County officials reasserted their mission to improve the Sampson County Animal Shelter during a recent Board of Commisisoners meeting, noting the many steps being taken for the operation. Animal rights advocates implored the need for an advisory group and better transparency throughout the rehabilitation process.
County manager Ed Causey said he was “extremely pleased” with Dr. William Oglesby’s office and the assistance they have provided in recent weeks. Oglesby’s wife Trish started a 20-hour veterinary training course for the animal shelter’s employees, with 3.5-hour night meetings held. Several of those meetings have already taken place, with Causey and assistant manager Susan Holder sitting in on them.
A state inspection of the Sampson County Animal Shelter revealed a lack of necessary veterinary care for animals, improper record-keeping and the euthanization of more than a dozen dogs and cats before the required minimal three-day holding period. The Animal Welfare Section (AWS) of the N.C. Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services’ Veterinary Division, in a letter to Sampson County officials dated March 12, informed them of the violations, for which the county was assessed a civil penalty of $4,800.
The matter was discussed at length last month, and again occupied a majority of this week’s monthly meeting.
“We are thrilled with the willingness and enthusiasm of our employees in wanting to participate in that,” Causey said.
He also said the county’s contract veterinarian Dr. Beth Turner has made inspections at the shelter “at least weekly” since corrective actions started in March. Turner, along with AWS director Dr. Patricia Norris and AWS Animal Health Technician Pat Sholar, have commented positively on the strides being made, Causey noted. He said Norris would be coming to Sampson to meet with county officials, while also providing vet training to shelter and Animal Control officers.
A state program review is on the horizon, to be completed at the county’s request.
“As I understand it, they are going to look at everything — all of our protocols and all of the operational procedures we’ve got — and make recommendation as to what we can do to better provide this (service),” said Causey.
Norris has told Causey and Holder there has been some discussion about whether Sampson County would benefit from an additional advocacy or advisory group. Norris is expected to visit the county on May 30 to offer information on what other counties have done and what might behoove the county moving ahead.
“I have been very pleased with the responses I have seen and the efforts being made by a variety of people,” Causey noted, again offering thanks to Oglesby’s office.
Wooten echoed that, and lauded county managerial staff for quick action.
“I am, without a doubt, elated to hear that we have not let this issue fall to the ground,” said Wooten. “Most of the time, people get an issue, douse a little water on it and kindly let it go by the wayside. I think a lot of people were expecting that to happen. It speaks highly of your situational awareness and your want and desire to make the animal shelter one of the best places it can be.”
That will not happen overnight, Wooten conceded.
“There are people, and frankly I am one of them, that wish we could snap our fingers and fix it, but that’s not how it works in the real world,” the chairman stated. “It takes time to effect change. I think last month we all realized there were mistakes made and we have all realized all of our parts in that, and we are moving forward.”
During the subsequent public comment period, Michelle Spencer strongly urged commissioners to move forward with an animal shelter advisory group, utilizing local rescue advocates as a resource. Spencer, who administers the Animal Allies of Sampson County Facebook page, shares information about the shelter and said an advisory group could further aid those efforts.
“We’ve seen the good and the bad, and we’d like to make it as transparent as possible for the public,” said Spencer, a resident of Sampson for the past eight years. “We’re very glad to see there is training going on. We hear what you’re doing and we’re glad everyone is paying attention and that these things are not going by the wayside. We’ll be very interested to see the changes you’ll be making at the shelter.”
“I know there is a lot of really passionate people out there, but I know that passion can sometimes override common sense,” said Spencer, who noted that periodic updates from the county would serve to assuage the public, while giving the county the time it needs to improve operations.
“There is no scenario for the animal shelter that doesn’t include the public and their participation in some form or fashion,” Wooten replied.
Commissioner Harry Parker asked how the advisory group would function, and whether it would “police” the shelter. Nancy Gump, who also spoke to the issue during the public comment portion, said that an advisory group was meant to be supportive, not authoritative.
“It would be an avenue for support for the shelter, and that’s exactly what Duplin County has,” said Gump, noting Duplin’s committee consists of vets, commissioners, animal rescue and foster advocates and others. “It’s a collective group, so you have that oversight and can identify the issues and challenges facing the employees working in these shelters. There is a gap (in Sampson), because we don’t know exactly what’s going on there.”
Gump spoke at length about the benefits of a group, and the possibility of Sampson looking to Duplin’s template. She then changed the subject to county veterinarian Turner.
“Mr. Causey gave accolades to the vet. I’m going to say it right now — maybe she’s making weekly visits now, but I don’t know where she’s been the last couple years,” Gump said.
Wooten quickly interjected, taking umbrage with the comments.
“We will not allow anyone to disparage anyone in public,” the chairman said. “I will not allow you to be disparaged. I will not allow anyone to be disparaged from that podium. As long as you see me sitting in this seat, we are not going to disparage anyone in public. We are making headway. Maybe not as fast as you want, but we are making headway. I would appreciate the tolerance and the latitude to allow that to happen.”
“There’s constructive input and there is radicalism,” he continued, addressing Gump. “If I were you, I would be cognizant of where that line is.”
“I am very cognizant, but I get a little disenchanted and I apologize,” she replied.
Tommy Tucker said local animal advocates were not trying to police anyone, simply trying to help dogs and cats. Commissioner Jerol Kivett implored everyone to look at the bigger picture.
“I think we all need to recognize this is a journey; it’s not a destination,” said Kivett. “We are working on this and we are very serious about this. We can’t fix this all overnight. We want it fixed, because we are animal lovers too. It’s going to take a little time to do it. It may not be going as fast as you want. It’s not going as fast as I want, but we’re moving that way. You have to give us some time.”
He said many of the ideas broached by local animal advocates could very well come to fruition, but the foundation needs to be laid before the house goes up.
“I can assure you I am concerned about any animal being mistreated and these people up here feel the same way,” said Kivett. “You need to give us a little time and latitude. In due time, I think you’ll be pleased with what we come up with.”
“We are looking forward to that,” Spencer stated. “We just want it to be transparent. It’s our tax dollars.”
Managing Editor Chris Berendt can be reached at 910-592-8137 ext. 2587.