Benton County investigates severing head of euthanized dog

KENNEWICK — Benton County officials are investigating why a county corrections officer severed the head of a dog that had been euthanized because of suspected rabies.

The incident happened this week at the Benton County Animal Shelter, said Keith Mercer, the county finance officer whose duties include overseeing the shelter at 1116 N. Grant Place, Kennewick.

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Mercer said the dog was brought into the shelter Thanksgiving week because it had bitten a boy after it was hit by a car.

The dog, whose breed was not identified, had a serious back injury and bit the boy as he offered it help Nov. 23, Mercer said.

Because of the risk of rabies, the dog was brought to the shelter in keeping with a health district policy that it be quarantined for 10 days.

Mercer said shelter employees decided to euthanize the dog this week using an established and approved procedure, realizing the seriously injured animal likely would not live out the quarantine period.

Mercer said that without a successful quarantine period to establish that the dog did not have rabies, health district policy requires that the brain of the dead animal be tested.

"We were following the directions of the health district. We did not want the dog to suffer with its broken back," he said.

The dog's head is now at the health district and its body remains in frozen storage at the animal shelter.

But instead of an animal shelter employee conducting the procedure, a corrections officer volunteered to do it while animal control employees were present, Mercer said.

Corrections officers regularly take inmate crews to the shelter to clean the cages.

The incident is creating a new policy requiring that only animal control employees can to remove heads from euthanized animals, he said.

Mercer said Friday that he did not know the boy's condition or the results of the rabies testing.