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An account by Spencer's owner, Kim Gastineau

June 3, 2006
by Mary Lee Pappas

Spencer, a 16 year-old English springer spaniel belonging to Kim Gastineau, wandered out of his yard on Sunday, May 7, and was subsequently destroyed hours later at the Humane Society of Indianapolis. 

A half-hour after Spencer arrived at the HSI, Gastineau was actually there looking for him and assured that he was not there. An hour later, Spencer was dead.

Collar found on Spencer.Spencer was wearing a collar with a riveted id tag listing two contact phone numbers, yet Gastineau was never contacted about his missing pet.

Two days and two more visits to the HSI later, Gastineau learned the fate of his dog. Two weeks later on Sunday, May 21, at 4 P.M., Martha Boden, executive director of the HSI, returned Spencer's collar to him stating, "Is this what you were expecting?" She had called him only a half-hour before to relay the time and location for this exchange in a Walgreens parking lot. 

How could this happen?

The HSI maintains that they euthanized Spencer out of compassion stating in a press release on their website (dated May 9 though referencing a Fox 59 report on May 11, 2006 and a NUVO report May 24, 2006) that, "The dog was in severe pain," and that they found a softball sized tumor under his tail and blood coming from his rectum.

Boden stated that the dog was, "In so much pain that the staff who took him in couldn't even complete the physical exam," and " The focus was on the dog and the very severe pain he was in as a result of his advanced illness ."

No veterinarian had examined Spencer at the HSI before staff made the decision to destroy him.

They have, however, admitted doing it without any attempt to contact Gastineau. Admission aside, details regarding why Spencer's euthanization don't hold.

But did the HSI see his collar and ID or not?

"In their anxiety over the dog's condition, they did not see the tag bolted to his collar," Boden stated in a letter to a concerned citizen forwarded to Gastineau.

In another statement by Boden to NUVO ("Lost Dog Killed by Mistake," May 24, 2006, viewable at http://www.nuvo.net/archive/2006/05/24/lost_dog_killed_by_mistake.html ) she said, “After checking for a microchip or collar tags, which were not found, the dog was humanely euthanized Sunday evening.” Cassie Hall, HSI director of development, in the same story said, “They were so concerned with the pain the dog was in that they overlooked the collar."

According to the HSI press release, “Humane Society CEO Martha Boden has conveyed to the owner how terribly sorry she is that HSI staff didn't see the tag and attempt to contact the owner before the dog was humanely euthanized.”

According to an email statement from Gastineau, the HSI, "Insisted that he had no collar and no identification at all when he came in and that he was an obvious stray." He was also told by HSI staff that Spencer had been hit by a car and could not walk.

Spencer had no fleas, no ticks, no mats, was a healthy weight, and had been to the groomer the Thursday before. 

Two weeks prior Spencer had been diagnosed with cancer - a golf-ball sized tumor, but, "He was responding well to the medication and was active and not in pain," Gastineau relayed. 

A necropsy at the 86th St. VCA, by Spencer's vet who had diagnosed him, confirmed that the cancerous growth was golf ball sized, that bleeding had not occurred, and that Spencer had not been hit by a car.

The time line

On May 7 at 3 P.M., a neighbor of Gastineau's called him (having read the id plate on Spencer's collar) and left a message saying that Spencer had wandered into her yard. She didn't leave a phone number, but only lived about 30 yards away. When Gastineau arrived, Spencer had already wandered off as that neighbor failed to close her gates. 

Spencer then wandered into another neighbor's yard in view of his own. This neighbor, Mrs. Lee, called Gastineau also (having read the id plate on Spencer's collar) only to get his voice mail because he was out looking for his dog. She didn't leave a message, but instead took Spencer to the HSI at 4 P.M. and reported that he was in good health.

In Gastineau's words he said Lee, "Was promised by the Humane Society that they would contact me so I could come and get my dog...They told (the neighbor) that for this service it would cost her $20.00 which she paid. They at no time told her that the dog would be killed or that there was even the remote possibility of that occurring. She left the Humane Society of Indianapolis confident that Spencer would receive the best of care and be returned to me. She left him there with his collar on him, my name and phone numbers inscribed on a large brass plaque conspicuously riveted to the collar." 

Gastineau arrived at the HSI at 4:30 P.M., a half hour after HSI's closing time, but their "Intake" door was still open.

"I told them (HSI intake staff) about Spencer, showed them his picture," he explained. "After a moment or two they assured me that he was not there."  He was then told to check the HSI website for his dog. But since the HSI doesn't document animals they euthanize on their web, he would never find Spencer there.

Gastineau continued his search by walking ditches and creeks, and scouring his neighborhood through the night.

He returned to the HSI Monday and was again told by HSI staff that Spencer was not there and to check their website which he had done to no avail.

Gastineau decided to take Dodger, his French Brittany, out to track Spencer.

According to Gastineau, Dodger lost his sent at the house belonging to the neighbor who had taken Spencer to the HSI.

Tuesday morning he returned to talk to neighbors in his search and for a third time returned to the HSI. 

"Again, I had his picture. This time a lady said to fill out a form and she would take his photo and the form and post it on their board.  I was sobbing and broke down," Gastineau relayed.  

He posted flyers around his neighborhood leaving them on cars, in doors, and in newspaper boxes. "I knocked on doors and rang bells and talked to everyone I could talk to asking them about Spencer," he said.

Then at 5 P.M. he received a call from an HSI employee who saw the post for Spencer. She relayed that Spencer had been destroyed on Sunday at 5:30 P.M., only 90 minutes after he had been brought in by the neighbor and a mere hour after Gastineau had been there looking for him.

From pain to kill?

The HSI didn't think they had Spencer's body to return to Gastineau. He demanded it and to speak with an HSI official.

He was taken into a room where he was met by two employees, a man and a woman. According to a grieving Gastineau, " They insisted that he had no collar and no identification at all when he came in and that he was an "obvious stray"...They said he was dirty, matted and obviously not anyones pet...I informed him that he had just been groomed and at his vet on Thursday. He weighed 43 pounds, well nourished...He was a pure bred English Springer Spaniel, highly trained knowing all basic commands, - sit, down, shake, speak - not to mention he was a hunting dog knowing every field command possible not only verbal but all hand signals. He was not an "obvious stray" in any sense of the word."

"I told them he was 16 and had cancer and a tumor on his right rear side and a "mass" as his vet described below his rectum which had at times could get raw and bloody but which I washed and put antiseptic cream on. He always let me doctor it and it was not overly sensitive or painful for him. His vet had seen him on Thursday and put styptic powder on it and said he was doing well and not in pain. They said that he was in excruciating pain when brought in and that the tumor had ruptured." 

When Gastineau told them their excuses were unacceptable, "The lady in the room told me she would not tolerate my tone of voice." She then told him Spencer had been disposed of.

"I asked how do we get from "he was in pain" to let's kill him?" Gastineau said. "They said it was my fault," that Spencer died because they claimed he had no id," he continued. Gastineau said he wanted to see the intake papers on Spencer and find out who brought him in to confirm the condition they reported. They refused.

He wanted to see paper work ordering pick up for euthanized animals and what day of the week this occurred to no end, but was then told Spencer was cremated. After saying, "You find my dog or I'll tear this place apart until I do!" Gastineau was presented with a large plastic bag containing Spencer. 

He then asked to speak with Boden who offered to pay $100.00 towards Spencer's cremation at Pet Angel in Carmel.

Gastineau questioned her about HSI policies including identifying animals on their website where Spencer never appeared. He wrote down what he says Boden relayed to him then which was, "We do not want the public to know that we euthanize animals and will not keep documentation or pictures available to the public of the ones we do. We depend on the fees we charge for animals dropped off here and if they knew they were being euthanized people simply would not bring them here."   

Gastineau maintains that this is an actual quote. "I will swear under oath. I wrote the exact words down right after she said them to me."

The next evening Gastineau received a phone call from his neighbor, Mrs.Lee.  She had received one of his flyers about Spencer being lost and called to tell him that she had safely delivered him to the HSI that Sunday at 4 P.M. . 

"I am still emotionally and physically exhausted from the events," Gastineau said. 

[About the author: Pappas is an award winning journalist specializing in investigative reporting about animal welfare issues in Indianapolis, Indiana. "Blood Sport," her story on dog fighting in Indianapolis published by NUVO, Indianapolis' local alternative weekly, remains that paper's top issue in its 16 year history and  garnered Pappas a first place investigative award from the Society of Professional Journalists. It can be read at www.nuvo.net/archive/2004/06/02/blood_sport.html. Two other award winning pieces include "Dead Meat, Indiana role in the horse slaughter industry"  found at www.nuvo.net/archive/2005/08/03/dead_meat.html, and "Feral Felines" found at www.nuvo.net/archive/2003/10/22/feral_felines.html. Pappas shares her home with four cats and is a volunteer with IndyFeral which she learned about while writing "Feral Felines."]