deadline notion," he said. "I think we should see it in a larger context than a deadline. I think we should see it in the context of the amount of money that we spend, what we're going to get overall, the person running it, what kind of effort and spiritual and emotional energy are being put into it. To my mind, I think we're getting a good value for our dollar and these are very small items, which are already corrected."
In addition to conditions at the animal shelter, Giannini is investigating the procedures used by the commission to award the shelter contract to Mallow. During his recent visit to the county, he reviewed documents and interviewed witnesses and began preparation of a written report.
The investigator said there are serious discrepancies with the commission's contracting procedures and that he will file his report to the West Virginia Attorney General, the West Virginia Auditor and the Pocahontas County Prosecutor. Giannini said the report would be completed in approximately one week.
See next week's edition for the contents of Giannini's written report. At press time, Mallow had not responded to an email request for a statement. Mallow's telephone number is unlisted.