JAMAICA, Queens (PIX11) – Ericka Leon couldn’t believe the words she heard over the phone.
“’Due to your dog’s medical condition, the vet saw suited that your dog be euthanized,’” Leon recalled being told by the city’s Animal Care Center shelter in Brooklyn.
Her 19-year-old French poodle Maltese named Leona went missing on March 12. By early afternoon, she was notified that Leona was on a missing flyer posted by ACC. Leon got in touch and it took an hour to verify that she was the owner.
“I was just like, ‘My dog’s dead?’ and they told me, ‘Yes,’ and that my dog was suffering and I asked them, ‘What is suffering to you?’” Leon said.
Paperwork from ACC notes that Leona was deaf, blind, had a heart murmur and had dental issues. The shelter is supposed to wait 72 hours before putting a dog down.
ACC told PIX11 News in a statement in part:
“While the stray hold period is three days, by law, if a licensed veterinarian finds an animal that is suffering and in a current state of decline, humane euthanasia is allowable before the stray hold period is up.”
Juan Leon, Ericka’s brother, believes the 72-hour rule shouldn’t have exceptions.
“These same rules that they’re supposed to follow, they seem to always have a very convenient loophole just to break those rules,” he said.
Leona was not microchipped and did not have her collar on when she was brought in, so ACC said they could not locate the owner. Leona was euthanized at 1:10 p.m.
New York City Council Member James Gennaro has written a letter to the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene overseeing ACC. He asked for a thorough investigation and called for ACC personnel to be fired or, if the investigation warrants, to be criminally charged.
“Our tax money goes to them to provide care and this is not that,” Gennaro said. “This was an execution and this is not the way the city should be providing these services.”
Gennaro said Local Law 18 requires a full-service shelter in each borough by 2024. The Bronx and Queens do not have one yet, but he said it would reduce capacity at the current ACC shelters in Manhattan, Brooklyn, and Staten Island.
Leona is now buried in Leon’s backyard – a place she once loved to be.
“It’s starting to get warm outside and I look at my backyard and it’s empty now,” Leon said. “Leona won’t be able to go outside and enjoy the warm weather.”
Ericka and Juan hope no-kill shelters will become more prevalent.