Court documents: Charges filed against former CASP director, veterinarian

Published: Mar. 26, 2019 at 5:31 AM MDT
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UPDATE (9/24):

11 News has learned charges have been filed against the former shelter director and former staff veterinarian for the shuttered Community Animal Services of Pueblo (CASP).

Court records show Linda Mitchell and Joel Brubaker are each facing several misdemeanor charges of cruelty to animals-neglect dating back to Jan. 1 when CASP took over Pueblo city and county animal services. CASP has since relinquished its license and animal services are once again under the helm of the Humane Society of the Pikes Peak region.

This story is developing. Read our original coverage of CASP's closure below:


PREVIOUS (3/29):

Community Animal Services of Pueblo (CASP) has relinquished its license to operate the city and county animal shelter amid a state investigation into shelter conditions and high number of animal deaths.

A number of people went to the shelter Wednesday afternoon in an attempt to adopt the animals impacted. The shelter doors were closed and adoption was not an option.

Fourteen animals have died since PAWS for Life, which operates CASP, took over animal services from the Humane Society of the Pikes Peak Region. The contract with PAWS started Jan. 1 and was intended to run through 2021.

CASP said the decision to forfeit its license was made by a board of directors following a failed inspection by Pet Animal Care Facilities Act (PACFA) and the inability to replace staff veterinarian Joel Brubaker in a timely manner. Brubaker was fired last week, while the shelter manager was placed on suspension.

Troubling allegations against CASP under investigation by the state were revealed during a county commissioners meeting Tuesday. For the first time since the county confirmed the investigation, shelter officials publicly answered commissioner questions.

Among the allegations disclosed Tuesday:

  • Overcrowded living areas for cats
  • Damaged animal structures
  • Improper quarantine of animals
  • Untimely care for animals (Commissioners specifically referenced a case where a dog was hit by a car, did not receive care for several days, and died on the fifth day.)

Wednesday, Pueblo County made the inspection report public. Among the violations cited by PACFA:

  • A plaxi-glass cat kennel door was cracked and there were sharp edges exposed that could have injured a cat.
  • Some of the cats had enclosures well below the mandated 6-square-foot minimum.
  • In some cases, there were two cats sharing one enclosure that was well below the mandated 6-square-foot minimum for a single cat.
  • Staff was not cleaning and disinfecting enclosures and cages as required
  • Healthy animals were sharing living spaces with animals being treated for/or suspected to have communicable illnesses.
  • A dog was brought to the shelter after biting a child and a woman. The dog was found not be current on rabies shots and placed in quarantine. A shelter employee ignored the quarantine and took the dog for a walk. During the walk, the employee visited a business, where a customer service representative was nearly bitten.
  • Several animals appeared to be neglected, in that they need veterinary care and had not been seen. Some were in poor condition/distress due to their ailments, yet records showed they had gone days or weeks without care.
  • Employees were not following medication schedules; reports showed some animals missed does.
  • During a scheduled follow-up on March 12, six days after the original inspection, the inspector says she "was refused access to the euthanasia log, other med logs, medications, and to the areas around the surgery room area where animals being treated for various medical concerns were being kept.
  • The full inspection documents can be viewed on the side of this article if reading on desktop. If on a mobile device, they will be at the very bottom of the page. More than 30 animals from the shelter are currently under the care of the Dumb Friends League in Denver. Prior to the announcement that the shelter was ending its contract, Interim Executive Director Lisa Buccambuso announced she was withdrawing from the position after less than 48 hours on the job. In a statement to media, Buccambuso said she felt conditions were worse than any one organization could address. "I had hoped to provide the leadership needed to allow CASP to run smoothly for the two to three weeks I was told I was needed for until their full-time director was in place, but I quickly witnessed that the need was greater than what I could offer and that immediate intervention needed to take place," she said. The allegations are under investigation by the Colorado Department of Agriculture. Brubaker is also the subject of a separate investigation by the Colorado Department of Regulatory Agencies, though it's unclear if this investigation is related. PAWS acting board President Kim Alfonso said there were a series of obstacles that kept popping up after CASP opened its doors. "Each time the board felt one problem was addressed as it relates to the care of the animals, another cropped up. For example, we brought in Fremont County Humane Society and were met with financial demands for salaries that far exceeded the industry standard and our available budget. We were also unable to obtain actual numbers of animals going through the Fremont County shelter which caused the board to question whether that organization could handle operations at a much larger scale animal shelter. After further review of our contract, we realized there was a clause that prevented us from contracting out services to any other entity without permission." Before CASP's announcement, Pueblo County commissioners were mulling cutting ties with PAWS and had scheduled a meeting at a later date to make a final decision. All involved, from city and county officials to PAWS stressed they wanted what was best for Pueblo County's animals. "The biggest concern of the Pueblo County commissioners is the health and welfare of the animals currently under the control of Community Animal Services of Pueblo," county spokesperson Adam Uhernik said in a brief statement last week. "Relinquishing our license is the fastest way for us to get care for the animals," Alfonso said.

Pueblo's history with PAWS For Life:

In a 4-3 decision in December, Pueblo City Council declined to renew their contract with the Humane Society of the Pikes Peak Region and opted instead to partner up with PAWS For Life.  Under the prior arrangement, HSPPR ran Pueblo's animal shelter, then known as Pueblo Animal Services. Under the new contract, PAWS ran the shelter, rechristened as Community Animal Services of Pueblo.