Dismiss all charges against Clay Lerch (of Warren Co. Humane Society). Punish violation of animal cruelty laws instead of punishing those who attempt to uphold the humane treatment of animals.
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As a former veterinary assistant and lifelong friend of dogs, my heart was seized when a friend shared this story with me. A founder of the Humane Society of Warren County, Tennessee, got a call last week about a purebred boxer chained for weeks behind a vacant trailer that had been abandoned by previous renters. Clay Lerch of the Humane Society got permission from the property owner and then entered the yard. The chained-up boxer had a bullet wound in his hip, a cancerous tumor on his penis, a broken leg, shoulder injuries, parasite infestation, and was emaciated and covered in dried blood. Mr. Lerch took the dog to the vet. The next day, Clay Lerch got a call from a man living more than ten miles away who claimed the dog was his. Mr. Lerch asked for proof of ownership, such as photos or vet records, and the man did not provide any. Instead, the man reported to police that the Humane Society stole his dog. Clay Lerch was arrested on February 28, 2014 and arraigned on March 4, with a court date set for March 18. I have rescued many dogs myself, and my efforts have always been met with praise and support. I am stunned that this Humane Society worker was sent to jail for doing what people in his field of work routinely do everywhere, every day.
In Warren County, it is unlawful to abandon, neglect, or abuse an animal, but enforcement of those laws is virtually unheard of. On the contrary, shooting, beating, and starvation of pets is shockingly commonplace and without legal consequences. As I looked further into this troubled county, the evidence emerged that the only people who get punished in such cases are the rescuers. The county government-run Warren County Animal Shelter is locally known for failing to intervene in matters of animal cruelty, abandonment, and neglect. In fact, they're notorious for mistreating animals themselves. Last year, a private non-profit dog rescue (not affiliated with the Humane Society) rescued more than a dozen dogs from the county-run shelter after receiving a tip that those dogs were being starved. When the rescue group turned the matter over to authorities, the only call that the county's investigator placed was to ask the rescue group the name of the person who had blown the whistle. That was just one event in a long pattern of complaints against the government-run animal control shelter, including a 2010 incident in which a litter of puppies was found living in a sewage drain under the shelter. The Humane Society rescued the puppies, and the animal control shelter subsequently stopped allowing the public to view its facility. Clay Lerch also made headlines in 2011 (for seizing two great danes that were each 50 pounds underweight, riddled with worms, and had digestive tract blockages from eating walnut shells, which a judge ordered Lerch to return to their "rightful owner") and for trying, to no avail, to persuade local authorities to investigate a series of beatings and shootings of pet dogs and other domestic animals, found dead in the streets and yards of Warren County in the summer of 2012. One of those dogs did not die, even though someone had beaten her and put a gun into her mouth before shooting, which caused the inside of her throat to explode. Clay Lerch saved her, and she recovered and today is a loving, happy friend. A Warren County sheriff's deputy was dismissive, stating that the perpetrator probably "was just shooting the mean out of her."
Let's make it clear that this situation is unacceptable. Clay Lerch did not steal a dog. He rescued a dog. He rescues dogs all the time, because it is his job, his passion, and the right thing to do. The man who claimed that the boxer in these photos is his dog but provided no proof is, at best, lying. Or, at worst, he is telling the truth, which makes him legally responsible for the treachery and suffering the dog has endured. Clay Lerch and other animal shelter owners and employees of Warren County, Tennessee, have stepped up to intervene because the local authorities in charge of investigating animal cruelty cases are completely neglecting their duties. Instead of arresting Mr. Lerch, Warren County should be rewarding him. Its citizens attest that Mr. Lerch is an outstanding person, and they want the mistreatment of Warren County's animals and animal advocates to end.
WHEREAS Warren County Animal Control has consistently violated its own rules and regulations for proper intervention in animal cruelty cases and for care of animals in its custody under Articles IV, IX, and XXI;
WHEREAS Warren County Animal Control Rules and Regulations Article XV makes it unlawful for any person to neglect or abandon an animal;
WHEREAS Warren County Animal Control Rules and Regulations Article XX makes it unlawful for any person to overdrive, overload, torture, torment, deprive of necessary sustenance, cruelly beat, or needlessly mutilate or kill an animal, or to cause or procure an animal to be overdriven, overloaded, tortured, tormented, or deprived of necessary sustenance, or cruelly beaten or needlessly mutilated or killed; and
WHEREAS Warren County, Tennessee, has a rampant incidence of citizens violating the above laws without facing any consequences whatsoever;
WHEREAS Clay Lerch of the Warren County Humane Society has repeatedly faced legal sanctioning and arrest when following every letter of the law in a sincere and admirable attempt to uphold the legal requirement for the humane treatment of animals;
WHEREAS local government authorities have explicitly accused Clay Lerch and other concerned shelter owners and employees of theft of dogs for intervening in cases that unequivocally met the legal definitions of "abandonment," "neglect," and "cruel, inhumane acts;"
BE IT RESOLVED that we, the undersigned, call for the immediate release of Clay Lerch from authorities' custody and the dropping of all related charges. We call for authorities of both Warren County and McMinnville, Tennessee to uphold their duties in seeking justice in animal cruelty, abandonment, and neglect cases by holding the perpetrators accountable, including those perpetrators who are City/County employees. We consider the pattern of treatment against Clay Lerch and other animal advocates to be a form of harassment that must end immediately and permanently.
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