St. Louis County Animal Control admits mistakenly returning dogs to owner accused of abusing them

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ST. LOUIS (KTVI) — St. Louis County Animal Care and Control mistakenly returned two of three dogs to the person accused of abusing them, according to internal emails.

The county seized the three dogs in April.

According to the emails, “the puppies were in horrible shape — emaciated, malnourished” and “… one almost died.”

Yet the owner was allowed to pick them up. Another email said, “When the owner picked up his dogs today, he was witnessed choking them with the leash to put them in the vehicle. He picked them up by the leash, not using his hands at all.”

Annie Sandfort, who runs an animal rescue called “Diamonds in the Ruff,” was waiting to take them in.

“I told the worker we would definitely take them whenever they get off of stray hold or surrendered. They were both in terrible condition,” Sandfort said.

She rescued one of the three dogs because the owner had signed away his rights to it. That was Leo, who’s now healthy in the home of vet tech Sarah Gregory.

“He loves coming to work with me, which is fun. He’s just a great dog overall,” said Gregory, who explained that Leo was sick and skinny when she adopted him.

She said he quickly improved. “He is very hyper – loves his toys and everything. He is doing very well with us,” she said.

Sandfort was prepared to wait as long as she needed to in order to get the other two dogs, but since the owner didn’t sign them over, she was required to wait until the end of the animal violation court case against the owner.

“This kind of abuse doesn’t happen overnight. Arthur’s legs were splayed. His feet were in terrible condition. You could tell he had been malnourished. It was just awful,” Sandfort said, describing one of the dogs. “You felt bad you had to leave them there, but they were part of an ongoing investigation.”

Sandfort said, “I can’t get anybody to hold the people who did this accountable. (The dogs) should’ve never been allowed to be returned to his abusive owner and they should’ve done the checks they promised they would do whenever they started this.”

St. Louis County said in a statement:

In the case of three animals impounded on April 15, 2020, multiple staffers failed to follow the impoundment process before returning the animals to their owners. We are conducting an appropriate conversation about the expectations for this policy within the department. Currently, DPH does not have the authority to impound the animals again without new evidence of ongoing violations. To protect the animals and monitor their welfare, animal control officers have been instructed to perform welfare checks with photographs of all care, feeding, and condition.

Any violation of county ordinances will result in additional action by the department to protect the welfare of the animals.

Spring Schmidt, acting director, St. Louis County Department of Public Health

The county said current procedures are being reviewed “to reduce any further issues in the future.”

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