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Reston Zoo Head Found Guilty in Wallaby Death

Judge rules Meghan Mogensen acted inhumanely euthanizing an injured animal last winter.

Reston Zoo Director Meghan Mogensen - accused of inhumanely euthanizing an injured wallaby - was found guilty by a Fairfax County General District judge Friday on counts of animal cruelty and possession of a controlled substance.

After a one-day bench trial, Judge Ian O'Flaherty sentenced Mogensen, 26, to a $1,000 fine and 30 days in jail on the animal cruelty charge and a $250 fine and suspension of her driver's license for six months on the drug count. Both of the charges are misdemeanors.

"This was a cruel method of killing an animal," O'Flaherty said.

Mogensen, who lives in Silver Spring, did not speak in her own defense nor did she comment when the judge asked if she had anything to say upon sentencing. Her attorney, Caleb Kershner, said they will appeal, which means there will likely be an additional, new trial in Fairfax County Circuit Court.

The charges stemmed from a Jan. 26 incident at the zoo. Ashley Rood, then the zoo's general curator, noticed that Parmesan, an adult male Parma wallaby, had a severe injury to his left eye.  Rood and another employee put Parmesan in a plastic crate to bring him inside for an examination, but the animal injured himself further by hopping inside the crate, Rood said on the stand.

The wallaby's eye was then bleeding profusely and leaking fluid, and the eye appeared ruptured and bulging out of its socket, she said.

"I didn't think the eye could be salvaged, but it could be removed by a vet," said Rood. "I told [Mogensen] other than that, he appears perfectly fine."

Rood testified that Mogensen conferred by phone with her father- Eric Mogensen, the zoo's owner - who said the animal should be euthanized. Rood told the director she wanted no part of that. Rood said Mogensen then sent her on an errand and said she would "take care of it."

Rood, holding back tears, said she returned to find a bucket about one-quarter full of water and no wallaby. She said she jumped into the dumpster and found his dead body soaking wet and wrapped in a trash bag.

"I told Meghan 'I think you and your father are sick, sadistic people and I am not going to be a part of it anymore," said Rood. "It is one thing to euthanize them. It is another thing to drown them."

Rood said she did not support other methods of euthanasia she had seen at the zoo. She said some animals were shot with guns (for which the zoo also did not have a permit), while rabbits were hit on the head and injured chickens fed to snakes.

Rood quit on the spot and called Fairfax County Animal Control.  Twenty Animal Control officers showed up at the zoo on Feb. 16 to search the premises. Several of them testified Friday. Master Animal Control Offer Jennifer Millburn said Mogensen told her she had euthanized the animal by humane injection with Beauthanasia.

It was later discovered the zoo had no DEA permit for using euthanasia drugs. The zoo's contract vet, Justin Saboda - who is based near Frederick, MD and said it can take him as much as 90 minutes to get to the Reston Zoo when he is called -  said Friday he was not contacted on Jan. 26.

He also said he has never euthanized an animal there, has never trained anyone there in euthanasia and would "never risk my license" by giving the zoo drugs.

The wallaby was taken away by Animal Control for a necropsy and toxicology tests. The necropsy showed no signs of a needle stick (consistent with a lethal injection). It did show ruptured blood vessels in the lungs and plant matter and bacteria in the lungs that would be consistent with drowning, said Jaime Weisman, veterinary diagnostician with the Virginia Department of Agriculture.

Weisman said, however, the necropsy "could not give an obvious cause of death." The toxicology report showed no evidence of drugs.

Meanwhile, a USDA representative said she cited the zoo on Feb. 1 for not having vet care in place for euthanasia. 

Also on the stand for the prosecution - computer forensic experts, who found a Word document euthanasia report that had been altered by Mogensen or her father. One expert also found Google and Bing searches checking Virginia criminal code on animal cruelty and drowning.

"The way Meghan Mogensen went about killing this animal was inhumane," said Michelle Welch, Assistant Attorney General for the Commonwealth of Virginia, who was called in by Fairfax County to prosecute the case. "Ashley Rood was not disputing their right to euthanize - it was the way they euthanized.  Over and over again, we have [Mogensen] trying to cover up an act that was inhumane. ... This was not a proper way to dispose of this animal."

Amelie Krikorian October 01, 2012 at 02:36 AM
Having zoos allows people who might not otherwise learn about animals in other countries to develop the interest and potentially the skills to go work in those countries to save endangered species. Without knowledge and interest, many animals will cease to exist. A picture is one thing -- seeing the animal is a whole different experience. Why do you think the National Zoo allows you to "adopt" so many of the animals you see at the zoo? Seeing the animals gets more empathy and raises more money to help them.
Betty Pawsheifer October 01, 2012 at 03:23 PM
Nice straw-man, John Doe. We have an obligation to dependent species to take care of them and do what's best for them. That doesn't translate into "do whatever we want to them".
John Doe October 01, 2012 at 04:49 PM
Betty, you imply that because these pets cannot survive in the "wild" and these pets were bred by us, that we have the moral authority to perform medical procedures on our pets as long as those procedures comport to a certain moral standard. Who makes this standard? If we are going to breed living creatures to serve of us pets, we should at least allow them to behave in a way that is consistent with the life of most other animals who are NOT pets. Mating, eating, playing, interaction with other similar species etc. should be seen as the absolute "minimum" quality of life standards that we should provide as pet owners. There are people that breed and train dogs to perform and entertain. These owners use the same argument that you use as it relates to breeding these pets specifically to serve the owners. Gangsters that breed and train dogs to fight each other for profit or entertainment make similar arguments that you do. They breed, they train, they euthanize and they enjoy the entertainment value of owning certain pets. I believe all of this ownership immoral and I believe that standards that pet owners use to determine what is acceptable are arbitrary and self-serving. The difference (in my opinion) is that “dog fighters” don’t pretend (typically) that what they do is moral and for the best interest of the pet.
Concerned Reader October 02, 2012 at 02:19 PM
Amen Amelie! The Reston Zoo should be fined heavily and the animals placed in proper surroundings.
Derek October 08, 2012 at 02:27 AM
Seriously?…ever watch a second of National Geographic?? Animals in their "proper surroundings" i.e the wild - die pretty traumatic deaths. They starve, they get attacked, they get eaten alive. Kangaroos get hit by cars and poisoned like rodents and pest species in Australia. This is just a media blitz for vegans.

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