Sugar Land terminated five animal service employees after finding unauthorized euthanizations at the city's animal shelter.

Following an investigation, the city confirmed that at least 38 unauthorized euthanizations of dogs and cats have occurred since April, according to a city press release. Employees involved claimed the animals displayed aggressive behavior or had a medical diagnosis.

The city learned about this issue when a shelter employee informed senior management Sept. 15 that unauthorized euthanizations had occurred at the shelter.

A veterinarian must first evaluate an animal to determine if euthanization is medically necessary, per Sugar Land city protocols and the Animal Services Division Manual of Standard Operating Procedures. Additionally, a certified behaviorist must be consulted regarding animals with behavior issues, who will give a recommendation to shelter staff. Euthanizations must occur under the direct supervision of a veterinarian.

A formal investigation involving multiple departments was immediately launched, including interviews with shelter employees and a review of documentation, and concluded Sept. 22. The investigation found these procedures were not followed, verbal instructions were ignored, and employees knowingly disobeyed direct orders and the Animal Services Division Manual of Standard Operating Procedures, according to the release.

Based on what was learned in the investigation, five animal services employees were terminated Sept. 22-23, and the shelter manager resigned before he could be terminated.

Sugar Land will temporarily reassign employees from other city offices and departments to support the five remaining animal services employees until new employees are hired. No changes to services at the shelter are expected.

The city said in the release that it will continue working to implement any training and protocols needed to ensure this never happens again.