Help needed: Shocking conditions revealed Magnolia, AR municipal animal shelter

Before and after pictures provided by Big Fluffy Dog Rescue. The group saved and rehabbed the dogs discovered in the animal control facility.

Before and after pictures provided by Big Fluffy Dog Rescue. The group saved and rehabbed the dogs discovered in the animal control facility.

The mayor of Magnolia, Arkansas is pleading for help and apologizing for a shocking situation revealed in the City's municipal animal control facility. The pictures and video of the dogs found at the shelter tell this story. It's something you have to see, and it's startling.

In late July this video appeared on YouTube, showing dozens of dogs in the Magnolia shelter emaciated, suffering from hair loss and in terrible condition. This picture shows what one dog looked like when he first came to the shelter, and how his health deteriorated over a three month period.

Big Fluffy Dog Rescue, which helped expose this situation and stepped in to rescue the dogs, describes the conditions in their blog post, "All of the dogs were sick, all had sarcoptic mange, all but a handful were injured from fighting for resources and almost every one was emaciated. The vets who have treated these dogs are horrified by the deplorable physical and mental condition these dogs are in. The pictures below do not lie and speak for themselves of the incredible suffering these dogs endured at the hands of a local government."

The rescue group describes the Magnolia shelter as, "A metal roof over concrete pad with chain link pens. There are no walls, no heat and no air conditioning. At best, this facility should house 15 to 20 dogs. When we stepped in to remove dogs, there were 59 in squalid conditions." Three of the dogs later died.

Response from Mayor of Magnolia, Arkansas

How did this happen? Today Magnolia's Mayor, Parnell Vann, responded to WatchDogMary's inquiry and answered that question. Vann started his statement saying, "The conditions at our city pound are not ideal, and for that I am sorry. I do want everyone to understand how this has occurred. Part of our City’s animal control officer’s job is to pick up stray dogs throughout the town as complaints are received, or the dogs are observed roaming unchecked. The officer must then take them to the city pound. Sadly, most owners do not come forward when their dog is taken to the pound."

And that's where Vann claims the problem started. Magnolia is only required to hold dogs for up to 5 days and if an animal's owner does not come to pick them up, the city can pay a local veterinarian to euthanize the animal. But the Mayor says officials didn't want to euthanize the dogs. His statement continues:

"We have tried to find shelters or rescues to take the dogs so that we did not have to euthanize them, but that takes time. The circumstances leading to this current, unfortunate situation occurred when our animal control officer – while trying to do his job -- continued to take in dogs, and the numbers quickly added up to an unmanageable amount. Animal control did make this mistake, but it will not happen again. Animal control and I personally do not desire to enforce this ordinance by putting animals down, but we do have a responsibility to take difficult actions, when necessary, that are the most humane under the circumstances. It is our hope that these animals can be adopted out or picked up by their owners, but frankly, we receive such a large volume of animals due to negligent owners that I’m concerned that we will not be able to keep the appropriate numbers at the pound without euthanizing some animals."

In a phone interview with Watchdog Mary, Vann said he wants people to realize the city pound is a holding facility, it's not a rescue shelter.

"At the time the dogs are picked up, the health condition of the dog and its history of care, if any, is unknown. The city provides the pound as a service to the citizens in an effort to reduce roaming animals. However, no tax dollars are appropriated for animal care at the pound. If a dog comes in sick, there is a good chance that dog will infect the rest of the dogs in the pound," said Vann. "The pound doesn’t have the funding or manpower to prevent this. We only have one animal control officer for the entire city, and he essentially works 7 days a week and is on call 24 hours a day. He is a one man show, and his job is understandably overwhelming at times. He does clean the pens, water and feed the dogs daily in an effort to provide basic care while they are at the pound."

The Mayor said the city is working to improve the pound, but it doesn't have the funding to be a long term shelter for dogs, or to pay for vet care.

Vann claims irresponsible pet owners also contributed to the situation, "We struggle with a dog population problem that can only be helped by our own citizens. Dogs are dropped off in our town every day, plus we have dogs running loose that belong to non-compliant citizens," said Vann. "I want to encourage all dog owners in the city limits of Magnolia to buy a dog tag. This will ensure that your dog will get back to you. If you would like to help, we ask that you educate your family, neighbors and peers on the importance spaying and neutering dogs."

What you can do to help in Magnolia, Arkansas

Vann is begging for local volunteers and rescue groups to help. The municipal animal shelter does not even have a microchip reader nor a budget for vet care or for holding animals for more than five days.

Right now Vann is posting pictures and descriptions of dogs picked up on the City's Animal Control Facebook page. They have had to euthanize several dogs that have already come in since the original situation was revealed. Vann said that's because there's no system set up to place them with a rescue groups, foster or adoptive homes, "I ask that you please use that compassion and concern by volunteering your time at the pound or donate money for vet care," said Vann.

The city pound is located at 922 S. Washington and is open to the public from 7:30-4:30." If you wish to contact the mayor to help his email is:

WatchDog Mary has revealed similar situations in municipal animal control facilities.  In Kenedy, Texas, where live dogs were kept in cages next to dead dogs and in Sinton, Texas which was essentially a dead end for dogs that ended up there.

After exposing what was going on, both Texas cities turned the situation around by increasing their budget for animal control and care, and now volunteer groups help with adoptions. This author asked Vann if he would be willing to set up a new system, perhaps a "friends of the pound" group which can form a nonprofit which can take donations for the upkeep and care of the dogs. So far no response from Vann on that question.

What you can do to help Big Fluffy Dog Rescue

Big Fluffy Dog Rescue took in all 59 dogs at an expense of $40,000. The tab is still growing because many need ongoing vet care for heart worm treatment and other health conditions. If you'd like to help this is a link to make a donation. The organization is posting pictures of dogs that are now up for adoption on their Facebook page. They also need fosters for some of the dogs in the central Tennessee area, click here for more information.

Creating minimum standards for municipal animal shelters

Big Fluffy Dog Rescue is now calling for sweeping shelter changes as a result of the Magnolia situation, pointing out there's no Arkansas law mandating minimum shelter requirements nor is there mandatory training for animal control officers. The organization launched this petition asking for the creation of a "federal standard of care" which would regulate animal shelters and organizations under the Animal Welfare Act.

If you have a story idea or tip for WatchDogMary please message her through this Facebook page. And if you want to help expose bad conditions in your city or town's municipal shelter, click here for tips on how.

This article was originally published by Watchdog Mary on August 19, 2014,