According to a press release, In Defense of Animals, the international animal protection organization operating Hope Animal Sanctuary and Justice for Animals Campaign in Mississippi, and the Winona Animal Advocacy Group (WAAG) are calling for accountability and change after an Animal Control Officer shot several dogs who were impounded by the city.
“I am one of hundreds of heartbroken Winona residents,” said Doll Stanley Justice for Animals Campaign Senior Campaigner for In Defense of Animals, who has rescued Winona’s animals for 30 years. “Mayor Dees and Chief Daniels need to show good faith and say how many dogs were shot, and ensure this will never happen again.”
At a meeting of the Winona Board of Alderpersons on March 8, 2023, Winona Police Chief Roshaun Daniels announced that animal control services would become a division of the police department. Chief Daniels introduced his new-hire Animal Control Officer Vidal Anderson, son-in-law to Mayor Aaron Dees.
The press release stated that when introducing Anderson, Chief Daniels met with agreement from city officials and attendees when he expressed the challenges posed by stray dogs wandering through yards and traffic. Chief Daniels was concerned that the city pound was at capacity and most of the dogs had been impounded far beyond the city’s 10-day holding period. The city facility is in great disrepair and has only six runs, limiting the number of dogs and their stay. For years, city officials have discussed seeking grants to build a new facility.
On March 9, ACO Anderson and an inmate, who should not have been charged with this cruel task, were seen unloading four dogs from the city truck, tethering them, and then shooting them.
An unnamed witness told In Defense of Animals, “One, a small black dog was wagging his tail as he was shot.” The witness shared photos showing pools of blood on the ground where the dogs were shot.
Pools of blood on the ground where dogs were shot. Photo: Anonymous via In Defense of Animals
Stanley immediately wrote a letter to Mayor Dees and copied City Attorney Adam Kirk. She noted the possible statutes relating to the legality of shooting dogs, and raised ethical concerns.
Stanley and WAAG member Carol Griffin uncovered two of the dogs shot and disposed of in the city dumps, which is a misdemeanor offense. There were more bags mixed in with discarded furniture pieces and general trash.
On March 10, Stanley, Griffin, Griffin’s daughter Gwen Neill, and Alderman Mickey Austin met with Mayor Dees and Chief Daniels. Mayor Dees first said Chief Daniels instructed a police officer to shoot the dogs. However, according to Stanley, ACO Anderson sold himself out that evening, posting a confession on social media that he shot the dogs.
At this intense meeting both the mayor and the chief disclosed that it was ACO Anderson who shot the dogs. Chief Daniels threatened to arrest Neill for disrespecting him. Alderman Austin commented on Chief Daniels’ attitude.
The mayor’s account of the meeting didn’t agree with Alderman Austin’s wife. She posted a statement on social media sharing that Alderman Austin was not representing the city at the meeting, but was wanting answers for the shocking revelation that the city began shooting dogs. The mayor said it was to save money. Records confirm that the previous ACO used veterinary services to kill unclaimed and unwanted dogs.
Mayor Dees and Chief Daniels agreed to implement a humane policy to kill unadopted dogs, and Chief Daniels apologized for their decision to have the dogs shot.
Stanley commented, ”An apology is positive, but ACO Anderson and Chief must be terminated. Animal care services must be placed back under the mayor, not the police department.”
Former Mayor Jerry Flowers rejected allegations that prior administrations allowed the shooting of the city’s impounded dogs, stating, “During my 14 years as mayor of Winona, our animal control officer never executed any dog with a gun with my knowledge. We fed and housed the dogs for a minimum of 10 days. We went to great extents to find homes for our sheltered animals. When efforts to place dogs were exhausted, and it was cruel to continue to confine them without hope, they were humanely euthanized by a veterinarian.”
Four dogs were initially admitted as shot, which later rose to six, but citizens now know the shelter was full. Witness Andreas Woods told WAAG he and other witnesses saw the ACO shoot the dogs and put their bodies in a dumpster, including a mom and pups who were in the shelter on March 1st shot. He heard 8 gunshots.
Animals advocates and citizens at large are venting the emotions that seethed for days. WTVA spoke to outraged residents, including Woods, who kept watch outside the pound to ensure it didn’t happen again.
Authorities have been asked to determine if the antiquated statute instructing law officers to “kill, or destroy” isn’t trumped by a recent statute enacted to protect dogs and cats from cruelty. In Defense of Animals and WAAG have requested Sheriff Jeff Thompkins investigate the possible crimes.
According to Doll Stanley, The Board of Aldermen has been asked to advocate for the city’s animals and to vote for administrative discipline for Chief Daniels and fire or reassign ACO Anderson to another city position.
“We need a major overhaul of our animal treatment here in Winona, from the top down and bottom up,” explained Stanley. “I urge the mayor to replace the outdated ‘Animal Control’ model with ‘Animal Care.’ And I urge Winona residents to stop allowing unneutered dogs to roam because it’s a death sentence, either at the pound or on our roads.”