JEFFERSON — Volunteers at the Humane Society of Marion County on Monday made a grisly discovery while trying to clean up the dog runs at the embattled Jefferson shelter.
Volunteers Melissa Moit and Christie Woodson had gone out to the Humane Society of Marion County (formerly known as Dixie Humane Society) property, at 1300 N. Polk St. in Jefferson, on Monday morning to help with the cleanup after volunteer Gayle Robinson revealed malnourished and injured animals living in substandard conditions during the Thanksgiving holidays.
Moit and Woodson entered one of the property’s portable buildings where a washing machine and dryer were located to attempt to clean soiled linens but instead discovered two deep freezers full of dead dogs in plastic bags.
Moit and Woodson called Jefferson Police to report the find, but the former director of the Humane Society, Caroline Wedding, who still lived in a building on the property as of Monday, told police the dead dogs were from nearby veterinarian Bruce Bradley’s office.
Bradley has served as the Humane Society’s veterinarian. “She told the police that Dr. Bradley’s freezers broke, and he needed to store his euthanized dogs there until the company that disposes of them came to pick them up,” Woodson said.
Bradley was not available for comment Monday to confirm Wedding’s story but a veterinarian technician at his office who answered the phone said Bradley is no longer servicing the animals of the Humane Society as of last week and she did not know if the dead dogs in the freezer were his or the Humane Society’s. She also couldn’t confirm if Bradley’s freezers had been out of service.
Laura Romine, who has been serving as the volunteer coordinator at the Humane Society during the past couple of weeks, said that the dead dogs were not Bradley’s but instead dogs that had been euthanized, with reason, by the Humane Society.
“Unfortunately, not all of the dogs that the Humane Society takes in can be saved,” Romine said. “Sometimes, if a stray dog has bitten someone, by law they have to be euthanized, and their head removed and sent off for rabies testing.”
Moit and Woodson were not able to count exactly how many dead dogs were in the freezers awaiting pick up by a disposal company, but both volunteers said the Humane Society promotes itself as a 501©3, no-kill shelter.
Taylor Taylor, who is an individual animal rescuer out of Rockwall, said she found documents online that show Wedding has been bringing animals, sometimes several at a time, to the Marshall Animal Shelter to be euthanized in neighboring Harrison County.
M. Roberts Media has filed a Freedom of Information Request with the city of Marshall to see how many times Wedding or the Humane Society of Marion County has taken animals to the Marshall Animal Shelter for euthanasia.
Bob Avery said he is serving as the Humane Society’s counsel on a volunteer basis and said Wedding was terminated as the shelter’s director last week during a board meeting. He said, as a result of her termination, Wedding is required to vacate the building where she lives on the shelter’s property by today. Jefferson Police Chief Gary Amburn did not return calls for comment Monday to say whether any criminal charges had been filed against the Humane Society or Wedding.
The trouble for the Humane Society began just before Thanksgiving when Robinson went to deliver supplies to Wedding for the shelter.
“When I came up to the property, Caroline wouldn’t let me in the gate,” Robinson said. “She stood at the gate and talked to me and told me to leave the supplies there and she’d get them. I told her, ‘No, I’m here to volunteer, Caroline. You need help.”
Robinson said Wedding refused to allow her in, and the property looked trashed.
“I called Brooke Bradley LaFleur who was supposed to be on the board, and she said there was trash on the property because a dog had gotten loose and torn up some paper, but this was a lot more than that,” Robinson said. “I knew something was wrong so I went back out there to try to volunteer.”
Robinson, Moit and other volunteers Monday said they had tried several times over the past couple of years to volunteer but had been turned away by Wedding, who refused to allow them in the gate.
“When I went out there again, Caroline was leaving out of the gate and said she was going to Pine Harbor to rescue three dogs in a bus that the police had called her about,” Robinson said. “She told me I could follow her, so we went to Pine Harbor and picked up those three dogs, and on the way back to the shelter, she pulled over and got out of her car and told me she had it from there and I could go home. I told her, ‘No, those were big dogs and she’s 74 years old and she needed help.”
Robinson said Wedding relented and let her in the gate to help her.
“The conditions I saw when I went on that property were horrid — just horrid,” Robinson said. “Words can’t even describe how bad it was. Dogs living in absolute filth, malnourished, sick and hurt.”
Robinson said she and Wedding got to work, scooping out feces and soiled linens from the dog kennels.
“Those dogs, there were about 82 of them, were out in the cold and rain with no roofs on the kennels,” Robinson said. “Some had tarps that were falling in with water. It was so sad.”
Robinson said she knew the amount of work needed to fix the shelter and help save the dogs was more than she and Wedding could handle so she contacted the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals for help.
“They told me to take pictures of what I could, if Caroline let me back on the property again, then take the photos to my police chief,” Robinson said. “So that’s what I did.”
When Robinson showed Amburn the pictures, he called Mayor Charles “Bubba” Haggard, she said.
“The first thing Mayor Haggard said was, ‘We just gave her a $16,000 check. What do we do now?’” Robinson said.
Robinson filed a police report about the neglect with Amburn, and he told her he’d check on the situation.
“I went back out there to help Caroline the Friday after Thanksgiving, and the Jefferson police pulled up while we were out there working,” Robinson said. “At first, Caroline thought they were there to drop off more dogs to her, but I told her, ‘No, Caroline, they’re here to help you. You need some help out here.’ Then she looked at me and told me I shot her in the foot and to get out, so I left.”
Robinson said she’s unsure of what the police did while on site but they later told her that Wedding filed a criminal trespass restraining order against her and she’s no longer allowed on the property.
“I just wanted to get help for those dogs,” Robinson said. “I wish I could go back out there and help and check on them, but I’m still not allowed on the property.”
Robinson said she did later find out that the Humane Society board members soon gathered for a meeting.
Avery said the soonest the board members could gather enough members to form a quorum to address the issues raised by Robinson was Dec. 3, and as a result of that meeting, Wedding was terminated and tendered her resignation.
Avery said the facility is now being cleaned, the board is being re-formed with new members and the dogs are being cared for.
“We have a new bank account and a new mailing address and the only legal name of the shelter is the Humane Society of Marion County,” Avery said. “The shelter is a nonprofit and right now, the board has designated Missy DeLong to head up the show in terms of coordinating day to day needs.”
Avery said those wanting to make monetary donations to P.O. Box 947, Jefferson, Texas, 75657.