County, state agreement may cut animal shelter penalties in half

County, state agreement may cut animal shelter penalties in half
September 08
07:25 2016



Forsyth County is close to ratifying an agreement to reduce the state civil penalties on its animal shelter from $5,200 to $2,100.

The penalties originated from inspections made by the Animal Welfare Section of the N.C. Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services. While the shelter passed its annual state inspection in October, the state also does random inspections, which were conducted in March.  That inspection was marked “Disapproved” when the shelter couldn’t produce records for four stray animals that were euthanized within 72 hour of arrival.

Inspectors returned in April, in response to a citizen’s complaints, and the staff couldn’t produce records of several more strays that were euthanized within 72 house of arrival. They also couldn’t produce documentation for some sick animals to prove they got veterinary care before dying.

The state’s Animal Welfare Act has a 72-hour hold for strays to allow time for owners to claim them.  Animals can only be euthanized before then if they have serious illness or injury, or if the shelter operator determines the animal is unsuitable for adoption due to its health or temperament.

Deputy County Manager Damon Sanders-Pratt said after 72 hours, healthy strays could be euthanized to make space if the shelter becomes full.

These numerous violations resulted in $5,200 in civil penalties levied in April. Since then, the county has been working with the state to try to lower the fine. Sanders-Pratt said they produced almost all the records that were asked for. He said the records existed, but shelter staff was confused about finding them in the way they were asked.

“Staff do a better than adequate job of keeping records, we had instances of them having trouble locating them in the way that they were being asked, but the operation in and of itself is a good one,” he said.

The shelter has also gone through a review process and made changes to bring its ability to find records in line with state regulations. The agreement notes that the penalties were reduced by $1,000 because the county produced records of veterinary care for one of the animals involved in a violation. The agreement attributes the rest of the reduction to the improvement in shelter procedures.

Animal Welfare Director Patricia Norris said that penalties are meant to bring about improvement at a shelter and, if that is done successfully, then the penalties may be reduced.

“The whole goal of this entire process is to get a facility into compliance,” said Norris.

There were some mistakes the county admitted wrongdoing on. There was a clerical error that resulted in some cats being euthanized within 72 hours. There was also one owner surrender form staff couldn’t locate, though they had other records of the surrender.

Sanders-Pratt said he expects the agreement to be ratified in the next county commissioner’s regular meeting on Sept. 12. He said staff is also currently working on a request by commissioners for proposals to improve response time at animal control, which has 27 employees. By state mandate, animal control deals with vicious and rabid animals. The county also charges it with animal abuse cases. Things like rabies are priority calls, while a call about a regular stray may take days for a response. There’s also consideration of adding a county ban on tethering unattended animals.

In recent months, numerous residents have used the public comment session at county commissioners’ meetings to talk about animals that they say were improperly euthanized or who didn’t receive the care they needed.

Sanders-Pratt said the shelter has the ability to hold about 215 animals, but receives more than 8,000 animals a year on average. That means that sometimes difficult euthanasia decisions must be made.

“Difficult decisions have to be made and sometimes members of the public are critical of the county for having to make those difficult decisions,” he said.

In the commissioners’ Aug. 22 meeting, several residents talked about a stray they called Sweetness. Sweetness was found by city workers at Washington Park and was given to Angeli Bhalla, who took her to Ard-Vista Animal Hospital and the Humane Society. She said they noticed Sweetness had a leg injury, but that it did not seem serious or painful.

A smartphone video of the seemingly happy Sweetness playing with Bhalla’s pet dog was shown to commissioners. Sweetness was turned into the animal shelter and was euthanized that evening.

Bhalla was told when she called the next morning that the dog’s leg was dangling and that it was in pain. She said she didn’t believe that, considering the condition the dog was in when she dropped her off. The dog was not examined by a vet while at the shelter. The incident was reported to the state who found the paperwork on the euthanasia was in order.

Bhalla told commissioners she believed if the shelter had a full-time vet on staff it would help in such cases.

Sanders-Pratt said the shelter currently contracts with a veterinarian, who staff can contact when he’s not there. Animals are also taken to animal hospitals for care when needed.   He said by statute, euthanasia decisions are made by the shelter manger.

Sanders-Pratt said he believes the shelter is well run. He said that the amount of adoptions and owners reclaiming their lost pets are up, while euthanasias are down.

This video shown to county commissioners, shows Sweetness (the black dog) before she was euthanized.


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Todd Luck

Todd Luck

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