When BARC volunteer Nela Brown accused a kennel attendant with a long criminal history of punching a puppy June 9, she assumed the matter would be investigated and the man would be dealt with accordingly. After all, when another volunteer, Shelby Kibodeaux, simply said he heard what sounded like animal abuse at the facility in January, BARC promptly punted the complaint to the Houston Police Department's Office of Inspector General. And in that case, the OIG pulled video tapes and interviewed witnesses -- before finally deciding to arrest Kibodeaux for filing a false police report.
But in Brown's case, there was an actual eye-witness.
And she e-mailed supervisor Dorian Strickland, saying she saw employee Murray Bailey hit a puppy "on the head so hard that the puppy cried out in pain. [Murray] had opened the puppy's cage to feed it, and the puppy, with usual puppy enthusiasm, was dancing around in the cage and trying to play with a cardboard food tray that [Murray] was picking up....[Murray] yelled at the puppy to stop and then hit it on the head between the ears several times, which is when it cried out in pain and cowered in the back of the cage." In a second e-mail that day, Brown stated "If [Murray] denies this, I will be more than happy to repeat what I saw to whomever it takes to have disciplinary action taken."
But that's just what happened: Health and Human Services Spokeswoman Kathy Barton explained to Hair Balls in an e-mail today that Murray "states that the puppy bit him as he was trying to change out the food/water bowl. He hit the animal in order to free his hand. The employee was counseled and retrained on animal handling techniques, kennel operations and customer service. The puppy yelped, but there was no indication that it was injured." She also told Hair Balls that Bailey was transferred to a different kennel, where he could be closely monitored.
The thing is, we're not sure how much "counseling" some people need. In April 2005, Murray was convicted of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon and sentenced to four years in prison, according to court records. This occurred shortly after he was released from prison for yet another aggravated assault conviction, for which he received an 8-year sentence. Before that, he served time on theft charges he received in 1982, 1990 and 1991. In 1977, he was charged with resisting arrest after he was pulled over for driving while intoxicated. Other charges include prostitution, burglary, possession of marijuana, and, in the early 1970s, a parole violation. (Hair Balls has had trouble reaching Bailey today, but we definitely want to include his side of the story, if and when we hear from him).
So it's easy to see why BARC immediately believed Murray's story. Right?...Right? Is this thing on?
When we told Brown about Barton's explanation of what happened, Brown e-mailed BARC authorities the following:
This simply is not true. I was an eyewitness and saw what happened. I do not jump to conclusions. In fact, I was extremely disappointed in Mr. Bailey when I saw this because other volunteers had reported to me and possibly others that they had witnessed on several occasions Mr. Bailey striking the dogs and puppies. I urged them to report it, but each person said they did not think BARC would do anything and would probably kick them out as volunteers. I do not think BARC would have kicked them out as volunteers, but that is their perception. Why was I disappointed in Mr. Bailey (and me)? I was disappointed because I had greeted some of the other volunteers' reports with skepticism, and now it appeared they were most likely true. No one examined the puppy except me to see if it was injured.
Bailey now works in [the north kennel]. Two(?) days ago I witnessed him sitting at one of the computers in the book-in area in the back area of North where he was trying to enter info about and take a picture of a small, fuzzy, black puppy. The puppy had a cotton rope leash around its neck and had been set on the large scale to be weighed and have its picture taken. As it stood on the scales, the puppy was turned away from Mr. Bailey. Instead of getting up, taking one step to the puppy and turning it around, Mr. Bailey started pulling on the leash in an apparent attempt to turn the puppy toward him for a picture, which flipped the puppy over on its back. This puppy is well under 5 lbs and appears to just be starting to stand and walk on its own.
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Several weeks ago, Health and Human Services Director Stephen Williams told us that some employees were told to reapply for their positions. When we asked Barton about Bailey, she stated in an e-mail, "the reclassification of the kennel attendant positions occurred this week. Interviews for the new positions" -- which is now called animal care technician -- "will be soon. It appears that we have [kennel attendants], including the one you are asking about, that do not meet the minimum qualifications for the new positions."
Which brings us back to the comparison between the Kibodeaux and Brown accusations: One results in the complainant's arrest; the other results in no investigation whatsoever, and a slap on the wrist.
But don't worry. Bill White says he cares about what's going on at BARC. Williams said the same thing. Some City Council members have claimed, here and there, to care as well. Between a puppy being sucked down a drain to its death last week, and an employee with a history of criminal violence punching a puppy repeatedly in the head, Hair Balls has a question: We know it's not possible for city leaders to care any less about the animals in BARC's care; but could they maybe -- just maybe -- care a tiny bit more?
Update: Barton just told us that the dog was euthanized July 9, a month after the incident, because a veterinarian said the dog was "exhibiting signs of rabies." We're not sure why the dog wasn't vaccinated in the first place. And we're also scratching our heads because, if the dog had rabies, and it bit Bailey, wouldn't that mean Bailey might have rabies? If so, someone better get that man his shots ASAP...