By Ivan Raconteur
HOWARD LAKE, MN In what could be the final chapter in the complicated story of Howard Lake Police Department’s former K-9, Felony, who escaped and was later euthanized, former dog catcher Wayne Kozitka met with the Howard Lake Police Commission Tuesday evening to resolve some concerns about the way the situation was handled.
The commission consists of Mayor Richard Lammers and City Council Member Tom Kutz. City Administrator Kelly Hinnenkamp and Police Chief Tracy Vetruba were also present, as were members of Kozitka’s family and other community residents.
The primary question posed by Kozitka and his family regarding the city’s decision to dispense with his services as dog catcher was “What did he do wrong?”
After nearly an hour of discussion, Kutz, on behalf of the commission, acknowledged that Kozitka did his job when he picked up the dog and took it to the humane society.
Kutz said the council looked at all aspects of the situation and decided to terminate its contracts (with Kozitka and the humane society) and switch the responsibility for animal control to city employees, who now take impounded animals to Crossroads Animal Shelter in Buffalo.
Lammers asked Vetruba if he had any comment on this.
Vetruba said the police department never said Kozitka did not fulfill the terms of his contract.
“Part of this came through things we learned through this process,” Vetruba said. “The council decided it would be better to handle it (animal control) internally, with city employees.”
Lammers said he was still concerned about allegations that Kozitka had made regarding Vetruba’s investigation. He asked Kozitka to meet with Vetruba and work out specifically what Kozitka believes is incorrect.
Vetruba provided Kozitka with a copy of the report from his investigation, and said Kozitka can give him written statements about the information he believes is incorrect, and this will be added to the report, which is a part of the public record.
Vetruba said Kozitka could provide his comments in the form of a letter if he prefers.
For his part, Kozitka said the termination of his arrangement with the city was fine with him.
However, he said he wished the council would have talked to him before making its decision.
Kozitka said if the council had talked to him, he would have said that he did not want to do the job anymore under the existing conditions.
He said he would have wanted to be a city employee (rather than an independent contractor) for liability reasons.
Kozitka and his family said his name was dragged through the mud as a result of the situation with Felony.
“We all got bad press,” Hinnenkamp replied. “We all got our names on the Internet.”
She added that she, the mayor, the city council, Vetruba, and the police department were all subjected to criticism as the result of the situation, and in some cases had their statements taken out of context in comments that were posted online.
How things got to this point
Felony was euthanized by the Wright County Animal Humane Society last November after escaping from the kennel at the city’s wastewater treatment facility.
Vetruba conducted an internal investigation into the circumstances that led to this event, and presented his report to the city council in December.
After discussion during the Dec. 1 council meeting, the city council directed Hinnenkamp to terminate its arrangement with Kozitka, and notify the humane society that the city would terminate its contract at the end of the required 30-day notice period.
Hinnenkamp said the city had no formal contract with Kozitka. He was paid on a per-animal basis.
Kozitka said he served as the city’s dog catcher for about 13 years, and initially had a two-year contract.
During the Dec. 15 council meeting, Kozitka objected to the council’s decision to terminate the city’s arrangement with him, and to some of the information contained in Vetruba’s report.
Lammers said the proper forum for Kozitka to air his concerns would be in a meeting with the police commission.
That meeting took place Tuesday.
Many of the questions and concerns that were brought up during the meeting involved the way the dog was cared for prior to escaping and being euthanized.
Kozitka said the dog had been neglected, and Vetruba should have taken more responsibility for looking after the dog.
Vetruba said his responsibility is to oversee the department, and other officers had been assigned to take care of the dog.
“As a supervisor, I delegate work that I expect to be done, and I think that is what Chief Vetruba was doing,” Kutz commented.
Kozitka asked why officers did not check on the dog in the days prior to its escape. Vetruba said this was an oversight.
Hinnenkamp said the officer was reprimanded.
Kozitka said Vetruba “sits in his office way too much.”
Hinnenkamp said Vetruba does not spend any more time in his office than previous chiefs have.
The police commission, Hinnenkamp, and Vetruba all said they have learned from the experience.
Hinnenkamp said Vetruba inherited the K-9 program, and said the city has learned that the program should have been more structured, for example, including logs documenting when the dog was fed.
“What bothers me the most is that you are accusing our chief of malfeasance,” Lammers said to Kozitka. “I disagree. I think he did an excellent investigation. The council felt he did his job.”
Kozitka said the report stated that he had picked up the dog previously. He denied this.
Vetruba said Kozitka can add a statement to that effect to the report.
Kozitka said he thought it was bad that the council had not talked to him before making its decision. He said the Herald Journal and the Star Tribune newspapers contacted him, but he did not talk to them because he wanted the city council to talk to him first.
“We were not getting rich off this job,” Kozitka said. “We were doing this out of the goodness of our heart. You should be ashamed of how you treated me.”
In response to a question of what people should do if they see a dog running loose at 11 p.m., Vetruba said they should call the police department. He said the city has made arrangements to safely drop animals off at Crossroads Animal Shelter 24 hours per day.
All of the city representatives present repeated that Felony being euthanized was an unfortunate situation, and the city has learned a lot from it.