DENVER — When you think of the Humane Society, you picture a place where animals up for adoption are given a second chance at life. But a FOX31 Denver investigation found one Colorado shelter has been cited for 11 critical violations within two months by state inspectors.
The Colorado Department of Agriculture, the state agency in charge of regulating animal shelters, cited the Humane Society in Fremont County in June and July 2013 for poor record keeping, animals being euthanized incorrectly and lost pets being put down before their owners were given a chance to reclaim them.
“I think we should call it the house of horrors,” said former volunteer Laura Ornelas.
She spent a year at the shelter located in Canon City, southwest of Colorado Springs.
“It was different than anywhere I have seen,” Ornelas recalled.
The certified animal trainer was in charge of taking pictures of dogs and cats up for adoption, but she says her snap shots quickly turned into documenting the poor treatment of animals.
“I saw animals that needed medical care that didn’t get medical care,” she said.
Her photos are being used in an investigation by the Colorado Department of Regulatory Agencies, the department that licenses veterinarians.
DORA is looking into whether the staff veterinarian, Dr. Michael Gangel, provided inadequate care for dogs and cats at the Humane Society.
“I saw neuters not done properly,” said Ornelas.
She provided FOX31 Denver several pictures of dogs that had neuter procedures by Gangel. She claimed those photos, which show dogs bruised and bleeding days after surgery, are a result of botched operations.
“They had to know that was not standard for dogs to bleed out after surgery,” she said. “I personally saw at least five dogs that had horrible complications from their neuter surgery.”
Ornelas claimed at least one terrier mix, named ‘Yoda’, died after complications for the basic neuter surgery.
“I try to do my job. I wish some of those had been better, I do,” Gangel said.
He insists the claims by former volunteers are “trumped up,” but he admitted two of the dogs had problems after the surgery.
“They took them to a vet when I was away. I had other things to take care of. Next week they were fine,” he said.
Volunteers said the only reason those two dogs survived is because they begged the Humane Society staff to allow them to get outside veterinarian care for the wounded animals.
Gangel sent his response to the Colorado Veterinarian Board last year when they began investigating the claims against him. His response and the board’s investigation remain sealed until a decision is made at the next board meeting. That happens Thursday.
The board could vote to revoke Gangel’s license, suspend him or do nothing and allow him to continue to practice veterinary medicine in the state. Gangel said he expects the board to allow him to keep his license.
The allegations against Gangel’s surgeries are only one issue the Humane Society of Fremont County is facing.
An unscheduled inspection by the Colorado Department of Agriculture found he was absent many times when animals were euthanized.
Inspection reports from July 2013 found an employee “was allowed to perform the procedure unattended despite her lack of training.” The unannounced inspection also found injured animals were not always given medical care in a timely manner.
Another volunteer, Veda Overy, told FOX31 Denver she saw workers spraying down kennels with high pressured water while dogs were still inside their cages.
“A lot of times the dog’s paws got red and irritated from that because they weren’t removed,” Overy said.
State inspectors backed her story. The July inspection reported an employee admitted the shelter didn’t remove dogs to clean kennels.
Overy, who volunteered at the shelter for two years, said it was especially bad for puppies who didn’t know to get out of the way. She said the wet dogs would be left in their kennels, shivering until they dried off.
After being scrutinized by the media, the Humane Society board hired an outside spokeswoman to handle public relations for the Fremont County shelter.
Deb Muehleisen told FOX31 Denver that all issues have been addressed and corrected, but when we pressed for more specifics, she had a hard time answering many of our questions.
“Certainly we are devastated by the charges there’s no if’s and buts about that. We immediately put a plan in place with significant changes to turn our shelter around,” Muehleisen said.