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Thursday, Apr 27, 2017
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Another mistaken dog death jolts Hernando animal services

BROOKSVILLE - Another dog was euthanized that wasn't supposed to be and now Hernando County Animal Services is bracing itself for another wave of criticism. A highly publicized and erroneous dog killing from April caused a shake-up at the agency, but a major personnel change didn't come until after results from a long-awaited audit were released last month. After a repeat of that mistake happened Sept. 7, the county reacted much faster by comparison. The animal control officer who euthanized the wrong dog, Michael Steele, has resigned. The person in charge of animal services, Mike Nickerson, is devoting more time to it. He no longer oversees Hernando County Fire Rescue.
County commissioners, the county administrator and Nickerson himself agreed last week that in order to prevent future wrongful deaths of dogs and cats, Nickerson would need to focus all of his attention on animal services, said Commissioner John Druzbick. "It's the right move, putting Mike Nickerson in there," he said. "Animal Services needs strong oversight." Commissioners approved of the way Nickerson has handled himself during such a trying time and they wanted to make sure he would be the one to lead them through another round of public scrutiny. It was Nickerson who reassigned Liana Teague from the animal services shelter to another location. Teague was the agency's manager. She was the one who came under the most fire after the April 13 euthanasia of Zeus, a pit bull that was put down only moments after being turned in to the shelter. Nickerson suggested hiring someone with a veterinary background to supervise the shelter. Due to the latest development, that move will come sooner rather than later, said Druzbick. Nickerson also was credited with smoothing over some of the tension between animal services employees and shelter volunteers. The Sept. 7 euthanasia happened because Steele relied on a kennel number rather than the number assigned to the animal. He read the number on the kennel and euthanized the dog that was inside. It was later discovered that the dog originally planned to be put down was switched with another dog, one that had been at the shelter for only a couple of days, said Druzbick. Nickerson notified his superiors shortly after he learned of the mishap. "He stepped right up to the plate when he saw there was a mistake," Druzbick said. "He's not hiding anything and he's the best one to handle this going forward." Nickerson did not return a message Saturday. Now that Nickerson is overseeing animal services exclusively, the county's fire services will be led by Mike Rampino. Rampino was the chief of Spring Hill Fire Rescue, which had previously been independent. The agency has merged with Hernando County Fire Rescue and the consolidation process will continue through next year.

wholt@hernandotoday.com (352) 544-5283

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