Witnesses claim Miami-Dade Animal Service workers abused dog

1 employee terminated, 1 on leave after alleged abuse

MIAMI-DADE COUNTY, Fla. – The county animal shelter is tasked with caring for neglected and abandoned animals, while also working to find the homeless pets new homes. What happens when those caretakers are accused of abusing the animals?

Local 10 News animal advocate Jacey Birch investigates why one employee was fired after a woman grabbed her cellphone and hit record as she screamed for help.

"You took a cart and hit him," Lisa Merkin said as she recorded cellphone video at Miami-Dade Animal Services. "I watched you. I watched you."

Merkin screamed accusations of abuse, claiming that the men were hitting a dog with a cart.

"You just whacked him with that," she said to the men. "I'm going to have Channel 10 up here."

And she did, inviting Birch to her home to tell us what she saw.

"The guy is pushing the cart into the dog and the guy is pulling on this thing. I'm screaming, 'Stop! Stop! What are you doing? What are you doing?'" Merkin said.

Merkin and her teenage son were at the county shelter last Thursday looking to adopt a dog.

"We were looking at the dogs -- the big dogs -- and we turn around and we see the people hitting and ramming the dog with the cart," said Tyler Visnich, a witness to the alleged abuse.

They said they were shocked by how two employees were treating the dog.

"They're supposed to be trying to help the dogs and they're not, they're hurting the dogs instead of helping them," Visnich said. "I wanted to go over there and punch the guys and tell them to leave (the dog) alone."

No violence was used by Visnich or Merkin, but they were armed with their cellphone.

"I took my camera out for a reason, and the reason was they were ramming (the) cart into the dog," Merkin said.

The Merkin family, longtime animal lovers, said they are still reeling from their experience.

"It's an animal shelter," Merkin said. "Your duty is to care for those dogs."

The Merkin family and Visnich are adamant that the dog was hit with the cart six times and suffered a bloody face.

"Do you think those Miami-Dade Animal Service employees were abusing that dog?" Birch asked Merkin.

"Absolutely -- 100 percent," she said.

"The dog was never struck with the cart," said Kathleen Labrada, the Miami-Dade Animal Service manager. "The cart was used inappropriately to encourage the dog to move forward."

The Miami-Dade shelter has its own video from a surveillance camera. In it, one employee is seen using a catch stick to control the dog and the other employee is using the cart to coerce the dog.

"They didn't strike the dog, but the manner in which they encouraged the dog to move is absolutely unacceptable," Labrada said.

Labrada said the employees broke protocol simply by the way they were treating the dog. For that reason Jose Rodriguez, the man holding the pole, was terminated.

Yosmiel Rivero, the man with the cart, has been placed on administrative leave.

The dog was not as lucky.

"The dog was euthanized," Labrada said. "His intake date was April 17 and his condition at intake was aggressive."

A stray dog has only a five-day hold and on April 23, the dog's days were up.

"Don't put the dog down," Merkin said she told the shelter. "Please, don't put that dog down. The dog is looking, he's panting, and I said, 'Don't put that dog down. I'll adopt that dog right now!'"

"Even though Lisa (Merkin) wanted to adopt the dog, that's not allowed?" Birch asked.

"Some dogs display aggression on the intake date, but it's just the change of environment," Labrada said. "It's a very stressful situation for any dog to be in. A lot of times they'll calm down after a day or two. This dog never did."

Based on the video, Merkin said she's not surprised.

"I believe the dog was taken out back there to be put down anyway, so it didn't stand a chance," Merkin said.

The employee who was terminated was fired because he was already on probation.

The employee on paid leave is still under investigation. Local 10 attempted to make contact with both men to hear their sides of the story, but never heard back.

Follow Jacey Birch on Twitter @JaceyBirch

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About the Author:

Jacey Birch anchors Local 10 News Mornings each weekday from 4:30 a.m. to 7 a.m. She is also proud to be the animal advocate for Local 10's investigative team.