11/13/05 — Giving them real shelter

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Giving them real shelter

By Andrew Bell
Published in News on November 13, 2005 2:00 AM

A lonely dog cowers in the corner of a kennel. The paint on the walls is peeling. The floor looks like it has been cleaned more than a thousand times, but still gives the impression that it could use a couple more coats of bleach.

The noise is deafening as the dogs compete for attention, barking, crying, scratching, anything. They don't have much time there. There are too many more waiting for their spots.

There is an odor at the Wayne County Animal Shelter, too. It comes from sickness, sadness and conditions that come when someone is trying to clean up the mess left by others.

County officials say the 50-year-old facility has outlived its usefulness, but putting up a new structure will require a pretty big monetary commitment, one they say they are still considering.

Animal control officials say the public's disinterest in the proper care of their animals is a big part of the problem. There are too many animals, too little space and not enough people coming to find their next pet at the shelter.

Animal lovers and humane society members say the conditions at the shelter come from neglect, a lack of compassion and years of listening to county officials say they will take care of the problem next year. They say that there has been enough discussion, and it is time for action.

And, in the meantime, the animals -- both dogs and cats -- wait.

Vicki Todaro, a local resident, has visited the animal shelter, located at 900 Brick Road, regularly and said she is disappointed and angered by the conditions there.

"There is no sunlight. It stinks. It's littered with disease. The dogs are not walked at all, and they aren't taken outside until they are killed," Mrs. Todaro said. "There are no adoptions because no one wants to go down there. I took two dogs home just to get them out of there."

Anita Hajjar of Goldsboro said she agrees with Ms. Todaro and that Wayne County residents cannot comprehend the conditions of the shelter by reading about them. They really should see for themselves.

"I encourage people to go down there and see what we are fighting for," Mrs. Hajjar said.

This is not the first time Wayne County residents have asked for the shelter to be rebuilt. Earlier this year, the Animal Control Task Force presented the county with a plan to build a new shelter at a cost of nearly $1 million. The proposed location is at a 38-acre, county-owned tract on Clingman Street, near the old Wayne Community College campus and the city of Goldsboro's garage.

The plan proposed using five acres of the county-owned land to build a modern, sanitary shelter. Since the plan was presented in February, the county commissioners have not made a decision on the matter.

Commissioner Chairman J.D. Evans agreed that the board has not discussed the matter in nearly half a year, but that a new shelter is still a part of the county's capital improvement plan.

"We haven't put a timetable on it, but it is still open for the future," Evans said.

The shelter was originally built to house 50 animals. However, Chief Animal Control Officer Jerry Pate said those numbers have changed dramatically over the last half-century.

"The population has increased and that means the number of pets has increased," Pate said. "With the public more aware of the facility, the numbers have gone up."

In the past four years, Pate said the shelter has had to put down between 130-135 animals each week. In September, the shelter put down 590 animals, which includes 209 dogs, 354 cats and 27 other animals.

Each week, the animals that can no longer be held at the shelter are euthanized by carbon monoxide. Then, Pate said, the remains are buried at the county landfill.

This process is all too familiar to Joanne Hill of Goldsboro. In October, Mrs. Hill said she believed she was doing the right thing when she reported her neighbor for animal abuse.

After animal control officers picked up the dog, Mrs. Hill told the officers that she would be willing to adopt the animal. However, there is a protocol to retrieval and adoption of animals that animal control must follow.

If an animal is a stray, the shelter will hold that animal for five full working days, Pate said. If an animal is not adopted or claimed by the owner in that time period, then the animal is euthanized. The shelter also provides a quarantined section in which animals are placed for 10 days. If an animal is turned in unwanted by the owner, there is no time limit to when the animal is put down. Technically, if the animal is claimed unwanted, then a person could adopt the animal immediately.

In Mrs. Hill's case, the owner did not claim the animal unwanted and the dog was to remain at the shelter for the five-day period. However, with the amount of animals processed at the shelter, mistakes have occurred.

The dog entered the shelter on a Monday and Mrs. Hill said she wanted to adopt the dog as the shelter was closing on Friday. Throughout the week, she said she visited the shelter nearly every day to check on the condition of the dog. On that Thursday, the small dog was in a pen with five other larger dogs.

The tag on the pen door said that the dog would be euthanized the following Monday. However, shortly after Mrs. Hill left the shelter, the dog she wanted to adopt was put down. Mrs. Hill said she was devastated by the news.

"I thought I was doing the right thing," she said. "I shouldn't have to feel guilty for doing the right thing."

The amount of room available is only one of many reasons Pate said he would like to see the county provide a new shelter. Besides being in the flood plain, Pate said there should be a bigger shelter for the amount of animals that the building is forced to hold.

"We don't have the room we really need," he said. "For the number of animals we get, we just don't have the room."

If Pate was given the option to design a new animal shelter, he said it would be a much bigger building with more kennel space. Then animals could be separated better without having to put three to five animals in the same pen as the shelter does now.

This would not only have an impact on the animals, but Pate said it would have a big impact on the public as well. With a larger, cleaner facility, he said the shelter would see more visitors willing to adopt animals.

Although Mrs. Hill will never get the chance to adopt the animal she wished to, she said she would like to see changes made so that others will be able to adopt animals from the shelter. However, she said she also realizes that the public needs to be more responsible for the animals they have.

"I do believe in owner responsibility. People should spay and neuter their animals. Don't allow dogs to run around," Mrs. Hill said. "But I don't believe we live in a caring society."

Pate said he agrees that owners should take more responsibility, because the fingers should be pointed solely at the animal shelter.

"We have a miseducated public that think we are the bad guy, but we aren't," he said. "More should be said for the owners that let their animals run everywhere."

People that would like to adopt an animal from the shelter are encouraged to contact the office at 731-1439. There is a $35 fee to adopt a male animal and a $50 fee for females. The owner will be required to give the animal a rabies vaccination and spay or neuter the animal. By showing proof of fulfilling these requirements, Pate said the county will reimburse the owner $25.

Any Wayne County residents wishing to discuss the topic of animal control and the animal shelter with county officials are encouraged to attend the Wayne County Animal Control Advisory Committee meeting Nov. 16 at 7 p.m. The meeting will be held in the Commissioners Conference Room at the county courthouse.

Anyone wishing to attend and be heard by the committee must be placed on the agenda by calling 731-1439.

Citizens concerned about the conditions at the Wayne County Animal Shelter are encouraged to meet at the Herman Park Center at 5 p.m. Sunday to sign a petition for a new shelter.

Mrs. Hajjar said it is time for a new shelter to be built and it will take the citizens of Wayne County to make it possible. A candlelight vigil also will be held.