Marlin residents demand answers on animal shelter

One month after a dog was discovered dead at the Marlin Animal Shelter, the two-year-old facility sits empty and closed as residents demand answers about how the shelter was run.

Regular protests have continued every Saturday morning at the Falls County Courthouse calling for the arrest of animal control officer Nicole Grams and Police Chief James Hommel on animal cruelty and evidence tampering charges.

Following the discovery of a dead dog at the shelter on Jan. 9, Falls County Sheriff Joe Lopez announced his office and the Falls County District Attorney would be launching an investigation into the incident, but no results had been announced as of Thursday. Falls County Chief Deputy W. Derick Johnson said via email Tuesday that the investigation remains ongoing.

Calls and emails over the past month to Marlin City Manager Keith Whitfield and Hommel seeking comment have not been returned. A phone call made Thursday to Grams seeking comment was not returned.

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The animal shelter the city of Marlin opened in 2022 has been closed since Jan. 9, when a dead dog and unsanitary conditions were reported.

Marlin Mayor Susan Byrd said in a Jan. 12 statement that she would not be commenting on the situation due to the ongoing investigation. City Council Member Cecil Sparks declined comment when called in January.

The shelter’s issues came to light on Jan. 9, when Marlin resident Jeffrey Rich made a Facebook post after discovering a dead dog and numerous other malnourished dogs at the Marlin Animal Shelter, located at 115 Capps St., along with feces-filled kennels and dry water and food bowls.

According to Rich, within minutes of making the post, Hommel came to the shelter and asked Rich to delete the post and also began assisting shelter staff in cleaning up the shelter.

Hommel said on Jan. 9 that many of the dogs taken to the shelter were “not in a good state anyway” and were already malnourished when coming to the shelter. On Jan. 9, Sparks also said the issue was “blown out of proportion” and said the feces seen in the kennels had accumulated over the day, as the kennels had been cleaned the day before and the dogs had also been fed the day before.

Picture taken by Jeffrey Rich and posted to Facebook showing Prince, a dog rescued from the Marlin animal shelter, emaciated and in a dirty kennel on Jan. 9.

Lopez said in early January that the dead dog had already been removed and disposed of before his deputies could get to the shelter and said shelter staff were in the process of cleaning the kennels when he and other deputies arrived. Lopez called the condition seen in the Facebook post “disgusting,” and said his office would take the investigation seriously and would not “cover up” for anyone.

One month later, no arrests have been made and Marlin residents and animal advocates said they are concerned that nothing will be done to remedy the situation.

A group of animal advocates has protested every Saturday at the Falls County Courthouse calling for justice for the animals. They have also created an online petition at with more than 1,200 signatures.

In the petition, the group calls for the arrests of Grams and Hommel on evidence tampering charges for cleaning up the shelter and disposing of the dead dog before Lopez and his deputies could arrive, as well as animal cruelty charges.

The petition also alleges the Falls County Sheriff’s office is understaffed and unequipped to handle the investigation, and states that an unbiased investigation would be difficult to attain in a small town such as Marlin. The protesters are calling for an independent investigation by the Texas Rangers.

Lopez did not return several calls seeking comment Thursday.

On the day the dead dog was discovered, there were nine other dogs in the shelter, and by the next day they would all be gone, said Debra Wells, owner of Healing Heart Animal Rehab in Thornton. Wells said she took in two dogs, both malnourished and one on the brink of death.

Wells said the dog, which she nicknamed “Dude,” was 40 pounds underweight. Wells said Dude had trouble standing due to his malnutrition, and was very weak.

“This was not a quick pain,” Wells said. “This dog was starved for several weeks.”

Wells quickly learned that “Dude” was not just a stray dog and had an owner. Dude and another dog had been taken to the animal shelter after their owner, Sharetta Laury, was arrested on Dec. 12, said Laury’s wife, Sharvannha Warren.

The couple and their children were in the process of moving to Texas and ended up losing nearly everything in a Marlin apartment fire on Nov. 3. The family originally had six dogs but lost three in the fire.

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Photo taken by Jeffrey Rich and uploaded to Facebook showing an emaciated dog at the Marlin Animal Shelter on Jan. 9.

While the family was looking for a new place to stay, they had to take their remaining dogs to the animal shelter as the motel they were using as temporary housing did not allow pets. Warren said her family would visit the dogs every so often, and every visit the dogs appeared skinnier.

Due to the seemingly deteriorating condition of the dogs, Warren said her family decided to take their dogs out of the shelter and attempt to find another temporary home for them. On Nov. 26, the family visited their dogs and decided to pull them out the next day, but upon arriving the following morning, they were told one of the dogs, a puppy named Akilo, had died overnight from parvo.

Warren said her family was told Akilo had been found that morning with blood coming from his mouth, though he had seemed fine the day before. By the time the family came to the shelter, staff had already disposed of the dog’s corpse, and only had his collar left. While Akilo was only four months old, Warren said he had just gotten his shots, and should have been vaccinated against parvo.

Warren said her family pulled the remaining two dogs from the shelter, and when they were fed, they “ate like they hadn’t eaten in a while.” Warren then said she had to leave the state to take care of some business regarding the family’s move, and while she was gone, Laury was arrested on Dec. 12 on felony charges unrelated to the animals.

The remaining dogs were impounded in the shelter once again.

Warren said she learned from news accounts about the shelter conditions discovered Jan. 9 and then scrambled to try and find out about her dogs. She learned from the news that her dog Prince had been “rescued,” though shelter and city staff had not told her. Prince turned out to be the dog Wells had rescued and nicknamed “Dude.”

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A photo of Prince, taken shortly after he was rescued from the Marlin Animal Shelter on Jan. 9. A veterinarian told animal rescue operator Debra Wells that Prince was near death when he was taken from the shelter.

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A photo shows Prince, nicknamed “Dude,” taken shortly after his rescue on Jan. 9 from the Marlin Animal Shelter, where he had been for nearly a month. The rescuer, Debra Wells, said she used a microchip in the dog to identify it and return it to the owner.

Warren said calls to animal control to try and determine the status of her dogs went unanswered.

Wells said a veterinarian judged the dog to be severely undernourished. A microchip in the dog allowed her to identify Prince and return him to his owners, Wells said.

Marlin resident Guy Clemmons also said he was displaced by the Nov. 3 apartment fire, and said the city offered to board his two dogs while he looked for a new apartment.

On Jan. 9, Clemmons saw the post about the shelter conditions and went to City Hall to try and speak with Chief James Hommel to find out about his dogs. Clemmons said he was told his dogs had been dead for a while, with one dog dying on Dec. 3 and the other on Dec. 31.

Clemmons said he was told there had been attempts to contact him, but he still never received word that his dogs had died in the shelter. He said he was told both of his dogs had been found dead in a pool of blood, and still does not know how exactly they died.

According to Clemmons, the shelter has remained closed and has not taken in any new dogs since being emptied on Jan. 10.

The Tribune-Herald in mid-January submitted several open records requests to the city of Marlin for records relating to the animal shelter, followed by requests this week to the Falls County Sheriff’s Office.

City and sheriff’s officials cited the ongoing investigation in refusing to release records detailing the most recent veterinarian inspection report on the shelter or the police report from the day the dead dog was found.

In response to the open records request, Marlin officials provided animal intake records from November through January, but they appear to be incomplete or in conflict with the owners’ version of events.

The records indicate that only one dog was brought to the shelter on Nov. 3, the day of the apartment complex fire. That dog was logged as a found stray, not an owner surrender.

Warren said three of her dogs were brought to the shelter on Nov. 3, while Clemmons said two of his dogs were brought to the shelter on that date.

The intake records indicate that of the 28 dogs that entered the shelter in November and December, nine came in malnourished.

Those include a pit bull brought to the shelter Dec. 29 in a “severely malnourished” state. It is unclear whether that dog was the same pit bull that was discovered dead Jan. 9.


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