DOBSON — Citing a violation of policy, Surry County Animal Shelter officials have asked a member of an animal advocacy group to stop taking photos of animals and posting them on the Internet, raising the ire of some animal advocates in the county.
According to Wendy Willard, the leader of a group who is protesting high euthanasia rates at the shelter, she has been asked to leave by shelter Director Gary Brown.
“I first talked to the secretary and then to Gary Brown, and he said that no one will ever be allowed to take photos inside of the building. That they would post photos online as soon as animals are available to be adopted,” she said. “That’s the only time people will see those animals unless they go to the shelter.”
The shelter had originally permitted Willard to photograph animals shortly after a June 21 protest where about 75 county residents turned out to protest high euthanasia rates at the shelter.
According to numbers released by the N.C. Department of Agriculture, the Surry County shelter had a 2011 euthanasia rate of 90.69 percent compared to an adoption rate of 4.53 percent, resulting in what Willard has called “little more than a kill shelter.”
Willard said she was taking photos of the dogs in their cages to show what she calls “the reality of their lives at the shelter.”
“(The photo album posted online) had pictures of random dogs and it was just a few photos to give people the chance to see that the pictures of dogs playing in the grass isn’t the reality of their lives at the shelter,” she said. “I wanted them to be able to see how overpopulated the shelter is and tried to explain to shelter officials that if they’d let me show them to the public they might be able to get more adopted.”
The problem, she said, is that the photos seemed to work too well.
“The more people saw the photos the more they wanted to adopt the dogs and the problem is that those dogs weren’t ready to be adopted,” she said.
But shelter officials say it’s less about the photos themselves, and more about which photos Willard was taking.
“We have a policy in place and the people who were coming in and taking the pictures were told the policy in front of witnesses,” said Samantha Ange, director of the Surry County Health and Nutrition Center, which oversees shelter operations. “We told them to only take photos of animals who had met our adoptability criteria and not those who were undergoing the adoptability test. We told them they were not allowed into the quarantine area.”
Ange said Willard had taken photos of unadoptable animals and posted them online.
“They were told we didn’t want them doing that, and then they were told again. And they took the camera back (into the quarantine area),” she said. “They were trusted to only take photos of what they were supposed to and they broke that policy.”
Willard said she wanted people to see what goes on in the back of the shelter.
“People don’t realize that every animal back there dies,” she said.
Brown suggested that Willard was creating headaches for shelter employees.
“We were getting calls about animals that she photographed and when they could be adopted,” he said of the unadoptable animals. “She violated our agreement.”
For Willard, it’s less about personality or policy and more about getting animals adopted.
“They said that I’d caused them more trouble than helped them,” she said. “I had no intention of causing them problems. That’s not what I wanted to do.”
Willard urged shelter officials to allow someone to post photos of the shelter animals online.
“If they don’t want me there, please allow someone else to come in and take photos of those adoptable animals and post them,” she said. “That’s all I want. It doesn’t have to be me, just anyone.”
Ange said she fully supports increasing the adoption rates at the shelter.
Willard said that since a gathering of protesters at the shelter she’s been striving to work with Brown.
“I don’t know what else to do,” she said. “I really wanted to present the shelter in the best light possible.
“I will gladly turn it over to anyone else,” Willard added. “I just want to stop as much of the killing of these animals as possible!”
Reach Keith Strange at firstname.lastname@example.org or 719-1929.