Tuesday, March 29, 2011
Carmel on the Case: Heart Stick Worker Follow-Up
Tonight, the governor is being asked to assign a special prosecutor to look into Miami-Dade's Animal Services Department. It follows a 7 News investigation into a worker using a painful method of euthanasia. Carmel Cafiero is on the case with the latest developments.
WSVN -- If you see the video, you probably won't forget it.
It shows the final moments of life for cats and kittens in the euthanasia room at Miami-Dade Animal Services.
According to the department's director, the employee is caught on tape using a painful and prohibited method of euthanasia called a "heart stick."
A barbiturate is injected through a needle that is put into the animal's heart.
Dr. Sara Pizano, Animal Services Director: "And this is the one I just showed you."
When we first questioned the procedure, Animal Services Director Dr. Sara Pizano told me she could see two instances where cats were stuck in the heart.
Carmel Cafiero: "That one, it just died."
Dr. Sara Pizano: "That was the other one I felt that I could see."
The worker denied it but was demoted.
Dr. Sara Pizano: "Well I didn't believe him, based on how quickly those two cats fell."
And now, 7 News has learned Miami-Dade Animal Services has no proof that worker should have even been euthanizing animals.
A spokesperson admits the department has no documentation he was properly trained, only saying a clinic supervisor "told" Dr. Pizano in 2006 that the worker was trained.
Jeffrey Weiner, Attorney: "It's shocking, and yes, I am concerned. I don't have answers. None of us do, because no documentation could be found."
Attorney Jeffrey Weiner has been an outspoken critic of Animal Services. He represents Grace Avila, who was an assistant in the euthanasia room and who blew the whistle on the use of the heart stick.
Grace Avila, Former Employee: "I heard screaming because of the needle size. You have to use a larger needle to try to hit the right spot of the heart chamber."
She was fired, but Animal Services says it had nothing to do with the controversy.
There was a demonstration last month in front of County Hall after Pizano told me she pulled the plug on the camera in the euthanasia room.
No more pictures. No more proof of what goes on behind closed doors.
Dr. Sara Pizano: "I'm not willing to give the public or the media any ammunition to really create any more negative impressions about this shelter."
Palm Beach County's Animal Care Department is also a large operation.
In the euthanasia room here, there's one camera going all the time, and work is underway to install a second camera.
Dianne Sauve, Palm Beach Animal Care: "Try as you might for things to always go smoothly, sometimes they don't, and when that happens, you want the ability to be able to go back and take a look at what happened and correct that problem."
Meanwhile, in Miami-Dade, authorities are dealing with a complaint from Jeffrey Weiner that the use of the heart stick constitutes cruelty.
Carmel Cafiero, Investigative Reporter: "You're convinced that this was a cruel act and a violation of the law?"
Jeffrey Weiner: "Yes, ma'am. I am absolutely convinced of that."
Carmel Cafiero: "Since Animal Services investigates cruelty complaints for the Miami-Dade State Attorney's Office, it says the heart stick complaint should be investigated by an outside agency, and that is why the State Attorney has asked the governor to appoint a special prosecutor."
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