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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."

afjac97 September 29, 2012 at 01:28 AM
Disgusting. I suggest Ms. Morgensem get a taste of her own medicine. See if her daddy can help her now.
Sheila Allen September 29, 2012 at 01:31 AM
It sounds as if both father and daughter are guilty of misdemeanors. We enjoyed the Reston Zoo when it was newer. Now I'll never take my grandchildren to Reston Zoo.
John Doe September 29, 2012 at 02:11 AM
You people crack me up. You neuter and spay your pets (which is torture). You pay to go to these zoos so that you can watch these animals suffer in captivity and then when the owners of one of these concentration camps for animals gets caught euthanizing an animal (which was probably an act of kindness given the circumstances) then and only then, do you pretend to show your sociopath's version of sympathy. Wake up!
Jack Rosen September 29, 2012 at 03:58 AM
It's not that she euthanized it, it's that she DROWNED it. They were trying to save a buck by not taking it to the vet. It wasn't an act of kindness, she obviously had other drugs she could have used because she was convicted of illegally possessing those drugs. Also I think they probably wanted to kill it because their patrons don't want to see an animal with a messed up eye, and it reflects poorly on the zoo to have a sick-looking animal on display. I can't agree with you that spaying/neutering an animal is "torture" in the same way that holding it underwater is torture. An animal would also be taking pain medications during and after spay/neuter surgery. And spaying and neutering actually prevents the suffering of unwanted animals. But I do agree with you that there is something disturbing about zoos, how these businesses profit from putting animals on display, and how so many people who call themselves animal lovers are drawn to and support these places. Zoos exist to satisfy our selfish curiosity of other species. It's no wonder this animal was tortured when it existed to be exploited.
John Doe September 29, 2012 at 04:54 AM
Jack Rosen you are correct, "Zoos exist to satisfy our selfish curiosity of other species". Just like "pets exist to satisfy our selfish needs and curiosity of other species". Isn't having a pet similar to having your own personal zoo? And who are you to determine that spay/neutering is appropriate because YOU have proclaimed that those brutal and inhumane procedures prevent suffering of unwanted animals. Were you recently promoted to the position of God? You even imply that those procedures are humane because we give animals pain medication. You're joking right? Our ability to cognitively delude ourselves to justify inhumane behavior is amazing. I would be willing to bet that if you could talk to the dog that you decided to get neutered, that you would be very disappointed with what that dog had to say. Be well.
Rick Wyche September 29, 2012 at 12:06 PM
John Doe, if that is your real name, how can you say spray and neutering your pet is inhumane. It prevents animals from reproducing. There is already a huge amount of starving and homeless animals, so wouldn't preventing that be the right thing. Also, in dogs cancer from the testies is rampant, so it is a health measure too. Having a pet is not like a zoo. My families pets get treated like kings. They are cared for, loved, and treated to an amazing life.
M H Berndt September 29, 2012 at 12:49 PM
John Doe is trolling, quit responding.
BBurns September 29, 2012 at 01:59 PM
An eye injury on an otherwise healthy animal isn't cause for killing the animal, even if humanely done - which this was not - see Saturday's Washington Post Metro section for more details and obvious attempts at covering this up. Many animals do extremely well with one eye. I remember when a pet ferret had an eye problem. When our vet, a local ferret expert, said he had to remove her eye, I was very upset. But not our ferret - a day or two after the surgery Gabby was running around and trying to get out of her "hospital room" (a spare bathroom). While different species and individuals have different reactions, there was no excuse for not taking the wallaby to a veterinarian. Jack - if the wallaby's eye had been removed, the vet would have done the surgery so the area was covered with fur, so it wouldn't have been upsetting to look at, and the wallaby was injured, not sick. This was about $$ - not wanting to spend it to help this little animal who had contributed to the owner's livelihood. Ugly. What's also criminal is that animal cruelty punishments are so light. But that's our paradigm - beings that aren't human just don't matter so much. Just my take, of course.
Mike September 29, 2012 at 02:36 PM
Mogensen is a blonde bimbo who should get a taste of her own medicine. Absolutely know excuse for what she did. When I was 11, my brother and I found a sparrow with a broken wing....parents were at work....housekeeper didn't have a car. So we drowned the sparrow in the sink. Was sick about it for weeks, but it was the humane thing for an 11-year-old to do. Not the "director" of a zoo.
Scott September 29, 2012 at 05:08 PM
Many thanks to Ashley Rood for the courage to report not just the Wallaby, but all other nasty activity at the zoo. I hope you are in a place that appreciates your passion and skill. Perhaps, the Reston Zoo will be sold and you can come back and be a champion for the animals. Hope the "HEAD" of the zoo enjoys her new 30 day accommodations!
Carlos in Reston September 29, 2012 at 05:44 PM
Her father owns the zoo.
Carlos in Reston September 29, 2012 at 05:49 PM
It seems to me that at lease one (now former zoo curator Ashley Rood) cares about those animals. I would suggest probably many of those employees work there because they love animals and want to care for them properly. If Morgensen no longer works there and a decent zoo director is hired, I would suggest that folks do not boycott the zoo. Keep in mind that the animals and employees would be hurt by an economic boycott.
Carlos in Reston September 29, 2012 at 05:52 PM
It's not clear why you're saying that neutering and spaying pets is torture. It's a surgical procedure conducted humanely by licensed vets. Are you saying any surgical procedure is torture? That doesn't make sense. If you're a devotee of PETA and their anti-pet philosophy, perhaps you should visit http://www.petakillsanimals.com to learn more about this awful organization.
Rk September 29, 2012 at 06:01 PM
Someone should keep an eye on Spike.. Torture or animal cruelty is often a sign of future deviant behavior or other psychology problems.
Carlos in Reston September 29, 2012 at 06:06 PM
He's just trolling. It's the same guy who was posting as "John Doe".
John Doe September 29, 2012 at 06:43 PM
M H Berndt and the rest of you narcissistic, hypocritical animal slave keepers, Oh, now I get it, if some challenges your "status quot" with an opinion that doesn't fall within your "cult like, self righteous, arrogant, hypocritical paradigm, you call them a "troll". You have the audacity to act as if you have the moral authority of God to determine the fate of these animals to the extent that you torture simply because it makes you feel good. Well, isn't that special? You say that you treat your pets like "kings"? I haven't read literature to support the concept of Kings being surgically castrated WITHOUT their consent. Your excuse that overpopulation somehow justifies the ownership and torture of pets is laughable. The hypocrisy of your comments and this article in general is mind numbing. We actually spent tax dollars persecuting someone who provides the real criminals (that would be YOU) with pleasure. You are the real criminals and you are the people who perpetuate these crimes. While I don't know the lady who was convicted of this crime, I would bet that she is much more honest about her actions than any of you hypocritical clowns. Wake up!
Wendy September 29, 2012 at 07:00 PM
I CAN'T believe that she is only serving 6 months and those fines are a joke. Humans should pay for their crimes towards animals just as they would pay if they had murdered a human!!!
John Doe September 29, 2012 at 07:03 PM
Carlos and all, Again, I think its amazing that you really believe that this procedure (spay/neuter) is not torture and appropriate. Don't you recognize that it is well documented and proven that personality and behavioral changes occur in dogs (and many other animals) that have this procedure performed on them? How would you feel if someone else decided that it was in your best interest NOT to reproduce? How would you feel if someone else decided to permanently change your physiological make up WITHOUT your permission. They used to perform these type of procedures on humans (and probably still do). Do each of you believe that humans should be forced (again, without consent) to be euthanized, castrated and or mutilated WITHOUT CONSENT! I know, I know, pets cannot talk to us humans. So, how can a pet give consent? Well, where I come from that means that the pet, human etc. who cannot communicate consent, has NOT given consent. These concepts are not complicated. We humans have deluded ourselves into believing that certain behavior is ethical and acceptable when in actuality this behavior is immoral and barbaric. Frankly, you all sound like a bunch of old, crusty slave owners from the 1700's. Imagine trying to convince one of those guys that owning a slave was immoral. Do me a favor, think about and then WAKE UP!
John Doe September 29, 2012 at 07:19 PM
Carlos, you are focusing on the operation itself. I am focusing on the morality behind the "God" like decisions pet owners have no right to make regarding this procedure. At the very least, you all should be more open and honest with yourselves as it relates to these pets you own. Admit that you actually own these pets for your own entertainment and pleasure. Once you admit that, we can have a more fruitful discussion about the "right and wrong" of pet ownership and these procedures. When I owned expensive sports cars I never lied to myself about how impractical owning these cars actually was. I drove and enjoyed these cars (and still do) simply because they made me feel good. I would look and sound crazy justifying the practicality of owning a two seat sports car that gets 7 miles to the gallon and goes 190 MPH (wouldn't I sound crazy?). Well, that's how you people sound when you talk about a medical procedure that castrates an animal being thoughtful or "I'm only doing it for the good of my pet" (seriously?). And BTW Carlos, I'm not a member of the organization you referenced or any organization that purports to support animals. I am however, a human being that likes to see others respected and treated humanly. Be well.
.E.E September 29, 2012 at 07:55 PM
Seems to me that john doe must have had a BAD circumcision experience...or penis envy...just saying
Karen Goff September 29, 2012 at 10:07 PM
actually she has only been sentenced to 30 days.
Elizabeth September 30, 2012 at 12:32 AM
I want to thank you for posting this about the Reston Zoo because otherwise, I would have never heard about this incident. I now have No interest in taking my son to this place. Such a very sad story and I believe the punishment was Not stern enough. I am a true animal lover and believe no animal should have had to go through that type of suffering. :-(
Betty Pawsheifer September 30, 2012 at 03:52 AM
It seems some of you are confused. Domestic animals (pets) who have been bred to live with humans for thousands of years are not the same as wild animals kept in captivity, like some of the poor creatures kept in this "zoo". Our pets most likely could not survive without humans, but wild beasts have no place behind bars. This place should be closed down.
John Doe September 30, 2012 at 07:43 PM
Betty, thanks for your clarification. So, as long as we breed these pets to serve us while making sure we breed and train them not to be able to survive on their own then, we can do whatever we want to them. Correct?
Amelie Krikorian October 01, 2012 at 02:33 AM
So anyone who eats meat should be imprisoned?
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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