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‘I didn’t get to say goodbye’: Briarwood family searching for answers after ACC euthanized their dog hours after it ran away from home

Mar. 29, 2023 By Ethan Marshall

The Leon family in Briarwood had their 19-year-old Poodle-Maltese mix Leona disappear from their own backyard at around 11 a.m. on March 12 — but due to a horrific mixup, their beloved canine had been euthanized by the time they learned she had been found.

The dog was found by a good Samaritan at Smedely Street and Coolidge Avenue, less than two blocks away from the Leon’s residence. This good Samaritan then brought Leona to an Animal Care Centers of New York City (ACC) facility. By 1:10 p.m. that day, Leona had already been euthanized, despite the fact that she had been posted on the “Lost and Found” page of the shelter’s website shortly before then.

Leona’s loss devastated the Leon family, and left them — and Queens Councilman James Gennaro seeking answers. On March 27, they came together to call upon the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene (DOHMH) to investigate the Animal Care Centers of NYC (ACC) after its Brooklyn shelter euthanized a dog only a few hours after it disappeared from the home of its owners.

Additionally, Gennaro called upon the New York City Council’s Legislative Integrity Unit to ensure the city in on track to meet its mandated goal of a full-service animal shelter in every borough by 2024.

ACC

(Left to right) Council Member James Gennaro, Ericka Leon, Juan Leon and Bianey Areiza (photo by Council Member James Gennaro’s Office)

“I am absolutely appalled and outraged that ACC took it upon itself to kill the Leon family’s beloved dog, Leona, without cause,” Gennaro said. “By ACC’s own admission, Leona exhibited no signs of abuse or trauma. It was excruciatingly obvious this dog was loved and had a home, which is why ACC listed Leona on its own ‘Lost and Found’ webpage in the first place. Furthermore, the age-related infirmity that ACC contends that Leona exhibited – which the Leon family denies – does not even matter. Leona deserved to spend the rest of her days with her family. Instead, Leona was executed by ACC.”

On March 22, Gennaro wrote a letter to DOHMH Commissioner Ashwin Vasan, formally requesting that the agency investigate the incident. He also wanted to make sure Local Law 123 of 2018 is on track to achieve the mandated goal of full-service shelters in each borough by next year. According to Gennaro, more shelters across the city would result in the decrease in euthanasia rates, as there would be more space available for lost, stray and/or surrendered animals.

“ACC violated its own policy to wait a full 72 hours to give pet owners time to reclaim their pet, killing Leona within mere hours of her being brought into their facility – a facility that most ironically is funded by the Leon family’s own tax dollars,” Gennaro said. “There is no excuse or justification for what the Leon family has endured. ACC personnel need to be fired or, if the investigation warrants, criminally charged for what was done to Leona and I vow as the Council representative for the Leon family, to see this through and see that justice is done for Leona.”

According to Ericka Leon, she and her family believe that the ACC was motivated to euthanize their dog more by her age than the degree of suffering. She emphasized that it took her family less than two hours to track down Leona’s whereabouts, but by then the ACC had already euthanized her.

“They threw my dog’s medical conditions in our face as if we didn’t know that,” Leon said. “We were told by our own vet that our dog had these conditions but that she was still able to live a good life and we could enjoy her until her last moments and that’s what we were doing.”

ACC

Photo by the Leon family

ACC

Photo by the Leon family

According to ACC’s policies, they are required to wait 72 hours for a pet to be reclaimed before deciding upon euthanizing the pet.

A spokesperson for ACC stated that after Leona was brought in, she was seen spinning in circles and was wobbly when walking. There was no collar on her, as it had fallen off shortly after she ran away. Additionally, Leona was not microchipped.

A veterinarian conducted a physical exam on the dog shortly after she arrived at the shelter. According to the results from that exam, the vet said she was in a very debilitated state and suffering from progressive neurologic symptoms. In addition to being minimally aware of her surroundings, she was non-reactive to stimuli, weak and unable to stand for more than a few minutes before falling.

“The doctors at ACC do not take euthanasia lightly,” the spokesperson said. “It is their job to direct a course that is in the best interest of the animal. In Leona’s case, given her present state and in addition to all the other chronic, debilitating conditions she had (heart disease, blind, deaf and severe dental issues) the doctors believed her to be suffering. For dogs with serious medical conditions and especially those stemming from extreme old age who are in pain and suffering, it is the duty of veterinary staff to provide peaceful end of life care. This decision is not made lightly, but is always made in the best interest of the pet.”

While the spokesperson did mention that in these cases they try to scan the dog for identification that could potentially lead them to get in touch with the owners before euthanization, the fact that Leona didn’t have a microchip meant they had no way of doing so. Consequently, they said a decision had to be made in the most humane time frame. The spokesperson cited the New York State Agriculture and Markets Law, which states that an animal that is suffering needs to be euthanized before the stray hold period is over.

Ericka Leon feels there should be stricter laws when it comes to lost dogs being found by shelters. She believes that there must be a minimum period of time before a dog is euthanized by a shelter. She noted that she spent nearly an hour on the phone with ACC before being told that her dog had just been euthanized.

“We were well aware of her conditions and the responsibilities of taking care of a dog with those conditions at that age,” Ericka said. “I want no-kill shelters to be funded because their intentions are finding dogs a home and helping dogs. If shelters like ACC are going to exist, they need to make sure they follow their own protocols. All of this could’ve been prevented. People deserve their chance to find their dogs. My dog was my family member. I didn’t get to say goodbye to my dog the way that I deserved.”

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