Where a trail of dead dogs has led


When Randi Hileman came upon a trail of dead dogs and cats on the highway in North Carolina, she did what most folks do nowadays. She got out her phone and took some pictures.

She was distressed enough by the scene that, after moving the corpses to the side of the road, she posted the photos on Facebook and called the news media —  all in search of some sort of explanation.

And when, earlier this month, the explanation came, she — and a lot of other people — got even angrier.

trailWhat little official response there was went something like this: Someone failed to properly latch the tailgate of  a truck transporting dogs and cats that had been euthanized at the Davidson County Animal Shelter.

Rather than ending up at their destination, a landfill, their bodies were left strewn along U.S 64, near Interstate 85.

Judy Lanier, the shelter’s director, told inquiring reporters it was a non-story, and apparently convinced a lot of them of that.

Not too many accounts of what happened can be easily found on the Internet, other than this one in the Winston-Salem Journal.

“It was an internal employee mistake that’s been dealt with in less than 30 minutes,” Lanier told columnist Scott Sexton. “Basically it’s a nonstory. There is one thread on one Facebook page where you’ve got less than 10 people beating a dead horse.”

Between being one of only eight counties backwards enough to still use gas chambers to put down dogs, the public opposition to that, the county’s dismal adoptions figures (it reportedly euthanizes 6,000 dogs a year), Lanier’s defensive reaction and the vivid images of what her employee left, however briefly, on the highway, it’s not too surprising that some people are calling for the shelter director’s resignation.

Lanier, while she’s not granting many interviews with the media, is responding to what people are saying on Facebook.

“I never took it lightly,” she says in one comment. “I dealt with it a week ago in a professional expedient fashion … I take issue with this non story that was simply an error of equipment usage being used as another platform for attacking our shelter, our staff and our ethics … Not one cat was adopted due to this story being spread all over face book. Not one of these so called activists stepped through the door to help lessen the overcrowding that requires that truck to make that trip several times a week. Shame on those who criticize that which they don’t understand and those who don’t intend to put their words into action. Journalism when practiced honestly does not require ambushing and exploitation. That’s just his personnel (sic) self aggrandizement in print.

Lanier wrote that none of the animals found on the road had been put down in the gas chamber, and said the shelter uses lethal injection three times more often than it uses its gas chamber. Opponents of the gas chamber, she said,  are using the dead animal spill to fuel their campaign against the use of gas.

“Those animals are the visual picture of what happens in a community that does not spay/nueter (sic), thinks of animals as disposable property and expects a small shelter to absorb their decisions and re home each one. That’s a fact not an excuse but reality.

In another comment, she gets in a shot at the reporter:  “Must be a slow day in the newspaper world when a columnist can only report week old news and quote a no comment voice mail to make a punch line … Mr. Sexton burnt a bridge he won’t ever cross again today.”

MAP TEMP NEW 2014Lanier further states that she wishes people criticizing the shelter would spend that energy instead on volunteering at the shelter, helping get dogs adopted and educating the public on spaying and neutering.

Amid her comments, an apology can be found.

“The incident where animals were found on Highway 64 on Tuesday, August 8, 2014 was an unfortunate error caused by the tailgate on the animal shelter truck being inadequately secured. The animal shelter truck was in route to the county landfill at the time of the incident. The animal shelter staff acted as soon as possible to correct this error and the staff member involved was extremely sorry and devastated that this had occurred. The shelter staff member is an excellent employee who performs above and beyond every day at the shelter. Measures have been taken by the staff to make sure this never occurs again.

“The Davidson County Animal Shelter apologizes to the public who witnessed this incident. We are aware of the impact this has had on our citizens. The entire incident was due to human error and is regrettable.”

Probably she should have provided that statement to reporters and stopped there, rather than telling them they were “beating a dead horse.” And probably she should have held back on criticizing animal advocates who want to see the gas chamber dismantled.

Criticizing those who see the issues differently is bad for public relations. Badmouthing reporters is bad for public relations. The gas chamber is bad for public relations. Dead dogs on the highway is bad for public relations.

Davidson County officials have the power to do something about one or two of those, or perhaps all four.

(Photos from Randi Hileman’s Facebook page)

John Woestendiek

John Woestendiek is a Pulitzer Prize winning journalist and author of "Dog, Inc.: The Uncanny Inside Story of Cloning Man's Best Friend."

15 thoughts on “Where a trail of dead dogs has led

  • August 25, 2014 at 9:33 am

    Wow. “Beating a dead horse”?!! Bad choice of metaphors. Very upsetting.

  • August 25, 2014 at 2:21 pm

    I don’t know anything about this shelter or its reputation, and admittedly the director didn’t handle the situation very well, but she does have a point or two. There are huge numbers of people who are all too willing to criticize others, but are not willing to give their time or their dollars to become part of the solution. For the most part, shelters are not the enemy. The ones I’ve seen are (mostly) trying to do a thankless job against overwhelming numbers of unwanted animals. It’s heart-breaking, and I admire anyone who cares about animals who can work in those places, day in and day out.

  • August 25, 2014 at 5:41 pm

    I was angry before I even finished the article at the crass comments of an animal control director. How would she like her young children or grandchildren to see all those dead animals lying in the road? Why didn’t they make a better effort to retrace their steps and retrieve them? I have to choke back tears when I see one cat or dog dead at the side of the road that has been hit by a car, let alone this many. Ms. Lanier needs to have a little more sensitivity to animal lovers that find something like this unacceptable. It is not a “non-issue” for a large section of society. It’s hard enough for us to know that so many animals needlessly die in shelters each year let alone see them strewn down the highway!

  • August 25, 2014 at 11:13 pm

    I get emails from adoptapet every day and share pets on FB. This story made me check to see why I never have seen ANYTHING from Davidson County there, and small wonder: they don’t do adoptapet nor petfinder!!!! HOW THE DEVIL IS ANYONE GOING TO KNOW WHAT KIND OF PETS THEY HAVE IF NO ONE KNOWS THEY’RE THERE!!!! Why don’t they use the tools available TODAY to end this killing instead of making stupid excuses for being petty, mean, and vicious people, because that, apparently, is what they are!

  • August 26, 2014 at 11:49 am

    What kind of people are you? No one uses gas to put down animals and if you do, I wonder just how disgusting your other practices are. We in Fairborn, Ohio abandoned the killing of animals with gas and it should be illegal. Have you seen them struggle for air before they die. If you can’t invest in a decent Humane Society, if you can’t put any money into Animal Welfare at all…..what are you doing that’s good and decent? God you people are heartless.

  • August 26, 2014 at 11:54 pm

    Davidson “shelter” is no shelter for the animals, it is a nightmare. They insist upon holding onto their gas chamber for unknown reasons since it’s been proved that humane euthanasia is more cost effective. AND Davidson County is one of the very few counties in NC which is known to be very resistent to rescue assistance. Apparently they think they will not need to change, but those old methods and ways of non-thinking are passe – it’s only a matter of time. Start with Judy Lanier – her time is long past, time to go.

  • August 27, 2014 at 2:24 am

    A non story? Even if you are “only” gassing 1 out of 4 animals, that us too many 25%. How about practicing TNR? How about sending animal control out to feed feral colonies? How a out being a shelter instead if a slaughterhouse? How about using Petfinder? Craigslist Lost and Found? How about HELPING animals instead of torturing and killing them… And even laughing about it?
    Shameful examples of humans.

  • August 27, 2014 at 9:32 am

    I hope someone gases her, bitch.

  • August 27, 2014 at 11:52 am

    I know nothing of this shelter, or how it works. But it seem the administer has hit the nail on the head. If you can not afford a pet, do not get one. Being able to afford a pet means also to be responsible financially as well as morally. If you are going to have a pet, you need to be able to feed, water, and clean up properly. You need to have the pet properly vetted. That means spay or neuter ASAP, not after you have a litter or 2 of puppies and kittens that you don’t want or can’t find homes for. It also means keeping up with the shots, and keeping him or her properly confined. IF YOU CAN NOT OR WILL NOT DO THESE THINGS, DO NOT GET A PET.

  • August 27, 2014 at 12:46 pm

    You ate disgusting, to turn the blame on the people in your area. Own up and take it. You got caught killing animals with your history of using a Gas Chamber. An animal shelter I think not. They should fire you and the bunch who work in your house of horrors. Gas chambers should not exist you heartless idiot, by keep a gas chamber still if you say you use injections, I think you are lying. Sounds like you don’t ask for help, try to find creative ways to get this poor innocent animals adopted. I think you use that chamber a truckful of dead dogs and cats. I hope Facebook has your crimes all over, to stop your killing sprees.

  • August 27, 2014 at 3:36 pm

    They do not “insist” on using the gas chamber – Judy Lanier needs two more full-time employees in order to effectively perform lethal injection on every single animal. They already use this method three times more than the gas chamber. Additionally, while it is unfortunate that the tailgate was accidentally latched improperly, the animals falling on the road did not make them any less dead. And unfortunate sight, sure, but ultimately not a difference in their state. The issue is that so many animals must be euthanized, so the focus should be on spay/neuter, adoption, etc. rather than on an honest mistake of a shelter employee that was rectified as soon as possible. Judy Lanier does not deserve a personal attack for this incident – none of the shelter employees do. Instead, she needs your support to help improve her shelter, and she isn’t getting it.

  • August 27, 2014 at 8:40 pm

    I fully support Judy Lanier, put your money where your mouth is folks and start helping out at the shelter!!!! You don’t know what these people go through each day. Walk in their shoes and then you can mouth off… I have and have full respect.

  • August 28, 2014 at 1:30 am

    It is a valid point that a good portion of the responsibility lies with the public not using spay/neuter as they should. I know from local experience, though, that many of these government-run, high-kill facilities throw out the “but did any of the people complaining offer to help” excuse, but in fact do not allow volunteers or straight adoptions to the public, even if offered or requested.

  • September 10, 2014 at 5:06 pm

    This is so stupid. Volunteer people! Quit complaining for the mess that you make in the first place and do something about it. Quit relying on one shelter to take care of everyone’s dogs and cats. It happens and I know it’s nasty business, but grow up and take responsibility for your pets. If you can’t take care of them anymore, find them a new home yourself, don’t leave it up to the city/county to take over where you screwed up. I agree with the director and I believe she makes an excellent point.

  • September 21, 2014 at 2:23 pm

    They turn away volunteers FYI. I’m from this community. Her responses were very unprofessional.

Comments are closed.