DOBSON — The Surry County Board of Commissioners voted to table proposed changes to the county’s animal ordinance last night, but not before making one thing perfectly clear: They are willing to listen to any and all ideas about how they can reduce the number of animals killed in the local shelter.
The action came as the board met for its regularly-scheduled meeting in the county’s Government Center in Dobson.
Prior to opening a public hearing on the ordinance changes, the board heard from Samantha Ange, the director of the county’s Health and Nutrition Center, which oversees the shelter.
Ange told the board that part of the proposed changes — the section that would have codified that any rescue group be certified by the state’s Department of Agriculture — was taken out.
“In the new draft, we redacted the section about rescue groups,” she said. “The rest of the changes simply clears up language and defines what constitutes abandonment, ownership and the seizure of animals.”
Ange said that after consulting with the director of the North Carolina Humane Society, the county’s policy governing rescue groups will be in place in her department’s policy and procedure manual.
“Basically, this is a template that states that when we place animals into a (rescue group) we’re protecting them,” she said.
The procedures also lay out what is required for a rescue group to work with the shelter.
“There are going to be a variety of ways in which a partner (rescue agency) can qualify,” she said. “They can offer proof of their being a 501c(3) organization (a non-profit), or they can be licensed by either the state or federal Department of Agriculture.”
Ange said the previous language was simply a miscommunication.
“One of the things that came to light was that this ordinance was being developed last September, shortly after our meeting with (North Carolina Humane Society Director) Kim Alboum,” she said. “She referred to rescues being credentialed, and in the past all of those credentials came from the Department of Agriculture. We were simply trying to follow what she said.”
She added that she never wanted to exclude any rescue group.
“It’s not our intention to close us in from working with anyone, but our goal is to ensure that we’re not assisting in animal hoarding or any animal cruelty,” she said. “That’s not why we were using the Department of Agriculture. It seemed like the natural thing to do.”
Ange said her intention is to present the policy changes to the county’s Board of Health for consideration, a move the board seemed to accept.
“This is what has been laid out by Ms. Alboum,” said Board Chair Eddie Harris. “The policies and procedures are set by the health board, and this board doesn’t have any say about what goes in there.”
Only a handful of people spoke during a public hearing on the proposed changes, representing a wide variety of views.
Pilot Mountain resident and animal activist Paula Stanley told the board she had recently adopted a pet out to North Shore Animal League Rescue, the Long Island, N.Y.,-based group that has proposed taking some of the county’s unwanted animals.
“I’ve fostered many dogs over the years, and jumped through hoops to get her into the North Shore program,” she said. “I think this is a wonderful program. I know she’s going to be cared for up there and she’s in a good adoption program.”
Stanley said she thinks the proposed partnership with North Shore is a win-win.
“I think this would be a wonderful opportunity to partner with North Shore,” she said. “I wish we could keep the animals here, but I think this can happen. It can work. It can save lives and we need to move on this in order to hopefully save more lives.
“I wonder how many dogs are dying this week because we haven’t gotten this (partnership with North Shore) in place.”
But former Long Island resident Joan Vasata said North Shore is “not the panacea everyone thinks it is.”
“They say there’s a shortage of dogs up north and North Shore needs them,” she said. “I don’t think that’s the case.”
Look in any newspaper in the area, Vasata said, and there are hundreds of pets up for adoption.
“I think the answer is if we’re going to create this (pet population) problem down here, we need to take care of it down here. I really think we have to look at ways to stop our problems down here in Surry County,” she said.
It was a sentiment that long-time animal advocate Jim Hazel supported.
“We’re giong to have to euthanize our way out of this problem,” he said. “Our problem is here, and that’s where it has to be solved. We need to solve it in the cheapest way we can.
“I don’t want to run out and kill all the dogs, but we’re going to have to kill a lot of them before we get rid of this problem,” Hazel added. “Everyone wants to save dogs, but it’s not going to be easy. We’re going to have to close our eyes, grit our teeth and do it the right way.”
Harris told Hazel he would be in touch.
“I’m looking for a realistic, real-world solution to this problem, and it might take a variety of methods to achieve this goal,” he said. “We’re going to stay in touch with Ms. Alboum and make sure we get this right.”
Reach Keith Strange at email@example.com or 719-1929.