A combination of unfortunate events, human error and operational shortcomings led to the incident, the EHS released on Thursday.
There was a snowstorm the day the drivers were bringing the animals to Edmonton from Grande Prairie. That, along with operational issues with the transport van, contributed to the overall fatigue of the two employees.
It was also revealed that the two worked 12 hours straight in “difficult conditions” before they returned to Edmonton.
One of the employees had made more than 40 similar transport trips, often alone. Doing so may have “led to complacency in handling the animal inventory,” the report read.
Investigator Conal Archer with IRISS Corp. out of Calgary – the firm that conducted the independent investigation — said the animals were found by an employee preparing to take the van out for another transport.
The cats were found in their crates, in an area not usually used for animal transport.
“[They were] in a position that was kind of hidden, normally, it’s a storage area inside that vehicle,” he said.
According to the report, the transport was described as “unusually large” so the storage area was used for the cats.
WATCH BELOW: The Edmonton Humane Society says all its staff are horrified after three cats were accidentally left in a transport van for weeks. Sarah Kraus issued this story on June 4.
Red flags were raised with employees that there was extra paperwork for three cats, but the report said that previous transports routinely had too many or too few files, so the red flags weren’t followed up by EHS staff.
Following the investigation, IRISS Corp. made the following recommendations:
- Review and evaluate current operations practices
- Identify concerns or gaps in policy and risk management strategies including internal audit functions and controls
- Develop a risk management framework
- Develop physical security policies and procedures for the facility
After the incident, EHS employees and the board of directors implemented a number of changes including:
- Animal transports that will take over seven hours round-trip will require the drivers to stay overnight
- Long haul transport (over 100 km) require two drivers
- All EHS fleet vehicles have been inspected and serviced, and are now on a regular service schedule
- Long haul transports require a pre- and post-trip vehicle inspection by EHS supervisors and a trip plan and animal tracking form completed and submitted
The investigation also independently confirmed that the three male cats – named Magic, Chance and Lucky – survived. It was revealed during the press conference that all three were adopted.
Archer said that vets speculated that the animals were able to lower their heart rates to a point where they were living off the fat in their bodies. It was also suspected that there may have been condensation on the walls of the van that the cats were able to drink until they were discovered.
Global News received a tip in late May about the incident at the shelter and followed up.
EHS board chair Summer Bradko said Thursday that it was a whistleblower who alerted the media.
“We’re grateful for that,” she said. “We, as a board, had the opportunity to address the situation. We ourselves were not aware of it.”
The animals weren’t discovered until April 18 when staff was preparing for another transfer.
“The cats were immediately assessed by our medical team and veterinarians who reported the cats as being alert and responsive, although dehydrated and hungry,” the statement said.
After backlash from the community, the EHS said it was open to an external investigation on June 7. Former Edmonton city councillor Kim Krushell volunteered to oversee the investigation carried out by a private Calgary-based firm.
“The good news here today is that they’re moving beyond this and there will be better animal care at this facility going forward,” Krushell said on Thursday.
On Sept. 20, the Alberta SPCA charged a staff member with two non-criminal offences under the Animal Protection Act.
Global News learned that the staff member charged was Mariah Berini. She had been reassigned to administrative duties until a verdict was reached.
“The Edmonton Humane Society takes these charges very seriously and we are committed to learning and growing from this incident to ensure it never happens again,” EHS Board Chair Summer Bradko said at the time.
Bradko wouldn’t comment further on the case at Thursday’s news conference as it is still before the courts.
The next day, Sept. 21, the shelter confirmed to Global News that CEO Miranda Jordan-Smith had resigned from her position.
Jordan-Smith had been the subject of a petition that had collected over 4,000 signatures which called for her to be suspended after the cat incident.
EHS said it plans to share the findings of the investigation with other animal welfare organizations across Canada “to ensure others learn from the incident.”
With files from Sarah Kraus, Emily Mertz, Phil Heidenreich and Caley Ramsay/Global News