When the board of the Humane Society of Southeast Texas (HSSET) advertised the job of shelter manager last year, the response was good with a number of apparently qualified applicants submitting their resumes. Nestled among the group, however, was a name that immediately popped out.
Max Mixson was the manager of the Petco store on Dowlen Road in Beaumont and had previously been a senior cruelty investigator at the Houston Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. In that capacity, he had been prominently featured in the hit cable series “Animal Cops: Houston,” where he made a definite impression on viewers in any number of high-profile cases.
Many remember Houston SPCA for their November 2008 secretive killing of 187 seized Pitbulls without a single evaluation before any of the owners had their day in court. I don't watch their TV show but their apparent zeal for Pitbull killing "made a definite impression" on me. A former shelter employee relates some specific incidents with Mr. Mixson at HSSET that have a ring of familiarity:
Brandi Furr, 26, was a shelter employee for most of 2008. She resigned in February because of unspecified family issues, but she said mainly due to her inability to deal with events taking place in the shelter. Described by people on both sides of the issue as “caring and compassionate” and “a good employee,” her story is worth exploring not only because it is deeply felt but also because it conveys how Mixson is perceived by the dissident faction at the Humane Society of Southeast Texas.
“I love that place,” said Furr. “I loved my job, but Max Mixson — you see him on ‘Animal Planet,’ but he’s a totally different person. He lies to the public.”
Furr said her problems with Mixson can be traced to a sharp difference in how individual dogs should be treated.
“Max does not work with the dogs, he doesn’t know anything about the dogs,” she said. “He’ll make rounds and decide which dogs will go down. I would be really mad about the euthanizing and I would let them know. I would talk to the board members and our employees and Max would get mad.”
Her allegations are not shy on details. In fact, Furr cites numerous instances involving specific animals.
“Max came in and his first day there, he went into the kennels — I was working in the kennel area — and he went up to a dog,” recounted Furr. “It wasn’t an aggressive dog; it was a hyper dog. (Max) went up to his cage and it started barking at him. I walked over to him and said ‘That dog’s not aggressive. It doesn’t know you.’ He said ‘Well, that’s the first dog on my list.’ That dog got put down; that was the first dog to get put down when he was there.”
According to Furr, scared or shy animals found no favor with the new shelter manager.
“Dogs would come in and they would be shy, this is my main thing,” she said. “Shy dogs are being put down; this never used to happen. They would come in from the street. They had a family once; we don’t know their whole story. They come in off the street not knowing where they’re at, not knowing to trust people, they hide under their bed and just shake. They wouldn’t bite, they’d let you pet them and stuff, but weren’t the dogs at the front of the cage barking."
Furr sounded near tears as she recalled the fate of a dog named Omega.
“He was a Lab and something else; he was a big, big dog,” she said. “He looked really mean, but he was not mean at all. He went on Channel 6 News as one of our pets of the week and so many people called wanting him. … but Max wanted to put it down because he thought it was mean. When you’d go to the cage, it would charge and jump and bark, but it was because he didn’t know Max. The environment those dogs are in, they’re going to act that way. But instead of Max giving him time, he made the decision to put the dog down. We had call after call after call to adopt that dog out, but he was already dead.”
The image of Mixson as a cold, unfeeling bureaucrat seems far-fetched — except in Furr’s telling of events inside the shelter.
“Another situation, somebody brought in a pit bull,” she said. “For some reason, I guess he doesn’t like pit bulls. I know they have a reputation, but still. A pit bull came in and instead of taking it to the sick room — I think somebody was in the sick room cleaning it — he took it into our break room and put it to sleep right there on the floor. It’s just crazy; I love my job, but I can’t work with a monster like him.”
Mixson acknowledged the pit bull was put down in the break room, but observed it was a closed room within the facility that was not in use at the time and that the dog’s owner had described it as “dangerous” when he brought it in. He noted that euthanasia is always a difficult decision for him, and that he believes every animal is worth saving if a good home could be found for them.
Right. But I guess you wouldn't know if a good home could be found if you kill the dog upon entry into the shelter based upon the owner's description. Newsflash: Sometimes dishonest people surrender dogs at shelters and lie about the reasons why. Every dog deserves a fair evaluation.
Oh and by the way, if you are so eager to kill an incoming dog that you can't wait for the euthanasia room to be cleaned and have to use the room designated for shelter employees to take breaks - that's some kinda problem you got there.
If you are a Houston area resident, you may wish to attend Nathan Winograd's seminar on March 28, 2009. See No Kill Houston for details.