Home castration controversy over cats, dog divide one GA county

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A controversy under way in one Georgia county over an issue you might think would be a no-brainer.

Two people in Stephens County separately admit they castrated a dog and a pair of kittens without first putting them under and without either person being a licensed veterinarian.

It's against the law to practice veterinary medicine without a license, although few people are charged unless they're actually running a business.

But many people think neither should be prosecuted, even though experts tell the Fox 5 I-Team there's no doubt all three animals suffered.

"I love animals. I love people. But what's going on with this man is wrong," Harry Collier told Stephens County commissioners last week.

They filled the old Stephens County courthouse to talk to commissioners about a man who's been advised to stay away.

Agriculture teacher Daniel Hebert. He faces two citations of animal cruelty for neutering two kittens in a barn next to Stephens County High School last November, a procedure performed in front of his students.

According to authorities and some of the student reports, Hebert did not anesthetize the cats. Instead, he gave them an over-the-counter pain medication and over-the-counter lidocaine on the incision area. Then he asked students to hold the cat and began to perform the castration. But the cat fought back and bit one student through a protective glove. Turns out neither cat had been vaccinated for rabies.

Hebert was suspended for a week and agreed to resign at the end of the school year.

But many of his students rallied in support of the popular instructor, squaring off with animal advocates who pushed hard for Hebert's prosecution.

"He teaches us not only animal science but life. I think it's quite crazy for all these animal rights activists, advocates, to start all this drama because of a situation like this in which an agriculture teacher fixed a cat," freshman Tyler Allen told the commissioners. He pointed out that cattle and pigs are also castrated without anesthesia.

But Animal Advocates of Toccoa member Kathy Pauly had a different message.

"Most people understand that how a county protects its animals that have no voice of their own reflects how a county treats its people."

The Fox 5 I-Team brought the records to a veterinarian unconnected with the Stephens County case. Dr. Jeff Shell works at Butler Creek Animal Hospital in Kennesaw.

He says there's no doubt the cats were in pain.

"An animal hospital is where a neuter needs to be done. Not a barn," Dr. Shell said. "Maybe we make it look easy, I don't know but they don't think it's that big of a deal and then they try handling it themselves and it compounds the problem."

The very next month, in December, it happened again in Stephens County. This time it involved a housewife, a dog, a razor knife and some cotton thread.

(911 call) "She gave my dad's dog a pain pill and castrated the poor thing."

Dispatcher: "OK, when did she do this?

Caller: "A couple of hours ago."

A five-year-old Australian shepherd called Gabe. Investigators say Gabe was bleeding when they arrived, another animal neutered without being sedated.

This time Loretta Wright did the cutting. She gave him one of her Percocets first and said she made sure to sanitize the razor blade in alcohol.

"Why did you decide it was a good idea to castrate your own dog?" asked Fox 5 I-Team reporter Randy Travis.

"Well, my dog's an Australian Shepherd. He's a beautiful dog. He's a good dog," said Ms. Wright. "We didn't have money to do anything like that with."

"So you decided to do it yourself," asked Randy.

"Yes, of course." she replied.

Ms. Wright says when Gabe bit her seven-year-old daughter while they were playing, it was time to get him fixed.

She's never met the high school ag teacher who neutered the cats. Ms. Wright says she looked up everything she needed to know on the Internet. Plus, she claims her experience taking care of people in a nursing home helped.

"You take common sense and use that more than anything," she said.

"Well, how do you know Gabe wasn't in pain when you were doing this?" asked Randy.

"I gave him pain medication."

"And you think that was enough?"

"I know that was enough cause if he was in pain it would have showed. You know what pain looks like."

Not according to the real experts.

"When they're in pain they tend to get real quiet," said veterinarian Jeff Shell. "Imagine being cut or sliced. That's a significant amount of pain. There's a lot of blood. And my concern is this dog may have suffered unnecessarily for something that could have been done inexpensively."

In fact, the vet who examined Gabe the next day said the dog "experienced a great deal of pain & stress in the completion of this procedure at home."

So why is Gabe now back with the woman who admits doing a home style canine castration? That's the part of this story that continues to spread a different pain here.

Animal control officer Dave Schwartzkopf originally investigated both home castrations. He actually works for Stephens Humane Shelter, a non-profit hired to handle animal calls here.

But when Schwartzkopf wrote the cruelty tickets against the popular high school teacher, someone complained the officer was not properly sworn to issue any citations.

Now he could lose his job because the county plans to create a new animal control position. The Fox 5 I-Team talked to commission chairman Dennis Bell.

"Is there any thinking on your part or the commission's part that you're punishing him for what he did?"

"No sir. I'll tell you what's happening Mr. Travis. We had several folks coming to us, complaining that the animal control officer wasn't a sworn officer. We are doing our job and we're making a positive effort to correct the problem," said chairman Bell.

When he couldn't write any tickets, Schwartzkopf turned over the Gabe case to the sheriff's department, Sheriff Randy Shirley says a magistrate decided not to issue a warrant because Gabe did not appear to be in pain... and the owner had no malicious intent.

But social media wasn't so kind, posts called the two cases proof of "dumb back wood hicks."

"Poor animals!! Would they go to Wal-Mart to get their Tonsils out?"

Another -- "ignorant school teacher teaching children to be sadists."

But that's just the beginning.

Claudia Werner filed the original complaint about the teacher who castrated the cats. The longtime animal advocate suffers from a serious heart condition. Someone gave her this handwritten letter signed by the teacher's son that encourages her to accept God's will. "I believe your sickness is a warning to you. Claudia, he wants to forgive you! Take the warning and embrace it."

But while the teacher's criminal case is now on hold, the other amateur vet in town, the one who avoided charges completely, says she's hanging up her razor knife for good.

"Are you going to do this with your other dogs?" Randy asked Loretta Wright.

"No. No, not after I found out what I did. I didn't intend to break the law. I didn't know this stuff was illegal. I really didn't."