An Oklahoma animal shelter is under fire for its version of euthanasia: taking dogs out back and shooting them in the head.
Animal advocates in Bristow are petitioning the mayor to stop using gunshot as a form of putting down sick and unwanted pups, which activists charge are being dragged to a giant pit and blasted in the head.
Watchdogs say the city’s animal control officer, George Moore, was carrying out the exterminations behind the shelter—which is part of a water treatment facility—without the public’s knowledge and through a loophole in state law.
“It’s not humane, period,” one local activist, Beth Roberts, told The Daily Beast of the city’s killing methods. “The way he’s dragging them over, putting them in the hole first, then shooting them.”
“We need to eliminate the practice of shooting these dogs in the head. It’s barbaric. It’s not up to the times. People are outraged,” she added.
The small-town fight is pitting animal lovers against what Roberts calls a “good ol’ boys club” of Bristow’s city government. But it’s also an example of how Oklahoma and other Southern states are treating animal welfare.
Oklahoma is one of few states to still employ gas chambers to put animals to sleep—a method censured by the Humane Society of the United States and one that two Oklahoma state lawmakers tried to banish in 2014.
Roberts said she learned of the city’s puppy “euthanasia” after a shelter volunteer posted about it on a closed community Facebook group. After that, she says, a city worker who allegedly dug the death hole for Moore’s one-man firing squad provided her with more details.
The worker, who could not be reached by The Daily Beast, allegedly told Roberts he “was always the one to dig the holes and cover up the bodies when needed.”
Roberts said she was told Moore was employing a .22-caliber pistol to kill the canines—many of which were pit bulls. “Those are small,” Roberts said, referring to the guns. “It’s not something that ends their life quickly.”
“We know about this only because a city worker came forward,” Roberts told The Daily Beast. “The actual shelter is on a water treatment facility property. It’s not like most facilities. It’s not accessible to the public.”
“They can do whatever they want—it’s all hidden because nobody can drop in anytime,” she added of the controversy, first revealed this week by Fox 23 in Tulsa.
According to state law, towns of less than 10,000 are exempt from required euthanasia measures. Still, the municipalities are required to use an “acceptable, humane method,” which isn’t defined.
When reached by phone Wednesday, Bristow’s mayor, Leonard Washington, admitted the city—some 33 miles southwest of Tulsa—was dragging poor pooches to the back of the water treatment plant and shooting them.
“This is something that’s been a practice for 40 years,” Washington told The Daily Beast. “I don’t know why it’s a controversy … why such outrage now?”
Washington said the animal control officer—who runs the facility by himself—typically decides whether to take an animal to the vet for euthanasia or to use his gun to destroy it.
“Of course, you’re going to have costs when you take it to the vet,” the mayor continued. “If you got 20 dogs you’re going to put down in X amount of months, you’re going to incur a lot of costs. It’s a matter of how you want to deal with it.”
He said the gunshot euthanasia blowback “is growing legs for whatever reason” and declined to comment further.
Moore did not return messages left by The Daily Beast.
A public works employee who answered the animal control’s phone said, “Due to the sensitivity of the issue, we will be investigating the matter” and providing a response “at a later date.”
Roberts, who rescues farm animals, said she and fellow activists aren’t against euthanasia but they want to make sure it’s done “compassionately and humanely.”
She said she doesn’t want “the end of their life to be just as terrifying as when they were picked up and put in the shelter. That there’s some compassion for these animals.”
Meanwhile, the Oklahoma Alliance for Animals launched a Change.org petition demanding Mayor Washington only use a veterinarian for euthanasia. It had nearly 1,000 signatures on Wednesday afternoon.
“It appears that the city of Bristow has found a gray area in state law and is claiming exemption from state law because of their population size, but it’s not a socially responsible decision or a morally responsible solution,” Alliance board member Dana Gray told The Daily Beast.
“So many other forms of euthanasia are more humane … and help is available,” Gray said.
Several Bristow residents told The Daily Beast their requests to donate materials and food or to volunteer at the shelter were denied. They also said the animal control officer targeted pit bulls, giving them only one or two days at the shelter before exterminating them.
The Daily Beast could not reach Bristow’s city attorney or animal-control officer Moore for comment on this claim. Mayor Washington declined to comment further.
Ruth Steinberger, who in 2014 conducted a statewide study of municipal shelters, said she was banned from the facility last summer after she complained to the mayor about dogs going days without food or water.
The Bristow resident said the animal shelter fell apart that year, when the police chief who previously ran the shelter left for a larger city, and the public works department took over. She said the head of public works instituted the gunshot policy. This could not be confirmed be The Daily Beast.
“Half the dogs are not fed and watered on the weekends,” Steinberger told The Daily Beast. “Dogs freeze to death here, dogs die of heat here. It’s a symptom of the entire third of this nation: Oklahoma, Arkansas, Texas…”
“To me this whole thing is symptomatic of bad policies … that happen in chronic poverty in the U.S. The story of what happens in the South when everything is disposable while it’s preventable. It has to be a crisis before we devote money.”
Shyanne Ruffner, a stay-at-home mom in Bristow, said the animal control officer rounded up pit bulls in his truck last week and is “very prejudiced against and targets pit bulls specifically.”
In August 2015, Ruffner visited the locked shelter by appointment and Moore allegedly told her he would not allow her to adopt a pit bull she was interested in.
“I said, ‘How long do they usually stay there?’ He said pits are there one to two days, other dog breeds at least a week, depending on how he’s feeling and if it’s overcrowded or not,” Ruffner said.
Moore’s wife, who didn’t return a message left by The Daily Beast, took to Facebook this week to defend her husband against locals roasting him for allegedly shooting man’s best friend.
“In answer to some of your comments about the dog catcher yes I am his wife and yes he does put dogs down if he didn’t the pound wouldn't be near big enough,” Suzie Moore wrote on Feb. 1. “If the pound is so bad try to help fix it.”
She praised her husband for doing his job: caring for the pooches seven days a week and on holidays.
“So why don’t all you dog lovers do yours and just keep up your dogs,” Suzie Moore wrote. “And remember he doesn’t pick them up unless someone calls on them (probably your neighbor). And he doesn’t get just pit Bulldogs … and instead of starting rumors just call and ask him.”