Pet owners say Broward County tricked, pressured them to sign animal death warrants

Broward County Animal Care under investigation for records falsification

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. – Artie McElroy and her husband, James, adored their dogs Cookie and Chocolate, but with James dying of cancer, the couple couldn't care for them anymore.

"I loved them," Artie McElroy said. "They slept in the room with me at night."

But she and her husband agreed to turn them over to Broward County Animal Care in January when they started racking up fines because the dogs would get loose in their Hollywood neighborhood.

McElroy said she hoped good homes would be found for the dogs, sisters who were 2 year old and in good health.

"We didn't know they were going to really put them to sleep," she said.

But that's what happened.

After the couple surrendered the dogs to an Animal Care officer, a final photo was snapped by the county of the dogs and the officer wrote identical notes for both dogs, claiming they were "unsocialized" and "people aggressive" and that it was the dogs' owner who requested they be killed.

"We wouldn't have request that," Artie McElroy said. "You can see we loved the dogs, although we couldn't take care of them, but we loved them."

 The Broward Care intake form shows that James signed his initials next to a box with the cryptic letters PTS – which stands for "put to sleep."

McElroy said her husband didn't know what PTS meant or what he was signing.

She said James had her call Animal Care a few days after they turned over the dogs to see how only to learn they'd been euthanized.

Artie McElroy said James took the news especially hard before passing away.

"It was terrible after that happened," she said. "He's already sick, he's dying from cancer, so it's one of the things that helped take him down. It made him very sad."

 The McElroys aren't alone.

From a sample size of about 100 recent cases of so-called owner-requested euthanasia, Local 10 News found a dozen pet owners who denied the county's claim that they requested the animal die.

"I went in there hoping it was a no-kill shelter," said James Casterlin, who had to bring in his mother’s two 6-year-old cats due to moving out of the area. "To say I requested it, that’s wrong. I tried everything I could not to have them euthanized."

In fact, the Animal Care intake form involving Casterlin's animals doesn't include his signature authorizing euthanasia at all, so why Animal Care counted it as an owner-requested death isn’t clear.

Javier Perez said his healthy and happy 16-month-old pit bull Buddy was the best dog he ever had, and was especially great with his baby daughter, but he had to give up Buddy due to his large size and an out-of-town family emergency.

"It breaks my heart," he said of the day he took Buddy to Animal Care. "I was balling up in tears, man. It was my dog, you know."

 He said he too was hoping Buddy could be adopted out, but Animal Care immediately told him they were going to euthanize the dog.

"They say, 'No way, he's too big.' They said we're going to have to euthanize him," Perez said.
"That was the first and only option they said I have, so I said, 'No way.' I wasn't going to do that.'"

Perez said he demanded they give the dog a chance and that ultimately they agreed.

Instead, records show Buddy was euthanized the very next day by the county, which claimed Perez requested Buddy be euthanized.

Perez's initials can be found on the intake form, next to garbled writing that includes the letters PTS.

He insists he never knowingly signed for such a thing.

"They said they were going to try to find him another home," he said.

Some pet owners interviewed by Local 10 News said there were essentially tricked into signing animals' death warrants by the shelter.

Malva Thomas, of Miramar, said she couldn't afford to take care of her 6-year-old cat, Jamaica Lee, anymore and took it to Animal Care.

"I wanted the cat to get a new home," Thomas said.

 She said the shelter took her cat, but told her that it would have to be evaluated and that if it wasn't healthy enough to be adopted, she needed to sign the form to give the county permission to have it euthanized.

These cases come in addition to several instances exposed by Local 10 of now-former Animal Care Director Thomas Adair and other employees apparently falsifying computer records, changing the reason for euthanasia from health or aggressiveness to owner-requested.

A well-placed county source said there has been a push from the top to bring up those owner-requested numbers because the county is striving to make Animal Care a "no-kill shelter" and owner-requested deaths don't count against the total.

As it happens, the number of alleged owner-requested killings skyrocketed 900 percent from 2014 to 2016.

After the initial Local 10 report was aired, the county began its own investigation and Adair resigned his position, citing the allegations but denying wrongdoing.

"I did not, have not and would not attempt to improperly alter official records," he wrote.

The county investigation continues.