Thinking that the staff of the Liberty Humane Shelter had evacuated the area, leaving the shelter animals behind, a woman broke into the shelter and hoped to let dogs free from the kennels around 2:37 p.m. Tuesday.
Hurricane Irma raked across the county late Sunday night into Monday as a tropical storm. Liberty County was under a mandatory evacuation order, but LHS board member Sandra Frye and three of her shelter staff braved the storm to ensure the animals’ safety and care.
Frye said at no time were the shelter animals in harm’s way and the staff worked in shifts to care for the animals throughout.
The woman, Caitlin Alyssia Trout was arrested and charged with one count of criminal trespass and one count of willful obstruction of a law enforcement officer, both misdemeanor offenses. She was released after posting a $2,400 bond.
According to Liberty County Sheriff’s Office Deputy Michael Kent, Trout called 911 after jumping over a section of the fence. Kent said Trout was under the impression that the shelter animals had been abandoned during the storm. She called 911, saying she was there to video and document their abandonment.
But LHS Board member Sandra Frye said it was ridiculous to think the staff would abandon the animals. She said the shelter staff were in constant care of the animals. She said the shelter had power, the animals were cared for daily and all were completely safe.
Trout is adamant however that she found the dogs in horrendous conditions.
“They looked malnourished and some of them were covered in feces,” said. Trout said the dirt road leading into the shelter was flooded and barely passible even in her husband’s jeep. She said water could be seen coming out of the kennel area and they could hear the dogs whining. She said it even upset her kids.
“I’ve never seen anything like that at any animal shelter,” Trout who is originally from Boone, N.C. said. She added that she thinks the situation could have been handled better by moving the animals to a different location, not prone to such flooding.
Frye said there is only one dog at the shelter that looks skinny, a Beagle mix, that she said was brought to the shelter only one week ago. She said the dog was in worse condition prior to the care it has received since arriving at LHS.
Frye said the LHS appeared messy because they are in the process of renovations. The LHS was given the adjacent space that was once the county run animal control facility. The new animal control facility is now at 1731 Lee Place Road, N.E. in Hinesville.
Frye said they had started renovations Sept. 1, but had to place everything on hold to get ready for Hurricane Irma.
“So did it look a little messy in there, yes it did but all the animals were in areas that were clean and safe,” she said. “In fact the staff had just fed the animals at 2 p.m. Just before this woman broke in. The animals had food, water, even had power on and air conditioning. And none of the animals had feces on them – none.”
Frye said when they received the call about the break in she responded along with Meike Wilder, from Carpathia Paws, Animal Control Officer Randy Durrence and Assistant County Administrator Bob Sprinkel. She added there were several deputies from the Liberty County Sheriff’s Office that arrived on scene who can corroborate the fact that the animals were fine.
Deputy Kent indeed confirmed that the animals appeared well cared for, clean and fed. He said when they arrived at LHS, Trout had already released one dog and was in the process of opening a second kennel.
“The dog she released was the skinny Beagle mix, again we’ve only had him one week,” Frye said noting letting the dog loose wasn’t going to benefit the animal in any way.
Frye said Trout caused significant damage to the shelter. She said donated doors they received at the start of their renovations were busted and no longer closed properly. She said windows at the adjoining Coastal Community Veterinarian Clinic as well as one at the shelter were broken and the air conditioner was damage needing to be rehung.
Frye said she wishes the woman would have called 9-1-1 before jumping to conclusions and causing so much damage. “I appreciate the gesture to save an animal but a 9-1-1 call would have cleared it all up,” Frye said.
Trout said she called 9-1-1 prior to jumping the fence but no one responded to her plea to check on the animals.
Frye said she and the staff have temporarily patched things up and the response she has received from the community has been heartwarming.
She said people have come together, helping each other out as they repair their homes but also helping the shelter for the sake of the animals housed there.
Deputy Kent added that Trout temporarily resisted arrest by kicking an assisting deputy in the stomach as she was being placed in the patrol car.
Trout said she suffers from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and informed the arresting officer of that several times. She said she also asked for a female officer and a supervisor be brought to the scene. Trout said she has sustained injuries as a result of the arrest which now require medical attention.
Frye said they hope to finish all their renovations by next week.
If you wish to help the shelter here are things they need:
Monetary donations (checks or money order made payable to: Liberty Humane Shelter), Gift cards from Lowe’s, cat litter, canned kitten food, dry puppy food, laundry soap, dish detergent, bleach, mops and brooms.
The Courier will provide updates to this story as they become available.