DOBSON — County officials said yesterday that while they’re certainly willing to listen to opponents of policies at the Surry County Animal Shelter, they believe the majority of their constituents support the policy as it stands.
Animal advocates have said the major issue they have with operations is a policy that dictates that three breeds of dogs — pit bulls, Rottweilers and chows — are automatically considered “unadoptable” and are routinely put down in the shelter.
Last Thursday, about 75 animal advocates converged on the shelter to raise awareness of what they consider an unacceptably high kill rate at the shelter.
According to the North Carolina Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, last year the shelter had a kill rate of 90.69 percent, compared to an adoption rate of 4.53 percent.
“A lot of the animals that are killed at the shelter are put down because they’re considered unadoptable due to breed-specific regulations,” said Wendy Willard, the organizer of a group who recently gathered at the shelter to protest the policy. “It’s not just pure-breeds. Any dog who looks like they might be a pit bull mix, for example, is automatically put down.
“I don’t like that breed-specific ordinance because you can’t tell me that all pits, Rottweilers and chows are dangerous!”
Willard’s agenda, she said, is simple. She wants to bring to an end policies she says result in “little more than a kill shelter.”
“I simply want to get the animals seen by the public so they can be adopted and lower the number of animals who are euthanized,” she said. “That’s my biggest issue as far as the policies go.”
At least one commissioner has said he would certainly be willing to listen to Willard, but cautioned that the board will need concrete data before changing the existing policy.
“We’d certainly be willing to listen to their position,” said Board of Commissioners Chairman R.F. “Buck” Golding. “But all the data we’ve seen shows that those animals are considered dangerous and there’s more of a chance that those breeds will do damage than other breeds.”
While many animal advocates are under the impression that the issue is a county ordinance, the matter is addressed in the Surry County Health and Nutrition Center’s policy manual.
According to the manual, the policy took effect in December, 2006.
It states that “Surry County Animal Control chooses not to adopt pit bulls, Rottweilers or chows,” and notes that “non-compliance to this policy could result in a non-compliance notification and/or subject to the disciplinary process.”
Thomas Williams, spokesman for the Health and Nutrition Center, said he understands that the issue is a matter of the “aggressive nature” of those breeds.
“It could be a matter of potential county liability,” he said.
But Golding said he believes that the issue is more of a matter of statistics.
“I can’t say that it’s exactly a liability issue,” he said, “it’s more of an issue of frequency of incidents with these specific breeds. Those breeds are more often found to be dangerous and vicious.”
Golding said that despite the data, he’d certainly be willing to look at options including the potential of transferring those breeds of animals to another shelter for adoption.
“We’d certainly be willing to consider it if we had good information that that was a possibility,” he said.
The board chairman said that while opponents of the policy may be more vocal, he believes that the majority of county residents support the way things are done.
“We’re getting more phone calls and emails from people wondering what their problem is than we’re getting supporting their opinion,” he said. “But we’ll keep looking at it.”
Reach Keith Strange at kstrange @heartlandpublications.com or 719-1929.