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No charges sought in dog deaths

BY LAUREN P. DUNCAN lduncan@paducahsun.com

Graves County Attorney John Cunningham says no criminal charges are warranted after he reviewed an investigation into the death of five dogs at the McCracken County Animal Shelter earlier this summer.

The McCracken County Attorney's Office received a letter from Cunningham on Monday summarizing his review of the McCracken County Sheriff's Department investigation into the death of five dogs at the county shelter. On June 23, five pit bulls or pit bull mixes were found dead in a building at the shelter used for quarantined dogs that had been seized by animal control due to aggressive behavior. Three other dogs kept within the building survived.

The same week the dogs died, a report was issued by the Murray State University Breathitt Veterinary Center in Hopkinsville. It showed the dogs died of heatstroke or exhaustion due to weather or temperature conditions. The building the dogs were housed in contained an air conditioning unit and fans.

Shelter director Ryan Brown completed an internal investigation in July. He found no employees to have been at fault.

The sheriff's department completed a separate investigation. The Graves County attorney was enlisted to review the sheriff's office investigation because a review by the McCracken County Attorney's Office would be considered a conflict of interest.

Cunningham's letter states no charges are warranted. He explained that he spoke to Detective Sarah Martin, who completed the investigation, and Lucky Pittman, who performed the necropsy exams on the dogs. Martin's investigation concluded that no intentional acts resulted in the death of the dogs and that there was no way to determine if the air conditioner in the building had stopped working because of a power loss or mechanical failure.

The letter explains Dr. Pittman's necropsy found that the dogs had not been poisoned or abused, but that they had been receiving proper care and were in "great physical condition."

"Dr. Pittman determined, based upon his examination, and the environment conditions of that day, the deaths were a result of heatstroke. Dr. Pittman stated he was working on his farm the same day and almost suffered a heatstroke himself," Cunningham wrote. "Dr. Pittman determined that an accident had occurred."

Cunningham explained that state law mandates that "intentional or wanton" conduct must occur to press criminal charges.

"Based upon the investigation of Detective Martin and the examination of Dr. Pittman, no such acts or conduct occurred ... At most, negligence might be inferred in this case, but not criminal intention acts."

Brown declined comment on Cunningham's review Monday because he had not seen the letter. Phone calls to McCracken County Judge-Executive Van Newberry and Deputy Judge-Executive Doug Harnice were not returned.

Both Newberry and Harnice recently met with Paducah officials and board members of the McCracken County Humane Society to talk about the possible consolidation of the county shelter and the Humane Society.

Contact Lauren Duncan, Paducah Sun staff writer, at 270-575-8692 or follow @laurenpduncan on Twitter.

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