Euthanizing 55 dogs with guns on a rural Arizona property was the right decision for the circumstances, says the director of public health services for Navajo County.
Dr. Wade Kartchner tells New Times this morning that the dogs, which were living in filth with their human masters on a rural property, would likely not have survived the three-hour trip to the animal shelter because the county's cage trucks don't have air conditioning. Besides, the dogs would have been euthanized, anyway, he says.
"They made a decision in the field that I agree with," he says of the animal-control workers. Still, he adds, "it was a horrible incident."
PETA representatives called attention to the "massacre" in a letter to Kartchner yesterday, saying they wanted the incident investigated for possible criminal charges.
In the letter, PETA argues that "shooting can be among the cruelest methods of destroying an animal" and that Kartchner should have tried to contact the Humane Society.
"If it is true that these dogs were killed in a hail of gunfire instead of being individually examined and either treated, adopted, or humanely euthanized, it defies comprehension," says PETA Vice President Daphna Nachminovitch. "Law enforcement officers are entrusted to secure the safety of the community, so these allegations are deeply troubling."
Kartchner says the animals were left without someone to care for them after sheriff's deputies arrested Navajo County resident Edward Harvey, who had showed up at Mogollon High School in Heber with a loaded .357 Magnum. Deputies found the dogs after going to the guy's trailer home to search for more weapons.
The area where Harvey lived northwest of Showlow "is almost as rural as you can get," Kartchner says.
The man and his 17-year-old daughter lived on about a third of an acre, in a trailer with no electricity and no running water. For potty breaks, the pair simply did their business on a piece of plastic and threw it out the window, Kartchner says.
About 35 dogs roamed around outside the place, and 20 more were inside. The trailer's floor was completely covered in dog urine and feces.
Some of the dogs were feral and aggressive. County officials kept them at bay as the deputies pulled Harvey's weapons from the trailer.
When animal control officers went out to the property the next day, three of the dogs had died and were being eaten by their brethren.
A supervisor at the scene mulled what could come next: Try to round up the dogs with catch poles and risk being mauled by the pack. Put them in a cage truck to suffer in the heat. Or shoot them.
The decision was made, and the officials drew their guns.
"It took about 10 minutes to accomplish," he says of the euthanizations. "It was a fairly contained yard, and our guys are good shots."
A belligerent female dog was guarding a litter of puppies to which she'd just given birth a few days before. They were spared the bullets and loaded into a truck. As officials had feared, the mom and pups all died from the heat on the drive to the shelter.
Kartchner says he's been "getting a lot of phone calls" over the incident, and he's already talked to Kristin DeJournett of PETA's "cruelty investigations department." He wasn't able to make her see it his way.
"Their minds seemed to be made up," he says.
Chief Deputy Bernard Huser says the case began in early May when Harvey's wife, who lives in the Valley, got a court order for custody of the girl. She met her mother at her high school and was spirited away. Harvey showed up the school to pick her up and was arrested for carrying a concealed weapon, Huser says.
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Harvey admitted some dogs were "vicious" and that nobody would be taking care of them while he was in jail, Huser says.
Harvey's out of jail now, though.
"As far as I know, he's back on his property," Huser says.
[Pictures by Navajo County Sheriff's Office]