Monday, 10 December 2018
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Cheyenne Animal Shelter backs off arming employees with pepper spray

CHEYENNE – The Cheyenne Animal Shelter Board announced Thursday the shelter was no longer considering plans to arm animal-care staff with pepper spray.

Instead, board members committed to less-abrasive alternatives for personal protection and “special training” for employees on how to safely handle animals.

Shelter CEO Bob Fecht first suggested equipping staff with pepper spray following a controversial biting incident earlier this month. He told the Wyoming Tribune Eagle it could be a lifesaving tool for an employee under attack by an aggressive animal.

But experts in animal care and control interviewed by the Wyoming Tribune Eagle in recent weeks decried the idea.

Law enforcement experts at the Humane Society of the United States said the spray was more of an animal control device that could backfire on an employee in a confined, poorly ventilated shelter kennel setting. Hud Darrah, a Cheyenne resident and former director of canine behavior and education at the Kansas City Pet Project, said the shelter should focus on training in animal behavior and defensive handling instead.

Board members seem to agree with the suggestions, saying in a news release they adopted alternatives implemented by interim shelter CEO Phil Kiner at their Wednesday meeting. The shelter will equip animal-care employees with citronella spray – a safer, less abrasive way to interrupt behavior used at the Denver Animal Shelter – in addition to water spray bottles and canned air, and offer staff “special training on how to safely and compassionately handle animals” next month.

The board is also forming a new committee to review shelter policies and procedures to determine where the shelter needs improvement.

The committee will include Darrah, a professional dog trainer in town, who attended Wednesday night’s board meeting.

Chloe Illoway also stepped down as board president, a title taken up by Tammy Maas, previously the board’s vice president.

The changes all come in the wake of outrage over Fecht’s decision to have a young dog named Tanner pepper sprayed the day after he bit an employee earlier this month, an incident that has prompted public outrage and calls for resignations.

“We believe that these steps are the first in a long process that will begin to restore the trust we’ve lost and help us refocus on our mission,” board member Tonya Hobson said in the release.

Darrah declined to comment Thursday, but city and county liaisons to the board seemed pleased by the moves.

City Councilman Rocky Case said he still wanted a national animal welfare group to review the shelter, but applauded shelter staff for suggesting and implementing necessary changes. “Big hat tip to them,” he said.

Laramie County Commissioner Ron Kailey found the extra training most compelling.

“I like the idea of that, to get somebody in that’s a professional that knows the ins and outs of handling aggressive dogs – that seems like the first step to me,” Kailey said.

Pressure remains for the board to do more to Fecht than a 60-day suspension in the aftermath of the spraying, though. A majority of the Cheyenne City Council, including Case, have said he should go, and tens of thousands of people have signed onto a petition calling for his firing.

“(Arming staff with pepper spray) was bad from the beginning,” said Alissa Cordova, who started a “Justice for Tanner” Facebook page and has organized protests against the shelter. “I still want Bob out, though.”

The board did not take any action in response to the Cheyenne Police Department recommending misdemeanor charges of animal abuse for Fecht and the two animal control officers who sprayed the dog and held him during what was initially described as a “training exercise.”

The release said that was because some board members were not there Wednesday night, and that the board would discuss the issue again next month.

The board voted last week to suspend Fecht for 60 days without pay after a vote to ask for his resignation failed.


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