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Harrisonburg animal shelter says euthanization came after 'miscommunication'

The foster orientation will be from 5 p.m. to 6 p.m. on Feb. 15 at Anicira's new location, 1992...
The foster orientation will be from 5 p.m. to 6 p.m. on Feb. 15 at Anicira's new location, 1992 Medical Ave in Harrisonburg.(WHSV)
Published: Feb. 4, 2020 at 5:57 PM EST
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UPDATE (Feb. 5):

After a foster animal with Anicira was put down on Monday, the foster caregiver said she is heartbroken and will never work with Anicira again.

Olivia Heatherly had been taking care of Tilly, a 1-year-old Border Collie mix, for just a little over three weeks when she was told to bring the foster dog back in.

Heatherly said knowing Tilly had heartworms, she thought it was maybe for an emergency. She said Anicira then took Tilly away from her and notified her they were putting Tilly down because the dog had shown acts of aggression with a former foster family, including biting someone.

Heatherly said she never saw any acts of aggression with Tilly and even brought her home to her parents' house to play with their dogs.

After they explained the situation to her, she says she then asked if she could adopt Tilly.

"They said because she already bit someone that they couldn't do anything about it and it was their dog and it was their responsibility," Heatherly, said. "They mentioned that they could be sued, that they could be liquidated from the company and that it just wasn't an option."

She said she then fell apart. Having fostered ten other animals with Anicira and each one of those being a success, she never saw something like this coming.

"I mean, it's heartbreaking knowing a dog that could have had like a good life and a second chance, to just be killed for no reason," Heatherly said.

On Wednesday, Heatherly said she did receive an email notifying her that Tilly was euthanized and Anicira was sorry for miscommunication about the situation.

Heatherly said after this experience, she will no longer foster animals and would not like to associate with Anicira.

Cate Lemmond, the president and CEO of Anicira, released an updated statement on Wednesday in response to the situation.

Anicira now says the euthanization, which was due to previous aggressive behavior from the dog, came after miscommunication that involved them failing to follow their foster protocols.

Below is the updated statement:

“On February 4, Anicira had to make the heartbreaking decision to euthanize an animal in its care. Sadly, Anicira neglected to follow our foster protocols which was a mistake and one we deeply regret. We have since been in touch with the animal’s foster caregiver to express our condolences and apologize. We realize how painful miscommunication can be, and take very seriously this incident. We will be reviewing our procedures and policies and outlining corrective action in the case of failure to follow them. We are grateful to our foster families for the love and care they provide our animals, and it is our duty to keep them informed and safe, especially when there is difficult information to share. Anicira is committed to serving animals and our community through veterinary services, education, outreach, shelter, care and protection programs to help animals live healthy lives in a safe environment. Anicira helps to expand and increase respect for animal lives. We work each day on programs to save the lives of cats and dogs in our area. The decision to euthanize an animal for medical or behavioral reasons is always given significant consideration. In this case, the animal had attacked another animal and bit a human while being cared for in a foster home. Our euthanasia rate is very low. In 2019, Anicira euthanized five out of 540 (.9%) animals transferred from under-served shelters last year who were terminally ill, had a poor quality of life, or were deemed unsafely aggressive. The adoption program follows industry best practices based on a lifesaving model and will continue to do so.”

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A Facebook post on Tuesday about a dog at risk of euthanization quickly spread across the Shenandoah Valley and beyond.

The original public post, by Olivia Heatherly, alleged that she was fostering a dog for Anicira Adoption Center, a Harrisonburg pet adoption center and veterinary clinic, when she was told to bring the dog, named Tilly, in for an emergency.

Heatherly, in her post which has since been shared over 500 times and resulted in a number of messages to WHSV as well as a multitude of calls to Anicira, said she was unaware that Tilly had bitten a person before she took over foster care of the dog, but that Anicira planned to euthanize Tilly due to that previous behavior.

By the end of the business day on Tuesday, the woman who fostered Tilly before Heatherly said Tilly had been euthanized due to that earlier incident.

A little after 5:30 p.m., Anicira issued the following public statement addressing the situation and community response:

Anicira is committed to serving animals and our community through veterinary services, education, outreach, shelter, care and protection programs to help animals live healthy lives in a safe environment. Anicira helps to expand and increase respect for animal lives. We work each day on programs to save the lives of cats and dogs in our area. The decision that is the subject of recent Facebook posts was not made lightly. While we understand that dogs that can be dangerous or aggressive may not behave this way all of the time, we had to make the heartbreaking decision to let this animal go peacefully after it attacked another animal and bit a human while being cared for in a foster home. Anicira maintains a high level of commitment to our neighbors in our service areas. We will not knowingly risk public safety by sending an animal with a history of aggression out into our community. The decision to euthanize an animal for medical or behavioral reasons is always given significant consideration. A life-saving meeting is held to review the details of each individual case to determine if all other options have been explored. In 2019, Anicira euthanized 5 out of 540 (.009%) animals transferred from under-served shelters last year who were terminally ill, had a poor quality of life, or were deemed unsafely aggressive. The adoption program follows industry best practices based on a life saving model and will continue to do so. The Anicira Team

In 2017, Harrisonburg community members

to call for Anicira to become the city's primary shelter due to its no-kill policy, instead of the Rockingham-Harrisonburg SPCA. The council ultimately rejected that request due to space available, among other concerns.

No-kill is usually defined as saving all healthy, treatable animals. This means a higher than 90 percent save rate. Euthanasia is reserved only for animals with irremediable suffering or that present a danger to the community.

WHSV is continuing to follow this story and will speak with the dog's foster family in an interview on Wednesday.

Yesterday I was told to bring my foster Tilly into Anicira for an emergency and was not given any further explanation. I...

Posted by Olivia Heatherly on Tuesday, February 4, 2020