07/25/10 — Duplin official: Situation dire at animal shelter

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Duplin official: Situation dire at animal shelter

By Catharin Shepard
Published in News on July 25, 2010 1:50 AM

The Duplin County animal shelter is in non-compliance with state regulations, and Ken Rau, interim chairman of the county's animal advisory committee, says the situation is bleak.

"I'm just waiting for this now to become a crisis," Rau said.

The state has been working with the county to keep the shelter open, despite the compliance violations, because the county has taken action in recent years to make improvements. Those improvements include installing adequate heating and air conditioning, a new drainage system and working on the flooring.

But with no answer in sight to fill the need for a new shelter, the leniency could change. The question is not whether the state will revoke the operating license, but when it will be revoked, Rau said.

The shelter is old and too small to keep up with the number of animals that are brought in. The shelter needs about three times the current amount of space to keep up with the population of animals that passes through its doors.

Around 2,200 dogs and cats came through the shelter in 2009. About 85 percent of those animals were put down, and animals are often euthanized before the end of the state-mandated three day holding period. There is simply not enough space to keep them longer, and Duplin is "one of the worst counties in the state for that," Rau said.

The 12-member animal advisory committee, formed three years ago to represent different animal interests in Duplin County, declared a new shelter its top priority. The board members worked together to draft plans for a new animal shelter. After speaking with other counties and receiving estimates, Rau presented to the county plans for a new 4,000 square-foot facility.

The new shelter would cost approximately $650,000 to build and add an additional $40,000 a year in operating costs to the county's $200,000 animal control budget. Those costs could be offset somewhat by closing the old shelter, Rau said.

But economic conditions in Duplin County, as in many other counties in the state, mean that lawmakers have other pressing financial issues to address. That's something the members of the committee are very aware of, he said.

"The issue that became apparent, we kept looking at, how are we going to fund this? How are we going to pay for this with the obvious economic conditions in the county, with the conditions which are awful, and the needs that are many?" Rau said.

Following a vote by the county commissioners, the committee members were not able to take advantage of potential American Reinvestment and Recovery Act grant and loan funding through the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The committee members have pursued fundraising through charity groups, individual donations, naming rights and other options, but so far, their attempts have not turned up the kind of money required to build a new shelter.

Up until now, the state USDA inspectors have been "coming in, finding us in nonconformance, giving us a one month extension, another one month extension," Rau said.

Without the possibility of securing funding for a new shelter, unless other action is taken to bring the shelter into compliance, it is likely that the state will revoke the shelter's operating license, he warned.

If the shelter is closed, residents in Duplin County will have no local option for surrendering animals. Animal control officers would have nowhere to bring animals picked up on complaint calls. Feral cats and loose dogs could become a serious problem, and the spread of rabies among the animals is another serious concern, Rau said.

But short of a benefactor writing a check for half a million dollars, there are few options for funding a new shelter right now, he said.