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Drug Raid Paralyzes Animal Shelter

The Lake Elsinore facility can't euthanize after DEA agents seize medications. The private clinic lacked the proper licenses, officials say.

June 30, 2004|Matthew Lopas | Times Staff Writer

An animal shelter that serves southwest Riverside County is having difficulty providing some services after federal agents raided the facility last week and seized tranquilizers and drugs used to euthanize animals.

Agents for the Drug Enforcement Administration seized the narcotics at the Animal Friends of the Valleys in Lake Elsinore on June 22 after finding that the shelter lacked the required approvals to have the drugs, said Jose Martinez, a spokesman for the DEA's Los Angeles office.

The private shelter has contracts with Temecula, Murrieta, Lake Elsinore and Canyon Lake to provide animal control services, and serves as a shelter for nearby unincorporated parts of Riverside County.

Willa Bagwell, the shelter's assistant director, said the staff was unclear on the reason for the raid. She said they were unaware that even though a veterinarian supplies the drugs, a separate license is needed to store and use them outside of his office.

Martinez declined to discuss specifics, but said the lack of a veterinarian or veterinary technician at the shelter was a reason the drugs were seized. Bagwell said the shelter was following state law that allows trained employees of an animal shelter to use the drugs.

Since the raid, the shelter has been unable to provide adequate service because of its inability to euthanize animals, Bagwell said. The shelter has applied for the licenses but has been told it can take four to six weeks.

"It's been horrible," she said. "We've been turning people away who can't afford to go to a vet."

The shelter's staff sought the help of Rep. Darrell E. Issa (R-Vista), whose district includes the region. He and his office have been in contact with the DEA and are setting up a conference call as early as today to see if the licenses can be expedited, according to Phil Paule, the congressman's district director.

Riverside County Supervisor Bob Buster, whose district also includes the shelter, has called on the county to clarify the state and federal laws to prevent such actions from happening elsewhere. He said he was angry to hear that a raid happened without warning.

"We can't afford to have this type of work stopped," he said.

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