By Alyssa Schnugg
A recent investigation into complaints against Mississippi Critterz, the organization that runs the Oxford animal shelter, did not result in any criminal charges but did reveal several areas of concern on the overall operation of the shelter.
Oxford Police Chief Jeff McCutchen announced the findings of the investigation that started Feb. 17 to the Oxford Board of Aldermen on Tuesday during the Board’s regular meeting.
The nature of the complaints was based on the overall treatment of the animals, lack of medical care, over occupancy and disposal procedures for deceased animals.
McCutchen said the investigation was performed jointly by OPD and the Lafayette County Sheriff’s Department. Seventeen former and current employees and volunteers, the president of the Mississippi Critterz Board of Directors and the director of the shelter were interviewed.
“We did two unannounced visits,” McCutchen said. “We consulted with four different veterinarians, and an investigator with the ASPCA was also interviewed and consulted.”
McCutchen said none of the information gathered during the investigation met the elements of criminal charges.
“However, we will be submitting all of our findings to the District Attorney’s Office for criminal review,” he told the Board.
While no criminal charges were filed, McCutchen said “several issues” gave the department concern, including the overall cleanliness, the lack of detailed records to include any medical care provided, overcrowded conditions, staffing concerns, lack of written policies or protocols, lack of formalized training of employees and volunteers, and a lack of supervision from the facility’s supervisor.
“There was also a concern about the fact that the (MS Critterz) board was notified of issues in November, and after completing their investigation, led the governing city and county board to believe the issues would be rectified,” McCutchen said. “As of the date of the complaint (Feb. 17), those issues have not been corrected in their entirety. Also, the lack of transparency to the city and county boards to the public is very concerning.”
Aldermen John Morgan said the issue with being understaffed has attributed to many of the other issues and concerns.
“I think we may not have had some of those issues had it been staffed enough,” he said.
During the discussion, a member in the audience was told to refrain from yelling out (as the meeting was not a public hearing) or risk being escorted from the meeting.
MS Critterz contracts with the city and county to run the shelter. The city also contracts with them to perform animal control services.
Mayor Robyn Tannehill said the shelter is responsible for the daily operations of the shelter, hiring and management, care of the animals, making sure the shelter is clean, and for operating a business in a manner that is transparent.
The board voted to form a committee, made up of two members from the MS Critterz board, a member of the Board of Supervisors, a local veterinarian and a member from the Oxford Animal Shelter Watchdogs citizens group. Alderman Antonow will chair the committee, which will review the information from the investigations and make recommendations to the Board of Aldermen.
“The committee will evaluate the contract to determine if obligations are being met or see if changes need to be made,” Tannehill said.
Tannehill said she hopes to have the committee in place and meeting within two weeks.
Leigh Ann Hubbard with the Shelter Watchdogs group, said the group was disappointed that no criminal charges were filed.
“However, Chief McCutchen did specify multiple ways MS Critterz is failing our city and our animals—from uncleanliness to no proof of proper veterinary care to inadequate training,” Hubbard said after the meeting. “This sounds like it adds up to drastic failures and obvious breach of contract. Yet the mayor and aldermen have decided to continue employing MS Critterz, opting for the ultimate political answer: forming a committee to look into things—led by the alderman who has been defending the shelter and its board to me since this scandal erupted. Meanwhile, the animals continue to suffer.”
Watch the Oxford Board of Aldermen meeting on YouTube.