2 Whitfield County, Ga., workers disciplined after killing wrong dog

Two Whitfield County, Ga., animal control employees will be suspended without pay after they euthanized the wrong dog.

On July 11, Director Don Garrett and Animal Services Technician David Hedden euthanized Wiz, a black and white boxer. But Garrett and Hedden were actually supposed to kill another black and white boxer, about the same size, located in a cage next to Wiz's.

On Monday, one month after the mistake, the Whitfield County Board of Commissioners voted to suspend Garrett. Then, at the order of County Administrator Mark Gibson, Garrett suspended Hedden.

Garrett will miss work for five days, beginning on Aug. 25. Hedden will be suspended Sept. 3-4. The two men couldn't miss work at the same time: They are the county's only two animal control employees.

Throughout each man's suspension, Gibson said, a public works employee will fill in.

"It was a mistake," Gibson said. "We have a responsibility. We're going to take ownership of that responsibility."

Animal control took Wiz on July 3, when the dog bit a 6-year-old girl's ankle on Reed Pond Road. The dog's owner, Elaine Smith, didn't have any proof that Wiz had been vaccinated for rabies, so the Whitfield County Sheriff's Office gave Wiz to animal control.

More than a month later, Gibson said the girl bitten by Wiz is OK. She just has a scar. But at the time, they weren't sure whether Wiz had rabies.

County rules dictate that a dog that has bitten someone be held at the animal control center for 10 days before employees put the dog down.

A stray dog that ends up in animal control is killed after being held for five days.

In this particular situation, the dog next to Wiz -- which looks similar to Wiz -- was scheduled to be put to death. But Garrett and Hedden read the tags on the dogs' cages incorrectly and grabbed the wrong dog.

They only figured it out later, Gibson said, when Smith came in to get Wiz.

"Human errors happen," Gibson said. "They do. It's not an excuse. We did what we did. ... The employees have taken ownership of the mistake and they will correct that."

Gibson said the department has taken steps to make sure this doesn't happen again.

In the past, dogs that were being held for 10 days had green signs next to their cages. Now, Gibson said, those signs have been replaced with bigger red signs. Also, the type on the documents listing the date a dog is supposed to be euthanized is now bigger.

Animal Control is also going to give sheriff's deputies fliers that explain how people can get their pets back after they have been seized. That way, people will know that their dogs might die if they don't pick them up within about one week.

Contact Staff Writer Tyler Jett at 423-757-6476 or at tjett@timesfreepress.com.