Greenpoint Assemblyman Joe Lentol and New York City’s official animal shelter are in a heated back-and-forth after the organization euthanized an allegedly aggressive dog, which the legislator claimed was premature and inhumane.
“There is no reason to rush to euthanize right now,” said Lentol in a press release.
According to Lentol, Animal Care Centers of NYC — a non-profit that acts as New York City’s animal control and shelter system — put down a “friendly and healthy” five-year-old Labrador Retriever on April 8. NYPD patrolmen had found the dog roaming the streets and the officers had even offered to adopt the pup themselves if no one else claimed him, Lentol claimed.
The incident inspired Lentol to introduce a bill on April 29 halting the public and private shelters from euthanizing domestic dogs or cats for the duration of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Life has been disrupted and owners may be separated from their animals for many reasons, illness and death included, leading to complications within families and with their pets,” Lentol said. “At a minimum, we must give animals and families time to reunite.”
The only problem with Lentol’s widely-shared sob-story is that it is completely untrue, according to the shelter’s spokeswoman, who said the lawmaker’s bill is based on misinformation and that no one from his office reached out to them to verify any facts.
“We were very surprised by this tragic story because that’s not even close to what happened,” Katy Hansen, the organization’s director of marketing and communications, told Brooklyn Paper.
According to Hansen, the dog, named Thor, arrived at the ACC on March 20 after the NYPD responded to reports of a dangerous and aggressive dog, and struggled for several minutes to get Thor into their squad car.
Thor’s owners say they had called the police to take Thor away after a series of vicious attacks — contradicting Lenton’s claim that Thor was a lost dog.
“We tried for like an hour and a half to get him out of my van,” said the cousin of Thor’s owner, who requested anonymity to speak freely about the incident. She called the police after witnessing Thor “viciously” attack a family friend, she said. “He even lunged at one of the officers. I remember six police officers there trying to get Thor.”
The family had been looking for shelters to take Thor after he allegedly bit his owner and her 12-year-old son, but many refused him because of his behavioral issues, according to the owner’s cousin.
They then brought the dog to the home of a family friend, who was considering taking the canine — but Thor allegedly jumped on her, biting her once in her right leg and twice on her arm, forcing her to go to the hospital for a debridement after she feared the bite had become infected.
“That’s when I called the police,” the cousin said. “I’ve known Thor since he was a puppy, but he was dangerous — God forbid [the family friend] had fallen on the ground when Thor attacked her. He could have killed her.”
And when the officers brought Thor to the animal control shelter, they never offered to adopt the dog as Lentol had claimed, according to the ACC rep.
“We have the intake document record, signed by the NYPD when they dropped Thor off at our facility that doesn’t indicate that they were interested in adoption, not to mention they didn’t tell us that Thor had bit anyone,” said Hansen.
The agency had also not been informed of Thor’s biting history, said Hansen.
“That definitely would have changed how we handled him — because then he bit a staff member,” said Hansen, who stressed that the staff member could have been hospitalized, but chose to treat his wounds himself to avoid a trip to the emergency room during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Lentol stood his ground, however, saying “all of the people who were there” contradicted Hansen’s account, and the injuries were very minor.
“[It’s] not at all true that anyone was bitten,” said Lentol. “The dog nipped at the person at the shelter because someone was waving papers around or something.”
Hansen claims to have filed an incident report and photographs regarding the bite, but said the photographs will not be released to ensure the privacy of the male staff member.
After the incident, the ACC placed the dog in a ten-day Department of Health observational hold — which is a standard procedure for any animal that bites someone to be tested for rabies. After that hold, the agency made the decision to euthanize Thor based on his behavior and biting history.
“There are plenty of people who want to adopt animals during this pandemic, but this dog didn’t just bite once — he bit multiple times,” said Hansen. “Now more than ever with this pandemic going on, we are under heightened responsibility to make sure that the public is safe.”
Lentol responded to the ACC’s decision, claiming that no circumstances would justify putting down the dog given the current climate.
“Regardless of whether anyone was bitten or not, it doesn’t make any sense for the ACC to be euthanizing animals right now,” he said.
For their part, the ACC offered Lentol — a proponent of no-kill animal policies — a tour of their facilities to give him a chance to look at their treatment of animals up-close.
“ACC welcomes dialogue with Assemblyman Lentol and have extended an invitation for him to visit their facilities when appropriate,” said Hansen.
Lentol called his legislation to halt euthanizations, which is currently awaiting approval by the relevant Assembly committee, a necessary step to ensure that no innocent animals die unnecessarily.
“The policy I am advocating makes common sense and should not need to be legislated, but instead of just requesting that a government agency implement it and hope for the best, I believe state legislation is called for,” said Lentol. “My bill will apply to public, private, and non-profit animal shelters throughout New York State.”
The NYPD did not respond to multiple requests for comment on the incident.