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The Independence Animal Shelter is in the doghouse — at least until its new building is done



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But if Missouri's health policies have hurt animals in shelters like the one in Independence, as critics contend, they haven't benefited Jones or Wells, either.

"Do I think it could be improved?" Jones says. "Heck, yes." Wells agrees. In long individual interviews, they go over shelter data and answer questions raised by former shelter workers. Presented with photos that volunteers took, showing small dog cages damp with urine, soiled with feces and lined with ripped-up newspapers, Wells says such conditions are "typical of any shelter." The cages are cleaned in the morning and evening, she says — a schedule that allows plenty of time for a dog to make a mess of its space.

"You got a little cage; they play with the paper, they play with the bedding," she says. "You have to remember, not everybody poops at the same time."

About an hour after making this point, she gives a tour of the shelter and points out a small dog lounging in its cage's shredded paper. The morning cleaning was about three hours ago, she says.

Wells has a harder time answering other allegations, and the most graphic descriptions seem difficult to hear, even for her. One episode recounted by multiple former employees and volunteers dates to 2007, three years after Wells took over the shelter. People working there at the time recalled that when a block of cat cages was pulled away from the wall, several decomposed cat carcasses were discovered trapped between the wall and the cages.

Jones and Wells don't deny that it happened. They say, however, that Wells' leadership allowed the remains to be found at all. It was Wells, they say, who ordered that the cages be replaced.

"She asked for new cages ... because she was afraid that cats could get behind those old cages," Jones says. "And obviously they could."

"It was [shocking and upsetting] for me, too," Wells adds. She blames those deaths on procedures that she says didn't call for daily checks on animals, procedures that were in place before her arrival. Starting in 2006, Wells says, the inventory system became computerized, so that missing animals could be detected.

Because of her streamlined approach to documenting animal intake, and based on the level of decomposition, she's confident that none of those cats died on her watch. "Most of those that were found were just bones, so they'd been there a time," she says. "But I am not a forensic scientist."

Then there's the story of the raccoon. Former employees of the shelter told The Pitch that the animal was brought to the shelter to be euthanized but met a far worse fate: suffocation in a plastic bin while waiting for the needle. Wells admits that it happened but says it was the result of miscommunication between the shelter employee who admitted the raccoon and a custodian, who put a heavy object atop the bin. The employee was disciplined, Wells says. She calls what happened an isolated incident.

In a five-page letter to Jones dated April 22, 2008, the shelter's former volunteer coordinator, Susan Bass, who quit her position in December 2010, complained about Wells' personality and management skills.

"Aimee seems to need validation, and spends a lot of city hours building monuments to herself in my opinion," she wrote. According to Bass' letter, unsanitary conditions for animals persisted at the shelter, and employees altered dogs' birth records in order to get the animals out for adoption before they were 8 weeks old, the the earliest age for adoption under the federal Animal Welfare Act.

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