DOBSON — In an effort to spur what one county official called “a new chapter” in animal welfare in Surry County, the Board of Commissioners is expected to table proposed changes to the county’s animal ordinance Monday night.
But officials say they will still allow public comment on the matter, since a public hearing on the proposed changes was placed on the agenda.
The action is expected as the board convenes its regularly-scheduled meeting in the Commissioner’s Meeting Room of the Surry County Government Center in Dobson. The meeting gets under way at 6 p.m.
Shortly after the proposed changes came to light, state officials said language proffered in the ordinance change would make it “next to impossible” for out-of-state animal rescue groups to secure animals from the shelter for adoption.
The section of the code under consideration related to animal rescue groups reads as follows:
“Rescue Group: Surry County Animal Control will work with any rescue group or agency approved by the North Carolina Department of Agriculture, in placing domesticated animals.”
Exceptions to the rule allow the shelter to refuse adoption to persons under the age of 18, anyone previously cited under the ordinance, and limits the maximum number of animals adopted to the same household to three in any given year.
But if it passed, the ordinance change would likely mean the end of an offer put forward by a New York rescue group, according to Dr. Lee Hunter, director of the animal welfare division of the state’s Department of Agriculture.
Earlier this year, North Shore Animal League Rescue, based in Long Island, N.Y., offered to travel to Surry County and pick up unwanted animals. The animals would be transported to New York, where they would be placed for adoption.
Hunter, the Department of Agriculture official, has previously said that requiring all rescue groups to be approved by his department would quash the North Shore offer because they only inspect brick-and-mortar facilities — primarily animal shelters — that are located within the state.
And the timing of the code change raised some eyebrows around the county.
The public hearing on the ordinance change was placed on the Surry County Board of Commissioners agenda for Monday’s meeting, just days before a scheduled meeting between shelter officials and animal advocates. The meeting has been touted as an opportunity for the two sides to sit down and work out their differences.
That meeting is scheduled for 4 p.m. on March 7, at the county government center in Dobson.
A New Beginning
Following years of dysfunction between local rescue groups and shelter officials, frustrated county officials say it’s about time for a more amicable relationship between the two sides.
“I’m going to recommend, and I expect that the board will support, tabling this proposal to allow us more time for public input and discussion,” said Board Chairman Eddie Harris.
Harris said there has been “quite a bit of back and forth” related to this issue, and the board is seeking input from experts on animal welfare.
“I’m seeking guidance and recommendations from Kim Alboum (director of the North Carolina Chapter of the Humane Society of the United States),” he said.
The board chair said they want any changes made to the animal ordinance to have a lasting effect, and hopefully end the animosity between the two groups.
“We’re not going to do anything rash, and I want to ensure that everyone has a say in the ordinance,” he said. “We’re going to start a new chapter in the animal control issue in Surry County.”
Thomas Williams, a spokesman for the county health and nutrition center which oversees shelter operations, said the department welcomes public input.
“We have no problems with the tabling of this issue at this time,” he said. “We want to listen to the concerns of any citizens who want to help us with this situation, but we want to ensure that we have a good working document at the end of the day.”
In other business, the board is expected to receive an update on activities at the county’s libraries from John Hedrick, director of the Northwestern Regional Library system.
Wayne Black, director of the county’s Department of Social Services, will update the board on potential fraudulent activities by recipients of food stamps.
Reach Keith Strange at firstname.lastname@example.org or 719-1929.