Service dog program director charged with animal cruelty

Jul. 15, 2013 @ 06:33 PM

Carrboro police charged Deb Cunningham, the program director of Eyes, Ears, Nose and Paws, with one count of misdemeanor animal cruelty following the death of a service dog in her care.

Cunningham put Worthy, a two-year-old Golden Retriever, in her car in the parking lot of Eyes, Ears, Nose and Paws[EENP] on Lloyd Street in Carrboro about noon June 10 with the windows rolled up. When she went to get him out of the car two hours later, he was unresponsive.

Staff members rushed Worthy to a nearby veterinarian, who measured his temperature at 109 degrees. A dog’s normal temperature is about 101.

Despite efforts by several veterinarians to save Worthy’s life, Worthy died the next morning of cardiac arrest after vomiting blood and bile and having severe bloody diarrhea.

Elaine White, who donated Worthy and his brother, Taylor, as puppies to EENP, filed a police report and asked for an investigation of Cunningham’s actions regarding the dog.

The Carrboro Police Department served Cunningham, 42, of 155 Viburnum Way in Carrboro, with a criminal summons, and she is scheduled to appear Aug. 8 in Orange County District Court in Hillsborough.

EENP trains and places service and medical alert dogs with clients at a cost of $20,000 a dog. Worthy was just a week or two from possibly being matched with a client. His brother, Taylor, was placed in March with a man in Cary with muscular dystrophy.

Maria Ikenberry, the executive director of EENP and who lives at the same address as Cunningham, told The Herald-Sun it was raining on June 10 and the car was cool when Cunningham put Worthy in the car. She said it was not hot when Cunningham went to get him two hours later.

The National Weather Service in Raleigh reported that at Horace Williams Airport, which a mile north of EENP, it reached 80 degrees before 2 p.m. and dropped to 79 degrees and was raining at 2 p.m.

If the temperature outside of a car is 80 degrees and a vehicle is parked in a shady area on a day with high humidity, the temperature can reach 123 degrees within 60 minutes, according to the National Weather Service.

In the interview with The Herald-Sun in June, Ikenberry said she believed Worthy died from an anxiety attack, not from the heat.

After The Herald-Sun printed an article about Worthy’s death and people throughout the country responded in anger, EENP’s board of directors put up a statement about Worthy’s death on its website. The statement said Worthy died from heatstroke after being left in an automobile.

“What we can do is a thorough evaluation of the circumstances that led to this tragedy,” the statement said. “EENP’s Board of Directors is evaluating our operating procedures, personnel and training standards, taking whatever steps we deem necessary, to ensure our dogs’ safety, health and wellbeing.”

“We know that this terrible event, for many of you, has shaken your trust in us,” the statement said. “As we struggle to make sense of what happened, we ask for your compassion, and as you’re able, your forgiveness.”

In North Carolina, misdemeanor animal cruelty is when a person intentionally overdrives, overloads, wounds, injures, torments, kills or deprives of necessary sustenance any animal. The law, 14-360(A), is a Class 1 misdemeanor.

Felony animal cruelty is when a person maliciously tortures, mutilates, maims, cruelly beats, disfigures, poisons or kills any animal.