Photo Credit: 
Candi Copass-Bridges
Candi Copass-Bridges, 42, of Lawton, hugs one of the dogs she rescued from a Fletcher animal shelter.
Candi Copass-Bridges, 42, of Lawton, hugs one of the dogs she rescued from a Fletcher animal shelter.

Fletcher police are investigating conditions at the town’s animal shelter after a Lawton resident removed four dogs she said were in danger of freezing during recent severe weather.

Candi Copass-Bridges, 42, of Lawton, said an acquaintance told her of the conditions four dogs were facing as temperatures dropped well below freezing Monday. Copass-Bridges said she drove to the shelter in Fletcher, where she found four dogs in a metal shelter with very little protection from the elements.

Copass-Bridges documented the conditions she found at the shelter with photos and videos, each showing dogs visibly shivering from the cold. The dogs were being housed in chain link kennels filled with snow. Their water buckets were frozen solid and there were no visible covers over the doors of the metal shelter provided. The interior of the dog’s shelters was filled with snow blown in by high winds. Several photos show undisturbed snow piled several inches high in front of the kennel gates, indicating there had been no movement of the gates in some time. Four heaters were present at the shelter, but Copass-Bridges said only one was working and it was struggling to provide heat.

Copass-Bridges said she removed the dogs from the shelter and spoke to an Elgin animal control officer who agreed to help her with the dogs. She then spoke to Fletcher Mayor Dick Herrin about what she had found at the shelter. She has since taken one of the dogs to a local veterinarian to be examined. She said she believes the dog had been previously hit by a vehicle and was in need of a veterinarian’s care.

So far, Copass-Bridges said, Fletcher officials are working with her to make sure the dogs receive the care and attention they need while they conduct an investigation into the conditions at the animal shelter.

Fletcher Police Chief Jason DeLonias said Wednesday by phone he was notified of the incident at the shelter by Herrin and took steps to immediately close the shelter and begin an investigation.

DeLonias said his department will conduct a thorough investigation to gather facts and determine what probable cause exists “on both sides,” regarding the dog’s removal from the shelter and the allegations of neglect at the shelter.

“I’ve ordered the shelter to be shut down until further notice and it will not be reopened until I say it can be reopened,” DeLonias said.

DeLonias said he takes public trust and the matter at hand very seriously and will conduct “a proper, thorough investigation, by the numbers and by the book.”

“I want citizens to be very careful when they take the law into their own hands,” DeLonias said.

DeLonias declined to speculate on the investigation or the likelihood of any charges which may result from the investigation, but acknowledged police have discretion when it comes to the charges they recommend.

“Discretion is based on the totality of circumstances, and we don’t have the totality of circumstances [in this case] yet,” DeLonias said.

For now, police will await the outcome of veterinarian assessments of the dogs while they review evidence, conduct interviews and assess conditions at the shelter.

“Justice comes in many forms,” DeLonias said. “We will take the appropriate steps with the evidence we’re given.”

Fletcher officials said they will work with the Elgin Animal Shelter and other area providers to make sure animals receive the care they need while the town’s shelter is closed, should the need to do so arise.