The Hunt To Determine Why Joe Died !


On July 24, 2018, the Pen-N-Sword received several calls that a dog had died at the Florence-Lauderdale Shelter stating it may have been neglect that caused the death of the dog.

Anytime accusations are made of this nature the Pen-N-Sword feels that it is necessary and extremely important to get both sides of the story.

I know and have known a lot of kennel workers over the years, but I have yet to personally meet one that would deliberately and knowingly cause an animal's death in their care, excluding euthanasia.

The Call To Florence, Ala Mayor Steve Holt

This writer called Mayor Steve Holt at Florence City Hall. I spoke with the secretary and at the time of my call the Mayor had someone with him, so a message was left asking for a return call. It was not long afterward Mayor Holt returned my call.

In my conversation with him, I told him what I had been told and asked if he knew about the incident. He stated yes and relayed what he had been told by the shelter staff - that Joe died of "Heart Worms." 

According to Mayor Holt, Director Leah Fox and shelter worker Joni Smith stated that Joe had severe heart worm issues, and they were going to put him on the list to be euthanized because he was showing signs of something being wrong health wise. He had been lethargic and not eating the past two days. He also had developed a cough. If Joe did not show signs of improving they were going to put him down. (The Intake Card stated "Lite" Heartworms.)

During the conversation, I told him the incident on some social sites was already being talked about with various versions. Considering all of what had transpired in the past weeks, I thought it would be best if it was known for sure what caused the dog to die. By having the cause of death determined by a disinterested party, it would answer everyone's questions and stop any misinformation. I offered to take the dog to have a necropsy performed and the cost would be picked up by individuals who wanted to contribute.

He agreed and stated that he would email the shelter immediately and tell them to hold the dog until I picked it up on the 31st, Tuesday morning.

Shelter Interview of Kennel Employees And Others

Monday the 30th, I went to the shelter to see if I could talk with the shelter employees and allow them to tell me what they observed about Joe during his short time there. I found the shelter employees receptive and candid and I was appreciative of their willingness to talk with me. Any documentation I asked for was provided within a matter of minutes.

The Florence-Lauderdale Shelter workers called him Joe. The Shelter had received a call on July 9th, 2018, telling of him committing the crime of attempting to get back into someone's home after being frightened of fireworks being shot in the neighborhood.

When Lauderdale County Humane Officer Dwayne Oliver arrived, he found a large framed dog around 70 lbs., Sheppard-Collie mix, with a thick coat of reddish brown hair, non-aggressive and gentle. 

The homeowner stated Joe had just showed up in their neighborhood one day and since that time they had been feeding him. Now he was damaging their door and the owner wanted Dwayne to take him. 

Joe did not know it at the time, but the home and environment which he was familiar with and the people whom Joe was starting to love were just removed from his life forever. This homeowner who Joe thought would protect him had just thrown him out like a discarded plant and Joe would never know why. 

Once at the shelter, the workers found him to be gentle and seeking to be loved on. While they found him to sometimes be aggressive toward other dogs, his demeaner was not such that would put him in a classification of unadoptable. (Sometimes older dogs will show some spunk, just to let the other dogs know, they will stand their ground if required.)

A copy of his intake card stated they believed him to be around 7 years old. He appeared to have been well kept and fed. At the time of his intake, he had no visible signs of health issues and was put in an area where other dogs with no major issues were housed. 


 According to the intake card, Joe was tested for Heartworms utilizing a SNAP TEST which determines presence of heartworm antigens. 

On 7-10-18, Joni Smith, shelter employee, stated she gave Joe a heartworm test which showed positive (this would be the next day after being brought in to the shelter).

Written in the Heartworm Antigen Negative Positive section of the intake card you have written on the card: Positive - Lite. 


What is Heartworm Disease?

Heartworm disease is a serious and a potentially fatal disease in pets if not treated. The worms start out as Micro worms which cannot cause death unless they are allowed to grow. These worms can live in the heart, lungs and associated blood vessels. There are many stages of the disease before it gets to the point of being fatal. 

According to the "SNAP HEARTWORM TEST " administered by the shelter, Joe was in the early stages of heart worm disease as indicated on the intake chart. "Lite" - If that is the case, it is highly unlikely heart worms were the cause of Joe's death.  

How Other Shelters Treat Their Animals That Test Positive for Heartworms

I decided to call other shelters and see what their protocol was pertaining to animals brought in with heartworms. Here are some of the answers:

 1. "We don't look at heartworms as an automatic euthanizing issue unless a vet tells us so. We do not have the training to make that life or death decision. We need to know the severity of the heartworms, and we take it to the vet."

2. "Before we put any animal on a death list, we publish the condition of the animal and situation many days before killing the animal, to see if anyone will take it. We have adopted out several animals like this. "

On the 31st of July, I picked up Joe's body at the Shelter. At that time, I had the opportunity to talk with Joni Smith, the last shelter worker to handle Joe before he was found dead. 

Joni’s Conversation With Me About Joe

Joni Smith stated that Joe had tested positive for heart worm issues, and they were going to put him on the list to be euthanized, because he was showing signs of something being wrong healthwise. He was not eating and was lethargic the past few days. He also had developed a cough. She went on to say that she was torn about putting him on the list and wanted to see how he did the rest of the day.

Joni stated she took him to the back pen behind the shelter and left him there around 8 or 9 a.m. She stated, she went back to check on him around 11 a.m. and found him to be alive. At around 2 p.m. Joe was found dead. 


Notice the following:

1. The left side of the pen is a wood shed wall.

2. The back of the pen is the shelter concrete wall.

 3. The blue tarp which is designed to cover equipment and inanimate objects is hanging and sagging low into the pen. This style tarp does not dissipate heat but retains it and becomes a radiant source of heat. 

4. If you look at the right side of the pen you will see a large grey metal object. This is the Air Conditioning Heat Exhaust Fan which is sucking all the heated air out of the main shelter and blowing the heated air into the pen directly on Joe. The heated air is then bouncing off the wood shed wall which absorbs heat and the back concrete wall which absorbs heat and then throwing it back directly onto joe again. 

5. Look at the front of the pen. There is a small water line which is a misting line. The purpose is to help the animal stay cool. The problem here is the heated air from the A/C exhaust fan is blowing so hard that it blows the mist up, out and away from Joe. He gets not benefit of this mist line at all.

This is a picture of the small containment area of the pen where Joe was put. As you can see directly across in front of joe's pen is another pen which is covered across the top and side with what is known as equipment tarp, not design for shade which allows air to circulate through. This is blocking any chance of a breeze at all. 

This is a shot looking back toward the pen where joe was kept. As you can see there is a cargo trailer and a car parked there. These also prevent any type of breeze from getting back to Joe's pen.

Does The Shelter Provide any Type of Medical Assistance To Sick or Injured Animals?

According to the Florence Shelter Director Leah Fox, she stated they have some funding for sickness and injuries which is designated as Animal Care; however, this is primarily used for health prevention instead of treatment and is not near enough to cover for the medical expenses of the sick and injured animals they take in yearly. 

They do have a fund called Chloe’s Fund. This was set up by Volunteer Debbie Nelson in honor of her beloved dog Chloe who passed away. Volunteer Debbie Nelson and others have done a wonderful job raising funds for animals who are sick and injured. Without their hard work in raising funds for these sick animals, many would have suffered and died. 

Since the City and County allocates very little funds to help the sick animals or injured ones, this indicates their policy appears to be to put the animal down before spending any money. 

Why Would You Put Joe Outside In This Summer Heat?

According to employees at the shelter it is the director, Leah Fox’s policy to quarantine any animal that is brought in or gets sick while there. The purpose of doing that is understandable. However, due to limited space, the areas where they have been placing these animals are outside. Regardless of temperature, 105 Degrees or 5 degrees. One would have to question a policy of putting sick animals outside in a climate that would make their health worse. 

Many of these animals do not receive any medical attention from any vet, due to limited funds given to them by the city and county. This may be a legal issue, as the city and county are responsible for the welfare and health of the animal until legal guidelines allow resolution of the animal's status.

I was told the veterinarian directly across the street, Dr. Fisher is the veterinarian of record, but is rarely used. Usually, kennel personnel will make a medical diagnosis and they will dispense medication based on that kennel worker's opinion. 

A Citizen failing to provide medical care to their animal would be charged with neglect or cruelty. In doing case law research, I found no exemptions from the State of Alabama Neglect and Cruelty Laws regarding Shelter Personnel, City or County Officials who have a policy or budget that does not provide adequate medical care for the sick or injured animals taken into the shelter. On the surface of this research it appears that any animal brought into the shelter who shows signs of an illness, injury and is refused or not rendered medical care for such, by the shelter staff, City Mayor or County Commission Chairman are as subject to the State of Alabama Neglect and Cruelty Laws as any other citizen.

The Medical Necropsy Report Concerning Joe's Death

In these examiners' report they indicate they could not determine a definitive cause of death. However, the examiners do give you a direction toward what they think may have contributed to his death. 

When you consider all the information about Joe's death such as:

  • Physical appearance, weight, thick hair heavy coat 
  • Condition of health upon intake
  • His health during the several days of his time there
  • The two days before his death
  • His condition on the day of his death
  • Where he was kept during the last days of his life 
  • The environment of the pen he was transferred to and left in for hours on the date of his death.

Breakdown Of The Medical Report

*Dr. Cobb agreed to be the submitting doctor of record only. We wanted this necropsy to be handled by a medical examiner who did not have any connection to this region, to prevent any appearance of bias. 

Person Transporting Joe to Medical Examiner: Carl Overton - Pen-N-Sword

Receiving Date: 7-31-18       Exam Finalized: 9-4-18



Veterinarian Summary

Veterinarian Interpretation

  • Gross necropsy did not reveal a definitive cause of death.  
  • Pulmonary edema was likely a significant contributing factor. 
  • The fact that the gastrointestinal tract was empty may indicate that the dog was not feeling good for a day or two prior to his death.    
  • All results associated with this case are included in this report.  Please call if you have any questions regarding this report.


Companion Animal Necropsy (Hanceville)


Reported By - HMPDL

Dr. Terry Slaten, DVM, Hinton Mitchem Poultry Diagnostic Lab

Histopathology (Hanceville)


Tissues are poorly preserved and affected by freeze-thaw artifact.

Lung: Occasional bronchioles and low numbers of alveoli contain fibrin and necrotic debris

Brain: There are low numbers of perivascular lymphocytes and plasma cells.

Heart: Valve leaflets are expanded by myxomatous material.

Small intestine: Crypts occasionally dilated and has necrotic debris.


 Histopathologic Diagnosis

Mild acute exudative pneumonia

Mild perivascular lymphoplasmacytic meningoencephalitis

Heart: Mild myxomatous valvular degeneration (endocardiosis). Mild small intestinal cryptitis



              Histopathology (Hanceville)


  • A definitive cause of death cannot be determined from the tissue sections examined. 
  • Rectal temperature at time of death is required for a diagnosis of heatstroke as there are no specific gross or microscopic lesions. 
  • Poor preservation of tissues and freeze-thaw artifact, as present in this case, can obscure more subtle lesions and prevent complete and detailed assessment of the tissues. 

Adult Heartworms

  • Adult heartworms were not described at gross necropsy 
  • Adult heartworms or microfilaria were not observed in the tissues examined.
  • Heartworm related vascular lesions were also not observed.
  • There were lesions in multiple organs including lung, brain, heart, and small intestine. 
  • Microscopic lesions in the lung (acute exudative pneumonia) can be observed in early cases of:
  • bacterial/viral pneumonia, aspiration of gastric acid, and heatstroke as well as other causes and is not a specific finding. 
  • There was mild inflammation observed in the portions of brain examined, cause unknown, which could have contributed to death.
  •  Endocardiosis is often observed in older dogs and may or may not be associated with clinical signs. 
  • Cryptitis can be observed with parasitic or viral infections as well as other causes, and the clinical significance is unknown in this case.

Major Points to Consider 

The major points that gives us a description of his last days at the shelter should give a good indication as to what contributed to the death of Joe.

1.  We have no evidence that Joe was sick on the day of his intake

2. We have been told by Joni Smith that she tested Joe on the second day with a standard Snap Test, which is design to detect heart worms.

3. We know that Mayor Holt was told that Joe had died from heart worms.

4. Joni Smith recorded this on the intake card as testing positive. She also considered him to be an old dog (7 yrs.) by her standard. 

5. After several days, Joe had developed a cough and had become lethargic. This can be brought on by a lot of things such as feeling sick, having no energy due to not eating or drinking, it can be brought on by depression, sadness or loneliness. Yes! animals have those emotions also and they can take a toll on their behavior and interaction with others.

5. Someone mentioned shelter personnel thought he had developed kennel cough and he was being given medicine for that. I have not confirmed this with the shelter.

6.  Joe for several days had been placed in the outside pens because of his displaying some type of health issue. (This was standard policy for sick animals.)

7. Joni Smith had decided if he did not get any better, due to the fact he had tested for heart worms, had a cough, was not eating, was lethargic and was an old dog, that he was not worth the cost to give him medicine or take him to the vet of record across the street. Wednesday would have probably been his last day to live, as she was going to euthanize him the next day.

(In all fairness to Joni Smith, I want to say that during the interview she expressed she had mixed emotions about putting him on the list, as she was hoping he would get better.)

8. Joni stated that she had moved him to a different pen (the one you have seen pictures of and described) early that morning. She also stated she had gone back out to check on him. She did not mention to me that she observed Joe experiencing any distress.

9. During my interviews, I was told Joni had mentioned when she went back and checked on Joe, she saw he was in distress, yet left him in the pen without any aid. (This has not been confirmed by a second source.)

10. When they went back and checked on him later that afternoon, they found Joe dead in the pen. 

11. Due to the Heart Worm Test being positive, the cough and lack of energy, they contributed his death to heartworms and told the mayor so. 

The Results Of The Necropsy Tells A Completely Different Story.

A. Joe did not die of Heart Worms. The tests reveal there were no adult heartworms present that could have caused his death. In addition to not finding any adult heartworms there were no indications of microfilaria present. It appears Joni Smith's statement that Joe died heartworms was totally 110% incorrect.

B. Now comes the question? If the Necropsy proved there were no heartworms present and this was not the cause of death, then you must ask the following:

1. Why did Joni Smith say the Heartworm test showed he was positive? This can only occur for various reasons such as:

1a. The Snap Test was never actually performed. Is it possible the positive results for heartworms on the intake card was falsified and the Mayor was lied to in order cover up the death of Joe?

2.  Joni Smith simply made an error in reading the Snap Test Kit. That one mistake was going to cost Joe his life.

C. The Necropsy showed there was Pulmonary edema present in the lungs. It goes on to state that Pulmonary edema was likely a   "significant  contributing factor" to Joe's death.

C(i) What is Pulmonary edema? The Respiratory system is responsible for exchanging carbon dioxide for oxygen. The alveoli, the air sacs that line the interior of the lungs, help in that process. Pulmonary Edema occurs when fluid builds up in the alveoli. This build-up interferes with the exchange of gas and leads to respiratory failure. It can strike all at once and suddenly. Before this happens, the dog will exhibit signs of distress.

C(ii). While not the only cause, heat stroke is one of the main causes of Pulmonary edema. Heat stroke mainly occurs when the dog is in a forced  confinement within a hot environment. This could be in a parked car or area where the dog is subjected to continued an excessively heated environment without anyway to escape the heat. 

It only takes minutes before the animal's thermoregulatory mechanisms becomes ineffective at dissipating the body's extra heat. Unless gotten to in time, the rapidly approaching heat stroke is going to be fatal. Yes! Heat stroke can occur in an 85-degree environment under certain conditions.

D. The Necropsy also detected what may have been red tinged froth in the trachea. The second indication of a heat stroke occurring is there will a presence in the epiglottis, larynx, and trachea, streaks of hemorrhage on the mucosal surface. The trachea and bronchi will be filled with froth.

E. The histopathologic diagnosis showed there was Mild Acute Exudative Pneumonia present in the lungs. Joe was not suffering from kennel cough, he was suffering from pneumonia. This pneumonia is highly likely the cause of his not eating and being lethargic. He was already having trouble breathing due to the inflammation in his lungs which were already filled partially with fluid. Being placed in a highly heated confined area as he was, with limited breathing ability, would be most certainly a death sentence if not removed in time.

 Alabama Code Title 13A. Criminal Code 


 A person commits the crime of cruelty to animals if, except as otherwise authorized by law, he or she recklessly or with criminal negligence:

1. Subjects any animal to cruel mistreatment or

2. Subjects any animal in his or her custody to cruel neglect or

3. Kills or injuries without good cause any animal belonging to another

B. Cruelty to animals is a Class A misdemeanor and on the first conviction of a violation of this section shall be punished by a fine of not more than $3,000.00 or imprisonment in the county jail for not more than one year, or both fine and imprisonment. 

Conclusion Of Finding 

Based on the following facts:

  • Joe did not die of heartworms as was told to the Mayor.
  • Joe had a presence of pulmonary edema which was likely a significant contributing factor to Joe's death. This is a major indicator of heat stroke.
  • Joe had a present of what appears to be pink froth in his trachea, which is one indicator of heat stroke. 
  • Joe did not have kennel cough but Mild Acute Exudative Pneumonia which would have restricted his breathing ability due to his lungs filling up fluid.
  • Joe was placed in a confinement where he had heated air conditioning exhaust from the shelter directly blasting on him around 24 inches away.
  • Joe was placed in a confinement area that was 99% cut off from any fresh breeze getting to him. 
  • Joe was placed in a confinement where there was one wood wall that absorbed and reflected heat back into the pen directly onto him.
  • Joe was placed in a confinement where the back wall was concrete that absorbed heat and reflected it directly back onto him.
  • Joe was placed into a confinement area where the top covering was a plastic equipment tarp which absorbs heat and would have reflected it downward onto him.
  • Joe was placed in a confinement area where the floor was concrete and reflected heat upward directly onto him.
  • Joe due to his heavy coat would have been affected greatly by his extremely heated confinement. 

Probable Cause Of Criminal Conduct

Shelter workers, City and Lauderdale Officials are just like any citizen they are subject to the same laws as everyone else regarding the treatment of animals under their care.

Probable cause is a legal term that is used when it is apparent that facts have been discovered through a standard inquiry that would lead a reasonable person to believe violations either criminal or civil may have been committed. This probable cause requires a further inquiry by the proper agency to determine if there is enough evidence for legal cause for action against certain person or persons.

This writer believes such probable cause does exist and is therefore referring his findings in the death of Joe to the Florence Police Department for further investigation. 

Note: This case is unusual legally because of the following circumstances. These circumstances have brought up legal questions that need to be addressed by the proper authorities.

The City of Florence officials and Lauderdale County Commissioners when they take an animal into the shelter have for all legal purposes taken on the responsibility of that animal’s welfare.  

In this respect, the Mayor and County Chairman are the top representatives of these two respective agencies.

Due to their respective positions they are ultimately the primary ones responsible for the health and well-being of all animals that pass through the doors at the shelter.

The shelter employees are the agents acting for the City of Florence and Lauderdale County

These shelter employees are required to operate under the guidelines set forth by the City of Florence Officials and the Lauderdale County Commissioners. 


If the guidelines restrict the shelter employees in their ability to provide the necessary medical care for the sick and injured animals and force them to perform their duties in such a way that is not in the best interest of an  animal’s welfare and this results in the death or injury of an animal, would not the Mayor and Chairman of the Commission also be guilty of neglect or reckless disregard in the death or injury of an animal under their care? 


This writer wants to commend Mayor Steve Holt for his openness and candor in assisting us in finding out the facts surrounding Joe’s death. The Mayor and the County Officials both have been working on improving the conditions at the shelter and operational procedures for several weeks. However, it appears there are still some very serious management and operational issues that need to be addressed immediately.

Carl Overton 




2 Reviews
Why did Joe die.

I think it important that I correct you concerning your statements concerning the air conditioner. Instead of blowing the hot air on the dog and walls as you describe, the truth is quite the opposite. The air conditioner pulls air from the sides and discharges the hot air at the top of unit sending the heat straight upwards many feet above. Dogs will naturally lay close to an A/C as it pulls surrounding air to cool it's refrigerant, it creates a slight breeze where dogs can get relief from the heat. I am not saying the dog died not die from heat related issues, but I find your assumption the A/C caused it is wrong.

September 2018

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Savannah Hines
Hillsboro AL

I use to live next door to the dog the owners have had for years. Your story is correct I can personally tell you that. He probably died because of depression because his owners had him forever and also have a highly aggressive dog they have to keep inside. They said the dog got in the house because the owner was in trouble is what his wife or whatever you want to call her said to me in Walmart and then the man decided to let him go to the animal shelter he had been outside dog for no telling how long so the heat wasn’t the cause of it because his owners left him out and he would get in the road and cause trouble at other people’s house. The dog ran around everywhere . So please stop blaming the animal shelter . The dog was probably never taken to the vet by the actual owners . I’m sure he died of depression from being abandoned by his owners that brought him in just like they use to all kinds of dogs. Sincerely, Savannah ( I lived next door to owners so I would know )

September 2018

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12 Sep 2018

By Carl