CHEYENNE â The Cheyenne Animal Shelter Board announced Thursday the shelter was no longer considering plans to arm animal care staff with pepper spray, committing instead to less abrasive alternatives for personal protection and “special training” for employees on how to safely handle animals.Â
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 life-saving tool for an employee under attack by an aggressive animal.
A committee was later formed to study the issue and write policies and procedures before implementation.
But experts in animal care and control interviewed by the Wyoming Tribune Eagle in recent weeks decried the idea.
A law enforcement expert 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, and a Denver Animal Protection officer saidÂ the spray might not work on all aggressive dogs and make a bad situation worse. The Wyoming Tribune Eagle couldn’t find a national animal welfare organization with guidelines for use by animal care staff.Â
Hud Darrah, a Cheyenne resident andÂ former director of canine behavior and educationÂ at the Kansas City Pet Project, said the shelter should focus on training in animal behavior and defensive handling instead.Â
The board now seems to agree, saying in a news release they agreed Wednesday to adopt alternatives implemented by interim shelter CEO Phil Kiner. The shelter will equip animal care employees with citronella spray â a safer, less abrasive way to interrupt behavior used in the Denver Animal Shelter âÂ 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.Â
The committee will include Darrah, a professional dog trainer in town, who attended Wednesday night’s board meeting.Â
Chloe Illoway also stepped down as board president, a title taken up by Tammy Maas, previously the board’s vice president.Â
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.Â
“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,Â but city and county liaisons to the board were pleased to hear the changes.Â
“I think it’s a good first step,” City Councilman Rocky Case said.Â
Commissioner Ron Kailey found the extra training most compelling.Â
“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.Â
The board did not take any action in response to the Cheyenne Police Department recommending charges of animal abuse for Fecht and the animal control officers who sprayed the dog and held him during what was initially described as a “training exercise.”Â
The release said that was because some board members were not there Wednesday night, and that the board would continue to discuss the issue at a special meeting next month.
The board voted last week to suspend Fecht for 60 days without pay after a vote to ask for his resignation failed.Â