Chron: Dogs overheat in city vehicle while animal control officer dines

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The Chronicle‘s Bill Murphy reports some truly disturbing news regarding the deaths of several dogs under the “care” of a City of Houston employee:

Eight dogs died last week after a city animal control officer who had picked up the animals left them in a truck without air conditioning on a day when the high was 95 degrees.

The officer told animal shelter officials that the air conditioning was running when she left the truck for 40 minutes to have lunch, but it malfunctioned while she was in the restaurant, said Kathy Barton, spokeswoman for the city health and human services department.

But officials at the city Bureau of Animal Care and Regulation were investigating whether she forgot to leave on the air conditioning because it was working when she returned to the shelter, Barton said.

“I do not believe we are dealing with a cruelty issue,” she said. “We are dealing with a mechanical issue or a human failure issue.”

The dogs were left in the truck Aug. 26, when the high at George Bush Intercontinental Airport was 95 degrees.

When the officer returned from lunch, the dogs were all “in distress,” Barton said. Two were dead when the officer returned to the shelter. The other six died that afternoon.

“It was a very unfortunate situation, and it just reinforces not leaving any living thing in an un-air conditioned vehicle,” Barton said.

The officer has been assigned to duties within the shelter while the investigation is conducted.

Frank Michel, spokeswoman for Mayor Bill White, said, “As soon as the supervisors found out what happened, the officer was removed from the street. There is an investigation. We will get to the bottom of it and take appropriate action.

Past experience (with the crime lab, of all places, where incompetence can also have life-or-death consequences) has shown that it’s nearly impossible to fire municipal employees for cause in this city. So we are not holding our breath that anything at all will be done if this employee is indeed found to have valued her lunch more than the animals entrusted to her care.

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