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With new allegations of animal mistreatment, a federal lawsuit and two investigations, there may be no better time to care about what's going on inside the Richmond Animal Shelter.

The Pound and the Fury

Robert Prine watched the Rottweiller wasting away.

The dog had come into the Richmond Animal Shelter healthy and robust, according to Prine, who was an animal control officer at the city-run pound. But each day the dog got skinnier and meaner. He was not getting enough to eat. Two weeks later, Prine says, you could see the dog's rib cage.

Hungry and desperate, the dog began to snatch for his food bowl. He snapped at workers until he finally bit one.

"Seeing a Rottweiller come in happy and healthy, two weeks later you can see his bones ..." Prine says, his usually continuous-stream speech pattern, in which words bleed into each other, slows and halts "... And then having to chop its head off ..."


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After the biting incident, the dog was euthanized, and Prine says he was ordered by Senior Animal Control Officer Anthony Callahan to remove the dog's head for a rabies test.

This part of the story Prine tells with a lump in his throat that is almost visible. It looks as if he is tasting something bitter as he says, "I took it out back, laid it out there with its head on a log. They gave me a rubber apron, a face shield and a dull-ass ax." A half hour later he was still chopping just to break the skin.

"They thought it was funny," Prine says of some fellow employees, who stood laughing while they watched him.

For Robert Prine, at times, he must still feel like he is chopping.

Prine is one of five employees who in March alleged in a Style Weekly story that mismanagement at the Richmond Animal Shelter, located at 3540 Hopkins Rd., was so bad that both the animals and the employees were suffering. They said animals were being improperly euthanized, fed and medicated. That healthy dogs were being fed only every other day. That animals who were supposed to receive veterinary care routinely were not getting it. That animal control officers were not being properly trained and were being sent out into potentially unsafe situations.

In that article, Prine and the four others remained unnamed at their request. At the time, Prine thought he may have been delivering that final blow, the one that might clean things up at the shelter for good. But since the article, Prine has lost his job at the shelter and has not yet seen evidence that anything will change permanently for the better.

So he keeps chopping.

He's decided to come forward publicly just as the next chapter in the ongoing shelter saga appears to be coming to a head: Last week, U.S. District Court Judge Richard L. Williams found the city deliberately withheld a crucial document in a federal lawsuit brought by a member of Save Our Shelter (SOS) against shelter Program Manager Selina Deale and Anthony J. Romanello, a former health department official. In addition to the city attorney's office, which is working on the case, the city has hired two outside law firms to defend Deale and Romanello. (Style did not speak with Deale, Romanello or any of the city employees involved in this story because the city has designated its spokeswoman, Michelle Quander-Collins, the sole spokeswoman for all shelter matters.)

Meanwhile, the city is about to release the results of its internal investigation of the shelter and has spent $10,000 to hire the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) to visit the shelter for a three-day evaluation, which wrapped up last week.

After three years of criticism, controversy and contentiousness, the public appetite for the Richmond Animal Shelter story has ebbed and flowed. With each new development — the two dogs found alive in a pile of supposedly euthanized animals, the puppies falling down a drainpipe and drowning, a string of whistleblowing employees — the city would get another black eye, and sometimes call for another investigation. Public outcry rises sharply then fades into the background as other more important city matters come to the fore. But with so many factors converging at one time — the new allegations, the lawsuit, the investigations — there may be no better time to care about what's happening inside the Richmond Animal Shelter than right now.

Continue to Part 2

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