DOBSON — After weeks of remaining mum on the issue, the Surry County Board of County Commissioners has responded to critics of the county’s animal shelter.
The commissioners urged patience and said they are working on the problem, but noted that they “will not be forced into anything that will cost the taxpayers.”
The response, with Vice Chairman Garry Scearce absent, came following an open forum during their regular meeting Monday night during which a representative of Mayberry4Paws addressed the board and offered her assistance to reduce the number of animals put down at the shelter.
During her presentation, Rachel Hiatt, representing the 150-member non-profit group, said she is willing to offer her assistance to the shelter.
She said Mayberry4Paws is willing to:
• Organize and assist with adoption events.
• Post photos of adoptable animals online.
• Provide financial assistance to help pet owners spay and neuter animals to reduce the unwanted population.
• Assist with grant writing to cover costs of shelter services.
• Provide volunteers to help at the shelter.
• Provide voucher applications to animal control officers for distribution to needy families.
Hiatt said that during a luncheon hosted late last year, attendees were assured that the number of animals being put down at the shelter were going down.
“(2012) data indicates that kill numbers are actually increasing,” Hiatt said.
She offered some suggestions on how the county can correct the problem, including taking advantage of free money that is available to assist with spaying and neutering, applying for grants, offering reduced cost spaying and neutering services, scheduling adoption events and collaborating with local animal groups.
“We stand ready and willing to help,” she said, looking directly at the board.
“It cost Surry County taxpayers almost a half-million dollars to kill over 4,000 pets in 2011,” Hiatt said, noting that the county doesn’t really need a new shelter currently being planned. “We need new and more effective procedures for running the animal department.”
She pointed out to the board that the definition of “insanity” is “repeating the same behaviors and expecting different outcomes.”
“It is time to change behaviors in the animal control department,” she said. “Please let us work with you to come up with plans for reducing intake and kill numbers and in turn, reduce the budget required for the animal control department.”
Hiatt immediately left following her address to the board, but commissioners at last responded to critics of the shelter.
Commissioner Paul Johnson said the board is “very sympathetic” to animals and the controversy surrounding the shelter and its euthanasia rates.
He said that the nearly $500,000 budgeted at the shelter is spent for operating expenses, not to kill animals.
“It cost us $500,000 a year to run the shelter with the services we’re trying to provide,” he said. “It wouldn’t cost us but a few cents to kill the animals.”
Johnson applauded the work of the beleaguered shelter employees.
“It seems like every time they make it over one hurdle, there’s another,” he said, pledging to address the issues raised by critics. “We’re going to work with the citizens, but I myself won’t be forced into anything that will cost the taxpayers. I’m not a knee-jerk person. We’re going to conquer this thing, but we’re going to do it the right way.”
Board Chairman R.F. “Buck” Golding noted the real purpose of animal control is to prevent the outbreak of rabies.
“But other things have been added (to their duties),” he said. “That’s why we’ve added personnel and put together a better facility.”
Noting that the problem is “not that out of control as far as we’re concerned,” Golding said he thinks employees at the shelter are “doing a pretty good job with the situation we have in the county.”
While acknowledging that there is a problem with low adoption numbers, Golding said there is no way to adopt out as many strays as are taken into the shelter.
“When you get into county government, you have taxpayer money to deal with,” he said. “You do it the best way you know how, and I believe we’re doing that.”
Golding urged people interested in correcting the problem to come to the Aug. 9 meeting to address the issue.
“There’s no doubt that we can adopt out more animals, if they’re adoptable,” he said. “But euthanasia is the only choice we have right now.”
Agreeing with Johnson, the chairman said the board will continue to work to improve the situation, “but we will not be (changing animal control policy) because of a few people’s knee-jerk reaction.”
Commissioners Eddie Harris and Jimmy Miller agreed with Johnson and Golding, urging patience while the county explores viable options.
“Some of these things don’t happen as quickly as people would like,” Harris said. “But we hope some course of action will be found over the next several months.
“These things take time and we’re looking at them. We do want a top-flight shelter. We do want dogs adopted out.”
Miller said he is intimately familiar with what’s going on at the shelter, and applauded its employees.
“I approve of what they’re doing and how they’re doing it,” he said. “I, for one, appreciate greatly the work the shelter does.”
Reach Keith Strange at firstname.lastname@example.org or 719-1929.