Dozens of dogs have died of thirst, exposure or disease at a Hendersonville no-kill animal shelter, All Creatures Great and Small, according to affidavits from former employees and volunteers (PDF, 1.7 MB). At a Sept. 18 civil hearing, the N.C. Attorney General’s office will ask a judge to force operators Kim Kappler and Bob and Mary Dunn to grant temporary custody of the approximately 700 animals still living at the shelter to the N.C. Department of Agriculture, which is responsible for enforcing the state’s Animal Welfare Act. Veterinarians will evaluate the animals’ physical and mental health; subsequently, NCDA will likely ask the judge to grant it permanent custody, and try to place them in shelters or adoptive homes. Animals too ill or dangerous to be placed will be euthanized, most likely by lethal injection.

“Every one of the animals will have to be treated and evaluated separately,” says Dr. Lee Hunter, NCDA’s director of animal welfare. “It is not something taken lightly at all.”

Court documents detail ghoulish conditions in which dogs and puppies allegedly froze to death because they were left outdoors in cages without shelter. Employees shaved the fur from another dog, which was apparently suffering from the heat, only to find it was covered in maggots. It died shortly afterward. Yet another dog reportedly bled to death after cutting his throat on a broken crate door.

The Henderson shelter is one of three large operations under investigation by authorities seeking to ensure humane treatment for homeless dogs and cats; the other two are The Haven in Raeford and Tri-County Animal Rescue in Alexis. (See “No-kill shelters defend practices,” Aug. 8.)

According to court documents, employee Jackie Novak left All Creatures last month because shelter owners continued to take in animals even though “dogs are suffering and dying.” Other former volunteers and employees described similar situations, as well as questionable financial practices. Despite donations, the shelter couldn’t buy adequate food for the animals and owes a local veterinarian $16,000. The A.G.’s office also alleges that shelter owners have failed to pay payroll taxes and have accepted charitable donations without a license.

All Creatures attorney Craig Justus wrote in an e-mail to the Independent that he doubts the credibility of the former employees and volunteers.

“We take with a grain of salt what they say,” he wrote. “There has not been one example pointed to of any animal suffering due to lack of food, water or shelter.”

Justus said Hunter praised the shelter on its June inspection, although the shelter failed it.

“I did praise them, and I wanted them to feel encouraged on their effort,” Hunter says. “Yet there were still a lot of issues that hadn’t been addressed; it didn’t meet the minimum standards of the Animal Welfare Act.”

All Creatures has failed several NCDA inspections, including two this year; it has lost and regained its certification several times since the shelter began in 1991.