Late this afternoon, former animal shelter manager Tyrone McGill took the stand to testify in his defense at his felony animal cruelty trial, which began yesterday. While the prosecution attempted to paint a picture of McGill as an indifferent, unreachable bureaucrat who willfully allowed a cat to die behind a wall despite constant pleas from shelter employees, his own testimony was meant to humanize him -- and to point out the chaos at the shelter during the time he worked there. Jurors were told he and his wife have five daughters, that he's owned many dogs in his lifetime (offered as a response to earlier testimony that painted him as uninterested in animals), that he served 13 months in Vietnam as part of his stint in the Air Force, and that as part of his military service he worked with patrol and sentry dogs in the K9 unit.
Of course, that was in 1969. McGill went on to work for the U.S. Postal Service, Toys "R" Us and Chief Auto Parts before beginning his time with the city in 1993 as a water meter reader. He only became animal shelter after working in code compliance, helping bring up to code what he referred to as a "very bad, poor part of Dallas" in the southern sector.
McGill's attorney, Anthony Lyons, asked his client how he wound up at the shelter: "Did you apply for the job?"
"Oh, no," McGill replied emphatically, adding that he "didn't really know anything about it."
McGill testified that he was sent to the shelter to help clean it up at a time when it had "lots of issues."
"Were there issues with morale?" Lyons asked.
McGill paused for a long time before he replied.
"Yes," he said finally. "There were issues with morale."
He described the shelter when he arrived as "chaotic, backbiting, people fighting among themselves," and with myriad issues for a new building, including air conditioning problems, improper drainage and frequent outages of the hot water. He said too that "a lot of people didn't want me there because they knew my reputation. ... It was a mess." The second day he was there, he said, Willie McDaniels, the interim division manager, was transferred.
Lyons asked McGill why he stayed at such a challenging job.
"I had no ... " McGill began, then stopped himself. "I loved it, actually," he said. "I want to make it a better place."
In his first months at the shelter, McGill said, he was asked to make it a priority to catch loose dogs on the streets. He said that during a single night in Oak Cliff, his team made a sweep that netted more than 400 loose animals. But the facility itself was still plagued with problems; he described getting up in the middle of the night to help with a back gate that had fallen over. To say he was "busy," he said, "is an understatement."
When his testimony finally arrived at the actual cat-in-the-wall incident, McGill said that he'd expected Field Services Manager Adrian Vela to take care of the issue, since Vela was the man who had the traps.
But he added that he and workers from Equipment and Building Services had looked in "four to five" different areas of the shelter to find the "three to five" cats they thought to be missing at that time. He said he trapped one of those cats himself, while another fell out of the ceiling of the small dog room and onto an employee's head. When that happened, McGill said, he was fairly certain that had been the cat in the wall, especially when he heard the animal "was in bad shape," emaciated and covered in dust.
"This must be the cat everybody's been talking about," McGill said he thought at the time.
McGill also denied he'd ever told or implied to animal keeper Kimberly Killebrew that she would be fired for knocking a hole in the wall herself. The defense also returned to the fact that McGill was apparently investigating Killebrew at the time for having allegedly stolen animal services officer Mark Cooper's badge "and was using it to get into night clubs."
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During cross examination, Assistant District Attorney David Alex tried again to paint McGill as a man so busy, so caught up with building maintenance, that he had no time to care for the animals who were supposed to be his charges.
"You were a good manager of buildings and people," Alex told McGill. "But you lost sight of why you were there, didn't you?"
"No, sir, no I didn't," McGill replied. "I love animals and people."
The jury is expected to decide tomorrow which version of McGill they find more believable.