The shelter, according to a press release Saturday from the board, is also closed until an investigation can be completed. The board will "cooperate fully with the GBI (Georgia Bureau of Investigation)" and has appointed "a 5 person subcommittee composed of 3 board members and 2 independent members to do our own investigation."
The actions stem from footage recorded last week during a visit to the shelter by Fox 5 Atlanta reporter Randy Travis. His reporting, which investigates the euthanization records of a few sponsored pets, questions whether the shelter's “Lucky Dog” sponsorship program truly saves animals' lives.
The program allows one to financially sponsor a cat or dog and provide it with shots, worming, spay and neuter services, a rabies shot and a physical exam by a veterinarian. A “lucky” animal is supposed to be safe from euthanization and easier to adopt. The shelter currently has 15 animals that have been sponsored through the program.
Travis’ footage shows records of lucky sponsored animals that were documented as being euthanized at the shelter.
Kilby told The Tribune last week that the lucky program was primarily used for older dogs.
“Like the dogs who are hit by cars, people can donate money to sponsor them,” she said. “Sometimes we lose them — heart failure sometimes. It doesn’t always end up the way we want.”
According to the press release, the "Lucky Dog/Lucky Kitty Program is suspended immediately pending further review."
GBI is investigating the allegations against the shelter.
"The sheriff's office requested the GBI, is my understanding, to begin an investigation surrounding Boggs Mountain Humane Shelter," said Mountain Judicial Circuit District Attorney Brian Rickman. "They have gotten started. We have met and talked with GBI agents. They're starting a criminal investigation."
The criminal investigation potentially involves multiple felonies, Rickman said. He learned of the investigation the day after the first news report.
"I haven't had any communications with the sheriff's office at all, but my understanding is the news story with the whistleblower is what led to the investigation," he said.
After Travis left, Kilby said that the shelter wasn’t prepared for the filming.
“They had just come onto the property videoing customers and employees without permission,” she said last week. “And when we have a company ready to video, we have to have everything clean. We thought it was rude that they came without letting us know.”
Kilby said she had asked Travis to leave the shelter because he did not have permission to be there.
“They were asking about our 'Lucky Dog' program,” she said. “We couldn’t have him here. He didn’t ask, and I didn’t ask him to come. It’s not a county-owned property. It’s a privately owned business.”
When the shelter opened, the county agreed to pitch in about $85,000 a year to help fund the shelter. Debbie Jacobs, county clerk and chief financial officer, said the Rabun County Board of Commissioners had contributed $185,408 last year and has budgeted to give the shelter $175,750 this year.
Commissioner Jimmy Loudermilk said he didn’t know enough about the shelter to comment on the footage.
“I don’t think none of us know enough about what’s going on there to comment,” he said. “The board of directors, they’re the ones who going to make the decision. I don’t know what’s taking place down there. Penny Burkitt is an extremely good person, and a good business person. I think the decisions Penny makes will be the right decisions.”
Burkitt, the board president of Boggs Mountain Humane Shelter, could not be reached for comment beyond the press release.
Loudermilk said he was surprised by Travis’ news coverage.
“I think I was a little disappointed, but not only me, I think it was little disappointing for all the commissioners,” he said. “But we don’t know anything about that. We just allocate money to the board.”
(Editor's Note: Tribune staffers are continuing to cover various angles of this story and will update our website as news comes in.)