PETA alleges conflict of interest, calls for investigation in Lake Station dog deaths from heat

PETA alleges conflict of interest, calls for investigation in Lake Station dog deaths from heat

The Humane Society of Hobart and People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals issued statements on Wednesday calling on the city of Lake Station to conduct an investigation of a July 27 incident in which at least eight dogs died from heat-related illness.

The animal rights organization PETA called on the Lake Station Police Department to recuse itself from any investigation, citing a potential conflict of interest involving the department’s chief and the dogs’ owner.

The Humane Society, which serves as Lake Station’s contractual animal care and control partner, said it was blocked from seizing surviving animals in accordance with local law.

Eighteen of the animals were housed in the separate cargo area of a box truck as it drove through Lake Station. The vehicle was equipped with an air conditioning unit meant to keep them cool amid the day’s extreme heat. In a statement posted to Facebook in the early morning on July 28, the Lake Station Police Department wrote that the dogs were being transported from Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport to a training facility in Michigan City.

Humane Society Director Jennifer Webber and Lake Station Animal Control Officer Bill Wright identified the owner of the animals as Mike McHenry, the owner and lead trainer at FM K9, a Michigan-based company that supplies trained police dogs to law enforcement. The company’s website notes that McHenry has “over 25 years in the canine field and industry” and “10 years as a shift commander/supervisor in Law Enforcement.”

The driver stopped on Ripley Street in Lake Station after the dogs’ barking alerted him to their distress, according to the police statement, and alerted authorities after discovering that the animals were showing signs of heat-related illness. According to the police department, the air conditioning unit failed, causing temperatures in the cargo area to climb steeply until they reached deadly levels. It was, the statement said, “not an act of animal cruelty or neglect.”

Wright echoed that assessment in an interview with the Post-Tribune.

“I don’t see any neglect or anything like that,” he said. “They could have had a redundant system, but you know, he’s transported hundreds — thousands maybe — of dogs, and never had a problem.”

The driver called McHenry, who arrived at the scene alongside personnel from the Lake Station Police Department and the Humane Society of Hobart. Some of the animals were already dead, while others showed signs of extreme distress.

When Webber arrived, she said, she asked McHenry for health certificates which establish temperatures safe for transporting the animals, and vaccination records among other documents. This, she said, was consistent with the Humane Society’s standard procedures.

When McHenry did not provide the documents, she announced her intention to seize the surviving dogs under the authority granted to her organization by Lake Station ordinances, which allow the Humane Society to impound an animal “that is reasonably believed to have been abused or neglected,” and “dogs without current license tags.”

She planned to transport them to a veterinary hospital to receive emergency care, after which the Humane Society would conduct an investigation and return the animals after compliance was proved and any fines and fees were paid. McHenry objected, and refused to allow the Humane Society to transport the dogs.

Police on the scene took McHenry’s side.

“The police intervened on behalf of the owner,” Wright said, and “told the Hobart Humane Society, ‘Just back off for now, let’s get these guys cooled down as quick as possible.’”

Though the Humane Society had air-conditioned vehicles on the scene already, the animals were transported to two local animal hospitals by emergency medical personnel that arrived later, according to Webber. Some of the animals that were alive when authorities arrived were later euthanized due to untreatable heat-related injuries. Delaying the transportation of the dogs, Webber said, could have caused unnecessary deaths.

“We tried to seize the remaining dogs that were hospitalized, however, Lake Station Police Department blocked our seizure,” Webber wrote in an email sent on Wednesday. “It is my understanding that the dogs may have been returned to the owner.”

In a statement released Wednesday, the Humane Society of Hobart raised concerns about the Lake Station police department’s handling of the situation.

“Based on what we witnessed and how the scene was processed, we feel this warrants an independent investigation, legal, corrective, and disciplinary action take place where applicable, and that our contract and code be reviewed with the City of Lake Station immediately,” Webber wrote.

She added that her organization has scheduled a meeting with representatives from the city later this week to discuss those requests.

The same day, PETA issued its own call for an investigation of the incident, drawing attention to what it labeled a “conflict of interest” involving Lake Station Police Chief James Richardson, who previously served as police chief for the neighboring town of New Chicago.

The nationwide public payroll database GovSalaries lists a “Michael Mchenry” who was employed as a part-time patrolman by the city of New Chicago during Richardson’s tenure as chief. In 2021, a post by the Facebook page for the Hold The Line K9 Conference held in Ponoco Pines, Pennsylvania, listed McHenry as the “Current Canine Handler and Lead Trainer for New Chicago Police Department.”

“In light of this evident conflict of interest, PETA is asking city officials to order the Lake Station Police Department to recuse itself from the case, allow the Humane Society to take custody of the dogs, many of whom may still be hospitalized, and engage the Indiana State Police for a nonbiased, third-party investigation of the incident,” the organization wrote.

The Lake Station Police Department did not return multiple requests for comment, nor did FM K9.

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