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Updated: Tuesday, 16 Aug 2011, 6:46 PM EDT
Published : Tuesday, 16 Aug 2011, 3:58 PM EDT
GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) - Rosie the Dog was dead within minutes of being booked into the Kent County Animal Shelter.
Legally, shelters have to hold untagged dogs four days unless doing so would cause them "undue suffering."
Shelter workers quickly decided that Rosie "was found to be in a state of very serious suffering because of its numerous health issues, chronic health issues," said Adam London, the Kent County Health Department executive in charge of the Animal Shelter.
An internal report Target 8 Investigators obtained through the Freedom of Information Act said workers found Rosie to be moderately dehydrated, unstable on her legs, underweight with muscle atrophy throughout her body. Her owner, Linda Aardema, said Rosie was 17, the equivalent of 119 human years.
What shelter workers and London focused on was a large "grapefruit sized" tumor that touched the ground. During the length of an interview, London insisted on holding up a necropsy photo of the dead dog showing the tumor.
He contends that even without the tumor, Rosie would be a candidate for euthanasia . But, he said, "we may have been able to hold onto it for a period longer, but the mass is the most extreme risk to its health immediately."
London contends the tumor was in danger of rupturing and the dog bleeding out.
Her owner, Linda Aardema, disputes that. She said Rosie had the tumor for four years and that a veterinarian early on told her that it was a fatty tumor or a cyst that was unsightly but presented no risk to the dog.
They decided to leave it alone rather than subject the elderly dog to surgery.
Aardema said her family discussed Rosie's age and health issues and decided that she "still had quality of life." Rosie would euthanized only if she "lost her independence" and was unable to move around on her own.
"She just wasn't at that point yet," Aardema said.
Target 8 Investigators wanted to know more about large tumors such as the one Rosie had. Grand Rapids area veterinarian Dr. Richard Siegle said that he has seen several of them during his career.
"Most of the time these large pendulous tumors in older dogs are benign," he said. "They are usually not painful."
Dr. Siegle said he could not determine whether the Health Departments' London was correct in his assessment that Rosie was at immediate risk of bleeding out from her tumor because he had not seen the dog. But in general, he said, "most of the time it doesn't present a threat to the pet."
He also said that both the Animal Shelter and the Aardemas could be right from different perspectives because elderly dogs "behave much diffently outside of their own environment."
In other words, they may appear sicker at the shelter than they do at home.
"Pain and suffering is very subjective," Dr. Siegle said.
The tumor and its conflicting implications aside, Rosie the dog could have been saved if two other things had happened. One was a matter of chance.
If she'd been wearing her tags, the shelter says it would have called the family and returned her home. But her owners say she wasn't wearing her ID tags because they'd given her a bath the night before and hadn't put her collar back on when they let her outside.
The other thing is a matter of timing.
According to Kent County Animal Shelter records, a person trying to do the right thing found Rosie around the corner from her home on the northeast side of Grand Rapids.
That appears to have been just a few minutes after Aardema's son, Scott, let her out at 11:55 a.m. on February 23. Shelter records show they booked Rosie in at 12:35 p.m. Within nine minutes, a shelter employee was on the phone with the staff veterinarian making the decision to euthanize Rosie.
Around the same time the frantic family was looking for Rosie.
Linda Aardema told Target 8 she called the Animal Shelter around 12:40 p.m., about the time Rosie was arriving and the staff was deciding to put her down. Aardema said she worried that "if she goes to the shelter they're going to take one look at her and because of the tumor, they're going to euthanize her."
In her first call to the shelter, Aardema said, "I told (the shelter receptionist) she didn't have tags on. I said there would be no mistaking her if she came in because of her appearance.
Aardema was in tears, she said, and "I asked the lady 'Will you euthanize her when she comes in the door if she looks like this?' and the lady, almost disgusted that I asked, said, "That's absolutely ridiculous.' And I quote this, 'We are not allowed to destroy your property.'"
But within a few minutes of that call Rosie was dead.
"It's unfortunate that the phone call and the arrival of the animal happened almost simultaneously," said London. "There physically wasn't the time or the opportunity" for a message about Aardema's call to go from the receptionist to the animal care staff, he said, and called it a rare occurance.
Usually there would be more time for a message to get through, London added, rather
than "the five or 10 minutes that happened with this animal," suggesting that a message would eventually go from a call-taker to the animal staff.
In this case, however, the message was never delivered.
The staff member who made the decision to euthanize Rosie said she never heard from staff about Linda Aardema's phone call.
It was an hour after they put the dog down that she first learned someone was looking for Rosie when a family member showed up at the shelter.
The internal communication system of the shelter may not be set to ensure that kind of communication.
According to London, "our staff, our veterinarian and our animal care staff had no idea a phone call had been made. It's not our policy to communicate like that. People are told they can come in, have four days and are more than welcome to look in our kennels to see if there's an animal there that's theirs."
Linda Aardema is haunted by the fact that her Rosie died without her family being present. Through tears, she told Target 8 "she was by herself and we weren't there" and believes "they did this solely based on her appearance."
"I just don't want this to happen to anyone else," she said. "It was awful."