WARNING: parts of this story might be disturbing to some readers.
ST. LOUIS COUNTY, Mo. (KMOV.com) -- When Erin Bulfin talks about her dog Daisy, it's clear how much she meant to their family.
“She was just an amazing and loving dog,” she said. “She came running up to us, with her goofy smile and her underbite sticking out, and we knew right away she was for us.”
Daisy was a perfect fit, and became fast friends with their youngest daughter. “She was in love with her from the get-go and they were inseparable,” Bulfin said.
But in December 2019, Bulfin said Daisy got a little protective of a toy, and an accident happened.
“My daughter bent down to hand the toy to her and as she was trying to get it back to her, Daisy jumped up and bit her on the nose,” she said.
Bulfin said the family knew Daisy meant no harm and had no worries about her around their daughter again, but because there was an injury, Bulfin contacted St. Louis County Animal Care and Control, who said they would have to bring Daisy in to quarantine.
“The woman even said, 'you're welcome to bring your family in to visit her, she will be okay, we will take good care of her,’” recalled Bulfin.
The next day, they learned Daisy could quarantine at home instead, so Bulfin rushed to get her from the shelter. When she arrived, Daisy was dead.
“There was no explanation as to why. The woman just came up and said 'she's gone,'” Bulfin remembers.
She was devastated, and soon the shock and pain turned into anger.
“Within [an] hour, they took her back, euthanized her and decapitated her," she said. "It’s just disgusting.”
The decapitation, the county said, was necessary to test for rabies, but Bulfin couldn't understand why Daisy had been put down.
“She wasn't vicious or aggressive towards our children at all before this. It was a one-time incident and we were just trying to do what we needed to do,” she said.
County officials have claimed her husband authorized the euthanasia, something he adamantly denies.
“They basically tried to blame my husband for everything and they have made up so many lies and stories about things we supposedly said that aren't true,” Bulfin said.
Missouri state law requires veterinarians to send in brain tissue samples of an animal that might have rabies, but St. Louis County law requires the county shelter to keep the animal to observe it for 10 days, which leads Bulfin to believe there was absolutely no need to euthanize Daisy or test her brain tissue.
The family has been seeking answers ever since, and told News 4 they have never received an apology, and the department has been "very aggressive" toward them.
Kerry Obert says there’s no care or control within the St. Louis County’s Animal Care and Control Center. “Your job is to control animals and now mine is gone,” she said.
A 2019 audit of the county shelter found officials had been misrepresenting data, making it appear as if many more owners had requested euthanasia than actually had. Following that audit, the shelter vowed changes, complying with multiple recommendations in the report. But there have been other issues as recently as this year. In July, the shelter lost a dog, Harley, they were supposed to be caring for. That animal is still missing.
How the county euthanizes dogs has also been an issue in the past. News 4 confirmed that until just a few months ago, the county used a method of euthanasia called a "cardiac stick," which is an injection directly into an animal's heart, and can occur without sedation, something animal rights groups have long decried.
Embroiled in a lawsuit, Bulfin said the county won't tell her how exactly Daisy died, which is why she's speaking out now.
"They refuse to tell us whether or not they sedated her before they euthanized her. What I have read from their statements is that they were just in a really big hurry to get it done,” she said.
"Personally I would never want to do it for an animal that was totally awake,” said veterinarian Dr. Teresa Garden, referring to stick procedures. She wasn't affiliated with Daisy's case, but explained that in private practice, heart sticks are almost never used.
She puts animals under heavy sedation before administering an IV drug.
"Without sedation," she said, “I would think they could always struggle and they might feel the effects of the drugs, so I would think there might be some degree of discomfort.”
There have been changes in leadership at St. Louis County Animal Care and Control, but the top official is Dr. Faisal Khan, who is the county's health director. Through a spokesperson, we were repeatedly told we could not have an interview with Dr. Khan.
Specific to Daisy's case, officials would only say, "given that this is a pending legal matter, we have no comment at this time."
But when we asked about their euthanasia practices in general, a spokesperson wrote: "Until May 2021, we euthanized animals with a heart stick injection. They were sedated prior to the procedure. We stopped doing heart sticks as of May 2021." They further added "ACC has always sedated prior to a heart stick."
When asked about the incident Monday, County Executive Sam Page said he had full confidence in the shelter's staff, especially after the audit.
“We are going to implement all of those changes, which include the way we take care of animals, the euthanasia rate, and the policies for euthanizing," he said. "We are reviewing all of those."
But Bulfin doesn't understand why the county won't just give them proof of what happened to Daisy.
“It’s just cruelty,” she said. "‘Our goal is to make sure that no animals suffer and no family has to be traumatized like ours."
News 4 is still waiting for records requests from St. Louis County.