Bevin, agriculture commissioner sued over condition of Kentucky animal shelters

LOUISVILLE, Ky., (WDRB) – Kentucky has failed to properly manage and monitor animal shelters across the state, leaving animals in filth, lacking enough food and water, and suffering inhumane euthanasia, according to a lawsuit filed against Gov. Matt Bevin and Agriculture Commissioner Ryan Quarles.

Four Kentuckians, including animal activists in Louisville and Lexington, claim Kentucky did not monitor about $3 million in grants provided by the state to train workers and renovate and build shelters, according to the lawsuit filed January 3 in Franklin Circuit Court.

The suit also alleges Kentucky is not following laws intended to improve the care and control of stray and abandoned animals.

The plaintiffs include Michele Newtz, who founded a Facebook page called Fiona’s Legacy Continues and began working for shelter reform, and Julia Sharp, who runs a foster dog rescue near Morehead. The other plaintiffs are Angelika Kasey and Christina Tobin, of Louisville.

 Bevin’s spokeswoman did not immediately respond to an email.

Sean Southard, a spokesman for the agriculture department, said they are reviewing the lawsuit. 

"The Department of Agriculture has no inspection or enforcement powers, or appropriations, from the General Assembly for animal shelter standards enforcement," he said in a statement. 

Nolia Batey, an attorney for the women, said in a statement that, “the vast majority of Kentucky shelters are not in compliance with the Humane Shelter Law.  We are calling on the Governor and legislature to enforce the Humane Shelter Law enacted over ten years ago.”

A 2016 University of Kentucky study found that the majority of Kentucky’s animal shelters are not in compliance with current laws, in large part because of a lack of funding.

Only 12 percent of Kentucky’s counties meet current animal shelter standards under state law, according to the study.

In addition,most animal shelter personnel had not received any training on how to safely handle animals or properly take care of them, the study found. 

“These findings suggest that better dissemination of basic information is crucial,” it concluded.

The Kentucky Center for Investigative Reporting and WAVE 3 News reported last March that the state provides for no oversight, no enforcement and no consequences for violations of the law. County shelters are almost entirely self-policing, but their efforts are often inadequate, and sometimes indifferent, according to the report.

The lawsuit is asking a judge to force Bevin to “recommend” to the General Assembly this session or in a special session that legislators enact laws to obtain necessary compliance for adequate training, monitoring and enforcement.

Among the alleged violations by the state, according to the lawsuit: failure to properly segregate male and female animals; lack of basic veterinary care and humane euthanasia; protection from the weather; lack of food and water at all times; and proper maintenance of records and public access.

The suit says half of the animal shelters in Kentucky are in violation of three or more of the state's Humane Shelter Law requirements, including those dealing with overpopulation, insufficient work force and lack of personnel. 

In addition, the suit alleges that many of Kentucky’s animal shelters are old and poorly maintained and inadequate for proper use.

The lawsuit is also asking a judge to force the state to follow the current laws on animal shelters. 

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