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An online petition to “Hold Cheyenne Animal Shelter Accountable” had around 4,000 signatures asking for the removal of President and CEO Bob Fecht and others the night of Wednesday, September 12, 2018. The petition comes as the shelter investigates the pepper spraying of Tanner, an 8-month-old pit bull mix, last week. Blaine McCartney/Wyoming Tribune Eagle

CHEYENNE – Thousands of people concerned about the Cheyenne Animal Shelter’s decision to pepper spray a young dog last week have signed an online petition calling for shelter chief Bob Fecht to be fired, despite a board member’s assurances he did nothing wrong.

A Change.org petition accuses Fecht of abusing 8-month-old pit bull mix Tanner when he ordered him sprayed during a training exercise the day after the dog bit an employee.

“Everyone involved, including the CEO, Bob Fecht, should be fired and charged with animal abuse,” it reads. (The Cheyenne Police Department is investigating the incident, city officials confirmed Wednesday.)

The petition, created by local business professional Taryn Lackey, had more than 4,000 signatures as of 9:15 p.m. Wednesday.

The push is one of several ways people have reacted to a Tuesday Wyoming Tribune Eagle report relating a shelter employee’s allegations that Fecht ordered animal control officers to pepper spray Tanner in retaliation for biting an employee the previous day. The employee, Community Cat Program Coordinator Jay Klapel, said bites are common at the shelter and the reaction was unprecedented.

But a shelter report, written by an animal control officer whose name was redacted, disputes the nature of the dog’s attack and the reason for using the pepper spray. It says the dog was “viciously mauling” the shelter employee, and described the spraying as a safe, brief and relatively harmless exercise on a “vicious dog” to determine whether pepper spray would deter an aggressive animal and to show staff how it worked.

But Lackey and others said Wednesday they couldn’t support the decision. 

Lackey said she viewed the incident as unnecessary and belated punishment, and called for officials to resign.

“It’s going to be really hard to trust the animal shelter and everything they say with the same people there,” she said. “Especially if they don’t realize what they did was wrong.”

She did not, however, support calls to stop donations to the shelter. She worried that would hurt animals more than employees.

Alissa Cordova, who started a Facebook group called “Justice for Tanner,” agreed.

“I believe there are two abuses here: the abuse of an 8-month-old puppy and the abuse of authority,” she said. “No animal advocate would treat an animal the way Tanner was treated.”

In an interview Wednesday afternoon, Shelter Board President Chloe Illoway defended Fecht, saying he would “absolutely not” be fired for his actions to protect employees.  

 “His only concern from the beginning and to the end is the safety of the employees,” she said. “There’s a real risk in the incident that was investigated.”

In an interview with KTWO Channel 2 that aired Wednesday evening, Fecht echoed those remarks.

“Could I have shown a video or done something else? It’s possible,” he said. “But I wanted the most effective method so that they would have … I really wanted them to be feeling that they could continue to do their job and do it in a safe manner.”

Fecht did not return a call from the Wyoming Tribune Eagle for comment Wednesday.

Amid the accusations, the shelter could also see funding fallout, as some donors have vowed to stop giving.

Michelle Yarber, a longtime Cheyenne resident, said she donates $25 to the shelter each month and had written a $25,000 donation into her will.

After reading Tuesday’s report, she said she cancelled her monthly contribution and was talking to her lawyer about changing her will.

She said she’ll be giving more to the handful of other animal rights organizations she supports instead.

 “I am just not going to give my money to an organization that is supposed to protect the animals and instead performs animal cruelty,” she said.

The board met Wednesday night to discuss the matter; no conclusion had been announced as of 9:15 p.m.

But City Councilman Rocky Case, the council’s liaison to the shelter board, said the tenor of the meeting was somber as board members shared findings from the investigation to date.

He was not sure what decision the board would ultimately make, but said the implications were very serious.

“The future of the Animal Shelter as an organization is what’s at stake here,” he said.

Austin Huguelet is the Wyoming Tribune Eagle’s local government reporter. He can be reached at ahuguelet@wyomingnews.com or 307-633-3182. Follow him on Twitter at @ahuguelet.

Katie Kull is the Wyoming Tribune Eagle’s criminal justice reporter. She can be reached at kkull@wyomingnews.com or 307-633-3122. Follow her on Twitter at @katiekull1.

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