(Editor’s Note: This is our third article about the squalid living conditions dogs endure at the Canyon Lake animal shelter. To read the June 2, 2022 article ‘Parvo Pups and Disappearing Dogs: What’s Happening at Canyon Lake’s Animal Shelter’? click here. To read our Jan. 20 article, ‘Canyon Lake Animal Shelter Closes Due to Outbreaks of Parvo, Distemper While Angry Owners Mourn Death of Dogs Not Fully Vetted,’ click here.)
On Jan. 8 Jennifer Thompson, the former kennel manager at the nonprofit Canyon Lake Animal Shelter Society (CLASS), texted her supervisor, Vice President Kelly Mayfield, to ask for guidance on treating a sick puppy that was returned to CLASS by a foster. The puppy had parvovirus and distemper.
“The brindle one is almost gone,” she wrote.
“I’m sorry – there are humane ways to take it outs of its Misery – however you won’t find it that way,” Mayfield responded.
“What can I do?” Thompson replied.
“You honestly want to know?” Mayfield asked.
“Yes,” Thompson said.
“Wrap it in a towel/stick it in your freezer. It will go to sleep and then die. It happens quickly. This is advice from (a New Braunfels vet),” Mayfield responded. “More humane that (sic) letting it hurt and suffer. Put it in and walk away.”
Thompson refused. She had a veterinary appointment for this puppy and its littermate scheduled for 10:30 a.m. the next day.
Days later, she quit.
On Facebook last weekend, Thompson posted a screen grab of Mayfield’s text and described what happened after her boss instructed her to freeze the dog to death:
“I held that sweet puppy close to me and loved on her until she took her last breath.”
Both puppies passed that evening.
In an interview with MyCanyonLake.com in late January, Thompson was so traumatized by everything she’d seen and experienced during her one year at CLASS that she repeatedly broke down, sobbing as she related her experiences.
She described the needless, prolonged, and cruel deaths of dozens of unvaccinated, sick and injured dogs who were locked up in overcrowded kennels or portable kennels stacked on top of each other. The animals lay in their own feces and vomit for up to 19 hours before dying.
When Thompson arrived every morning she’d do a walk-through to see which puppies were still alive.
“A lot of times you would have to double-bag them and throw them in the dumpster,” she said.
Many dogs were too clean to urinate or defecate in their own kennels and somehow managed to hold it from 1 p.m. in the afternoon, when the shelter closed, until after Thompson returned to work at 9 a.m. the following morning. Then they would have to wait for her to even get to them.
Thompson’s daily responsibilities included cleaning all kennels, feeding all of the animals, administering medications and walking dogs. CLASS only has two other part-time employees.
She confirmed longstanding suspicions on the part of animal advocates that only occasionally do the Mayfields quarantine, vaccinate, spay, and neuter their canine intakes; administer heartworm/flea/tick prevention; microchip animals; keep records of anything; or worry about paperwork before handing foster animals over to anyone who shows up.
Thompson’s best estimate is there are around 100 dogs stuffed into CLASS every month, with mother dogs sometimes forced to relieve themselves in the crowded pop-up kennels where they are kept with their puppies.
Joining her for the January interview with MyCanyonLake.com was former CLASS Vice President Melissa Dobbins, a Spring Branch/Bulverde realtor who served on CLASS’s board from June-November 2022. A foster who was appointed to the board to help with fundraising, Dobbins said it quickly became apparent the Mayfields were mostly interested in her people skills.
Mayfield, she said, wanted to avoid contact with as many people as possible.
Dobbins said she can vouch for everything Thompson told MyCanyonLake.com — and more.
For example, she knows of at least four other distemper and parvovirus outbreaks at CLASS over the last year, not just the one that made headlines in January.
In addition to her work at CLASS, Dobbins fostered 58 dogs and litters of puppies. Thompson fostered another 40 during her year at CLASS. Many of those dogs also died from parvovirus and distemper they caught at CLASS, but they were the lucky ones. They received out-of-pocket veterinary care and died in warm homes and loving arms.
Dobbins and Thompson said they are speaking out now because they want Mayfield and her husband Darrell Mayfield, president of the board, ousted and replaced with professionals who know how to run a shelter properly and are willing to work collaboratively with the Canyon Lake community.
Neither wants to be tarnished by their association with CLASS. Thompson said that for several reasons her employment options were limited and CLASS at first seemed like a very good job at the time. Mayfield appeared to know what she was doing and provided reasonable explanations for everything Thompson wondered about.
Dobbins said she had no idea what she was getting into. Like many in the Canyon Lake community, she strongly believed the shelter was helping animals that might otherwise be euthanized.
Mayfield, she said, made a compelling case that rumors circulating around Canyon Lake amounted to little more than malicious gossip by people who liked to criticize but were unwilling to help.
It didn’t take long for Dobbins to start seeing through those claims. But when she asked Mayfield about best practices at CLASS in the wake of a parvo outbreak, Mayfield quickly shut her down, she said, snapping that Dobbins should try running things herself if she didn’t like the way CLASS operated.
“Looking back, I think I should have said yes and just tried to figure it out,” Dobbins said.
Three times she asked to see a list of CLASS’s guidelines and operating procedures, and three times those requests were ignored. She called a nearby shelter for guidance but was met with stony silence.
“Shelters need to come together and help people make it better, not just say it’s bad or they’re bad,” Dobbins said. “Teach us how to make it better, where can we look for guidance on regulations?”
Dobbins recalled once asking the Mayfields for funds to buy a discounted designer handbag that could be upsold at a silent auction, something nonprofits do all the time.
“I was told by both of the Mayfields that the board would have to vote to spend $250 to $300,” she said.
When she arrived at the shelter a short time later, the Mayfields — without conferring with her first, as they are supposed to do — had purchased two new $500 air purifiers, presumably, Dobbins said, in response to complaints about the overwhelming smell of dog feces at the shelter.
As she advocated for CLASS to join the Bulverde Spring Branch Area Chamber of Commerce late last year, Dobbins said someone pulled her aside to ask whether Mayfield was an animal hoarder. Things clicked.
Six months after her board appointment, and still unclear where the cash handed over to the Mayfields at fundraisers really went, Dobbins quit. She said she felt like she was abandoning animals to a bleak future.
In her Nov. 16, 2022 resignation letter to CLASS, she highlighted these concerns:
- The tension between staff members.
- Lack of basic care for animals, the hoarding of animals, the number of animals left in crates, and overcrowding.
- Poor management, inadequate training for volunteers, and overall lack of structure, policies, and procedures.
“Lack of trust, communication, openness and respect do not allow me to believe that I am in a position to make a positive contribution to CLASS,” she said. “I do pray the shelter will be able to find order and persevere.”
What the Mayfields Say
MyCanyonLake.com reached out to the Mayfields in January to hear their side of these stories.
In a Jan. 26 email, they addressed the text message but did not respond to questions about intake and veterinary records, provide detailed financial data, reveal the number of dogs under their care on a routine basis, or provide records of animals possibly euthanized in the wake of January’s parvovirus/distemper outbreak.
“Animals were euthanized,” was all they responded, then criticized Dobbins’ and Thompson’s performances.
Thompson, they said, behaved erratically, and screamed and cursed at dogs in front of volunteers and the public. She threw items around and kicked food bowls, and became angered when she heard the Mayfields planned to hire someone else. She did not dose dogs with monthly flea and heartworm treatments and did not deworm the dogs as directed.
As for the infamous text that went viral on social media Monday: “Jennifer refused to take the sick puppy to a veterinarian because she said she could save it. We told her several times to go to a veterinarian. She waited until 10:02 at night to say the puppy is dying now and refused to take it anywhere.”
Dobbins, they wrote, was asked to help with events and event planning but did not show up for events. She rarely came to the shelter and then complained her real estate business was suffering.
The Mayfields then, as they do frequently to anyone who crosses them on Facebook, blamed Dobbins for her lack of commitment.
“CLASS is a small shelter that depends on active volunteers,” they wrote. “This is a 24/7 operation that requires commitment. Board positions are not paid positions. We would love to have more board members but no one wants to commit the time required to make the shelter run.”
The Mayfields referred MyCanyonLake.com to Guidestar.com for financial information. There, the most recent 990 (tax return for nonprofits) is from July 2020 to June 2021 and is signed by former shelter director Angie Gilstrap.
Gilstrap did not immediately respond to a request for comment. According to animal advocates who worked with her, she ran a tight ship. Animals were well cared for and properly vetted until she resigned and handed CLASS over to the Mayfields in June 2021.
For 2017, Guidestar.com shows CLASS had total assets of $227,979, total liabilities of $34,903, and net assets of $193,076.
Guidestar also lists CLASS’s gross receipts as $29,575 and assets at $51,712. There is no information about the source or date range of those figures.
According to data on Comal County’s Central Appraisal District, CLASS’s land and building are valued at $581,850.
If the Mayfields do keep financial records, they are not available to the public and have not been shared with board members who come and go at CLASS.
When Dobbins left last year, the Mayfields were the only ones serving on CLASS’s board.
What the Vet Said About the Text
In an email, the New Braunfels veterinarian mentioned in Mayfield’s horrific text said they weren’t too happy with the inference they told a client to kill an animal in a freezer.
However, they said euthanasia options including hypothermia or gunshot when veterinary care is not available is a topic that has been discussed in conversations with CLASS and individual clients on occasion.
“These however were ‘worst case, what-if’ discussions, and hypothetical, never directed protocols,” they said. “I have no dates on this text but depending on the night — there may have been no veterinary options — it is not uncommon for all the local emergency veterinary facilities to be full, not accepting new cases overnight, or have five- to six-hour wait times. A conversation may have been recalled and hypothermia recommended for this animal as a better option than continuing to suffer and lingering – per the text ‘almost gone.’ Watching an animal gasp/suffer in agony is a very traumatizing thing and the desire to do something to make its suffering end can be overwhelming. This is in no way a defense of CLASS – I would want to know that all options had been exhausted for chemical euthanasia.
“I do not know if that was the case in this instance,” they said. “I have never been contacted asking if a particular case warranted such measures. I am very disappointed that this was held out with my name attached as seeming fine/acceptable as if the instruction came directly from me with knowledge of the ongoing case as the tone of the text as I take it implies.”
The New Braunfels vet said every shelter should designate a veterinary professional it can call on to guide it during difficult times.
However, at least one local veterinary clinic isn’t taking any more calls from CLASS.
They confirmed to MyCanyonLake.com that on Aug. 15, 2022, they were asked to come to CLASS to euthanize a 50-pound neutered male named Charlie who was living in a foster home when he was attacked by two other foster dogs.
“I understood the attack had happened the night before,” they said. “The pet had multiple bite wounds and trauma and was clearly in pain. He was being kept in a large room on the floor and there was quite a bit of blood around.”
Dobbins remembers that episode very well, too.
“Kelly told the foster to take Charlie to the shelter and gave them the code to enter the shelter and leave him there,” she said. “The foster called Thompson as they were worried about him not being checked on until the next morning.”
Thompson arrived at the shelter soon after. She called Mayfield and told her the dog required immediate veterinary attention.
But it was late. Mayfield instructed her to leave the dog in a back room until the next morning when she would arrive and decide what to do with the injured animal.
Tearfully and reluctantly, Thompson and the fosters made a bed for Charlie. They had no resources of their own to personally pay for his treatment or any legal right to make choices for him.
“We were all bawling, all three of us,” Thompson said. “This dog had puncture wounds all over its body. . .The dog was in shock. It just lay there. It didn’t move.”
Charlie was still alive the next morning and to their horror, CLASS employees realized the animal had dragged himself around the room after they left, probably out of its mind with pain.
Thompson said another employee described the room as looking like a murder scene.
The two foster two dogs who attacked Charlie eventually were returned to CLASS, where they were placed together in a large hallway kennel where they picked a fight with and killed a third kennel mate. They were later euthanized.
“I have encountered so much death with dogs,” Thompson said.
CLASS has a long history of animal abuse, neglect and alleged misappropriation of funds.
In 2013, an investigation into reports of deplorable conditions at CLASS resulted in the election of five new board members and the firing of three employees for animal mistreatment and neglect.
Animal kennels were found covered in feces. Dogs were fighting each other for food. Water bowls had turned green and tadpoles were swimming in the putrid water. Seven garbage bags filled with dead animals were discovered in a freezer.
Gilstrap, one of new board members elected that year, was put in charge of remediating CLASS. She turned the shelter around and it once more became the pride of Canyon Lake.
But 10 years later, she doesn’t want to be interviewed and doesn’t return calls from people who have worked with her in the past. All anyone knows about any current connections with CLASS is that she rents her Canyon Lake home to the Mayfields.
Good question, say many animal advocates and angry pet owners who have tried for years to get anyone to take their claims about CLASS seriously.
One elected Comal County official, speaking on conditions of anonymity, says the county has no regulatory authority over CLASS.
Animal control officers (ACOs) who report to the Comal County Sheriff’s Office (CCSO) can only visit the shelter, write a report about what they see, share their concerns with CLASS then follow up to make sure CLASS addresses each of the issues identified in their report.
From there, it becomes a Catch-22. Every case is considered “cured” once CLASS complies with ACO’s requests . . . until someone else files another complaint, and the process begins again, from scratch.
So far the Mayfields have been able to avoid any long-term repercussions for their alleged mismanagement and cruelty to animals.
Animal Control did not respond to an email sent by CCSO Spokesperson Jennifer Smith, who forwarded a request for comment from MyCanyonLake.com. But she also would not confirm whether CCSO is investigating any of the multiple allegations from residents.
In the meantime, many of the animal advocates interviewed for this story are pinning their hopes for reform at CLASS on TV reporters from San Antonio who have scheduled interviews this week with Thompson.
Several with firsthand knowledge of conditions at the shelter will be interviewed at 11 a.m. Feb. 15 by an ‘Inspector Bark,’ who runs a Facebook page dedicated to investigating “all things canine.” The two-hour podcast will be archived on the organization’s Facebook page.
The county official who agreed to speak off the record to MyCanyonLake.com also has experience working with nonprofits. They said it will take an expert in nonprofits to get to the bottom of who “owns” CLASS and how the Mayfields might be removed.
Nobody knows, either, whether the Mayfields have somehow managed to alter the 501 (c)(3)’s structure.
The Office of the Texas Attorney General, which protects against consumer fraud, enforces open government laws, and provides legal advice to state officials, did not return MyCanyonLake.com’s request for information about oversight for nonprofits.
However, old bylaws unearthed by a longtime Canyon Lake animal lover state that if CLASS were to be dissolved, assets would be distributed according to IRS code or distributed to the federal government, to a state or local government, for a public purpose.
“Any such assets not so disposed of shall be disposed of by the Court of Common Pleas of the county in which the principal office of the organization is then located, exclusively for such purposes or to such organization or organizations as said Court shall determine,” according to Nov. 28, 2000 bylaws.
They state CLASS was organized exclusively for charitable, scientific and educational purposes to:
- Rescue homeless, lost or abandoned animals in order to prevent and alleviate animal suffering and reduce overpopulation.
- Provide animals with food, shelter, medical attention and care on a temporary basis.
- Place animals in homes with people who will provide quality care, love and attention.
- Provide quality alternatives to the killing of healthy animals, and practice euthanasia only when medically indicated.
- Promote and encourage responsible stewardship, human treatment, and compassion and respect for all animals.
There are no easy answers about how to fix CLASS., but Texas Department of State Health Services (DSHS) said the mandate for ordinary citizens is simple: Reach out to elected officials and file injunctions.
“As this facility is not a licensed quarantine facility, your concerns should be communicated to local authorities such as the sheriff, county judge(s), county attorneys or other representatives,” DSHS’s Amanda Kieffer said in an email on Jan. 30.
“In addition, per HSC Chapter 823, any person may file an injunction against an animal shelter that they believe to be in violation of shelter standards,” she said. “There are also stipulations for animal cruelty in Chapter 821 and the Texas Penal Code 42.092 (cruelty to nonlivestock animals) relating to the improper provision of food, water, care or shelter.”
They include torturing an animal; failing to provide food, care or shelter; abandoning an animal; transporting or confining an animal in a cruel manner; killing, seriously injuring or poisoning an animal; causing an animal to fight with another; using a live animal as a lure in a dog race; tripping a horse; injuring an animal belonging to another person; and seriously overworking an animal.
“We recommend you or the animal control officer report the violations to law enforcement or code compliance, as these are the entities that can interpret violations of the law and enact civil or criminal penalties,” she said.
Maura Davies, vice president, Marketing and Communications for the SPCA of Texas, said civil cases are about possession, or who actually owns the animals. A judge who rules that someone has been cruel to animals may also remove the animals and order restitution.
In a criminal case, individuals face penalties including fines, jail, community service and/or probation.
Davies said an individual might engage in actions that are not prosecutable under Texas criminal laws, but they could be held liable for their actions under civil laws.
House Bill 653 and Senate Bill 1724, commonly known as ‘Loco’s Law,’ in honor of a chihuahua whose eyes were gouged out, went into effect on Sept. 1, 2001. It makes animal cruelty is a felony punishable by up to $10,000 and up to two years in jail.
Davies, who actually met Loco, said prior to Loco’s Law, animal cruelty was not considered a felony under Texas law.
Today, animal cruelty convictions are classified as either a felony or a misdemeanor.