Broward County orders investigation into Animal Care agency after Local 10 investigation

County computer system shows records were changed

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. – A day after Local 10 News exposed the possibility of Broward County Animal Care officials falsifying documents, a county administrator has called for a full investigation.

For five years, Broward County has made it a goal to become a "no-kill" county when it comes to euthanizing unwanted pets, and the numbers of animals put down appear to be dropping fast with the effort.

But now, there are serious questions about whether Broward County Animal Care Director Thomas Adair has been falsifying county records to help bring about that decrease and then changing them back after a public records request was submitted in a bid to discover the extent of the problem.

A well-placed source inside Broward County Animal Care told Local 10 News that Adair routinely alters computer records regarding the number of animals euthanized at the order of the county by changing the real reason for killing the animal, such as health reasons, aggression or "owner requested."

That's significant because pets put down at the owner's request are not included in the county's official euthanasia numbers, and the number of those owner requests has been skyrocketing.

For instance, in the last six months of 2014, owners requested that a total of 34 dogs and cats be euthanized, according to county statistics.

During that same time period in 2016, that number ballooned to 307 animals killed, an increase of 900 percent.

It appears that at least part of that dramatic increase is due to Adair and his underlings changing the records.

As a sample, Local 10 obtained 13 computer screen shots showing that Adair went into the county computer system days after the fact and changed the reason for euthanizing a pet to owner request, along with two others that were changed by Animal Care employees under Adair's supervision.

One example involves John Arthur, who looks after stray cats in his Hollywood neighborhood. He brought three kittens to Animal Care on Feb. 4 with the hope of finding them a new home.

Two days later, records show, all three were euthanized by the county for alleged upper respiratory infections, which was entered into the county computer.

County computer records show that three weeks later, on Feb. 27, Adair entered the computer system and changed the reason for all three deaths to "own req," or owner request.

"There is somebody who is fooling around the truth, which is wrong," Arthur said.

When questioned by Local 10 News investigative reporter Bob Norman, Adair denied changing the records for nefarious reasons. When Norman showed him an example of an altered record, he said, "I can't tell you why that on that particular record."

When Norman told him that it looks like he's altering public records, Adair replied, "I'm not."

"The obvious reason for you to change the records ... would be to make your animal control look better," Norman said. 

"OK," Adair said.

"Can you answer that? Is that why you did it?" Norman asked.

"No, I did not," Adair said.

"Why did you do it?" Norman asked.

"I was QC'ing the records, and that is not an uncommon practice," Adair said. 

"QC" apparently stands for quality control, or simply correcting false information, but the records indicate the changes themselves were false.

"He was going in and changing forms," animal rights activist Michele Lazarow, who is also a Hallandale Beach commissioner, told Local 10.

Lazarow learned of the records changes in May, and on May 25, she had an associate put in a public records request for all forms signed by pet owners asking that their animals be euthanized during the first three months of the year.

"I wanted the numbers for the owner requested euthanasia to match up to what the shelter was claiming that they were actually killing," she said.

Animal Care produced a total of 90 owner-request forms for January, February and March of this year, yet the county's own statistics show 125 owner-requested deaths during that same period, indicating that at least 35 forms were missing or didn't exist.

It gets worse. Computer screen shots obtained by Local 10 showed that Adair went into the county computer system after the public records request was received and changed the records he'd previously altered back from owner-requested to the original reason given.

"The cover-up is worse than the crime is really what happened here," Lazarow said.

When confronted with that evidence, Adair seemed flustered.

"There's also records in here that are the opposite," he said. "So they went from where they were originally classified as owner-request and now they have not been."

The day after the report aired on Local 10, Broward County Administrator Bertha Henry called for an investigation, while also suspending the agency's database quality control program.

Henry called the Local 10 report "speculative in the absence of all the facts, and harmful to the agency's many collaborative efforts to be a no-kill community for animals."

She added that Broward County employees have no incentive to manipulate statistics.

"Let's do a full investigation, uncover all the facts and then, if necessary, take appropriate action," Henry said in a statement.

Broward County Mayor Barbara Sharief is also interested in where an investigation may lead.

"We've downloaded the files so we can analyze where the changes were occurring," she said. “Broward County does not condone falsifying records. We take this very seriously.”