Protesters want veterinarian fired after mistakenly euthanizing dog

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ORANGE COUNTY, Fla. - Protesters are demanding major changes at Orange County Animal Services Tuesday after a dog named Hershey was about to head to his adopted home, but was mistakenly euthanized.

An advocacy group wants Orange County commissioners to do more to help protect animals in the shelter, so members protested Tuesday morning outside the Orange County administrative building.

"There have been needless deaths, mistakes. It's so much bigger than just Hershey, who sadly lost his life," said advocate Pam Strickland.

Group members also made their voices heard at the Orange County commissioner's meeting where they called for a veterinarian, Dr. Robert Ridgeway, to be fired after a controversial email he wrote to an animal rights advocate earlier this month.

The protesters also said they want the top staff at animal services ousted.

"I think that's very, very sad when people like myself who are paying the taxes to keep this shelter operating, feel so uncomfortable that we will not even go to the facility," said advocate Mina Johnson.

Members of animal rescue groups from across central Florida sat in front of the Orange County Commission, hoping for change.

"Instead of us working together, we seem to be the true enemy," said Strickland.

The groups allege the staff at animal services mistreats some animals and needlessly euthanizes others.

The email from Ridgeway stated that the woman take his job, and then she can get emails from people like her.

Anger boiled over when activists learned Ridgeway spent a decade working for a major laboratory in Virginia, where experiments were conducted on animals.

WFTV also found the Orange County Animal Services advisory board is calling for Ridgeway to step down.

In regards to the scathing email, the county said it does plan to take appropriate action against Ridgeway, but hasn't said what that could be.

But also in the crowd were supporters of the county's shelter. Debbie Bruno runs a rescue group and has been partnered with OCAS for more than 10 years. She said the problem lies in the burden the staff at the shelter has to take on, which has now reached more than 1,600 animals a month.

"That may possibly need to be addressed but to start calling them a slaughterhouse and personally go against employees doesn't bode well for the people who work hard to help animals," Bruno said.

A new report presented to the commission Tuesday show more than 16,000 animals have come into the shelter in the last year and that more veterinarians may have to be hired.

Mayor Teresa Jacobs said the problem isn't inside this building, but rather inside the community.

"The real problem exists not within our clinic," said Jacobs. "The real problem exists outside of it. It exists within this community."

And that's why the advisory panel is recommending the county implement some kind of ordinance that would require pet owners to get their animals spayed or neutered.

While Tuesday's commission meeting ended without any official decisions, commissioners said if any allegations are true then change could be imminent.