Animal control director's decision to fire vet costs taxpayers - FOX 26 News | MyFoxHouston

Animal control director's decision to fire vet costs taxpayers

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The pictures taken in the euthanasia room at Harris County Animal Control depict something cruel, inhumane and illegal.

Pictures show dead animals in view of other terrified animals awaiting the same fate.

"No animal should have to see that or experience that kind of fear when it's not necessary," former animal control officer Cathy Schurmann said.

State laws regarding euthanizing animals were routinely broken under the watch of long-time director Dr. Dawn Blackmar, former employees told us.

What we uncovered prompted the Harris County Attorney's office to conduct its own investigation into the county's animal shelter.  HCAO confirmed numerous violations.

Blackmar refused to talk to us about what we had uncovered.  In written responses, animal control officials would only say employees were retrained.

The DA's office declined to file any criminal charges.

Now, FOX 26 Investigates has learned Blackmar's decision to fire veterinarian Kristina Lem.  Lem filed suit against the county, costing taxpayers $179,000.

In her deposition regarding Lem's firing, Blackmar accused Lem and fired animal control officer Demetrio Ortiz for:

-- Socializing too much on the job
-- Inappropriate behavior
-- Excessive hugging
-- Kissing
-- Other inappropriate sexual or physical conduct

In her lawsuit, Lem said she was fired because of her association with Dr. Cherie Whittenberg, a disabled colleague.  Lem accuses Blackmar of gathering a "litany of petty perceived transgressions" on Whittenberg's close colleagues.

Lem accused Blackmar of undermining "the potential success of any disability claim that Whittenberg might bring by pointing to another employee, one without a disability who was also fired."

"She discredited them in case they were actually able to step up for me," Whittenberg said.

Lem said Blackmar fired Whittenberg because of her bipolar disorder, speculating Whittenberg was on the verge of a manic episode.

"She decided, she leapt to that conclusion that I must be having an episode and she had to get rid of me," Whittenberg said.

In her deposition, Blackmar said she fired Whittenberg because of changes she saw in her demeanor and appearance.

"She was fixing her hair differently, she was dressing more provocatively, and she was wearing more make-up than she typically did," Blackmar said in her deposition.

"Make-up no different than I have on right now, hair no different than right now," Whittenberg said.  "Nothing about my clothing was provocative unless you consider this shirt provocative."

Dr. Blackmar declined our request for an interview or comment.

In a prepared statement, the Harris County Attorney's office said:

"The parties resolved this lawsuit through a negotiated compromise to avoid the additional expense of prolonged litigation and the uncertainty of a trial. The settlement is not an admission of liability and does not mean the county believes discrimination occurred."

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