LUMBERTON — The county Health Department doesn’t have enough personnel or funding to promptly answer every call and complaint received about dogs running loose throughout Robeson County, according to its director.
“With only two of three Animal Control officers on duty at any one time — because of various reasons — we have to prioritize what calls we respond to,” said Bill Smith, the director. “The order of our priorities are rabies, dog bites, dangerous animals, and then nuisance complaints.”
Lori Baxter, who supervises the three Animal Control officers and is manager of the county’s animal shelter in St. Pauls, agrees.
“Our officers are ridiculously overworked,” Baxter said. “I could use five or six more officers and keep them busy, but I don’t have money in my budget to hire more.”
The number of dog complaints and calls that the officers must answer varies daily, Baxter said.
“Some days we will have 40 dogs brought here to the shelter,” she said. “Some days there may only be five.”
On Tuesday, Rowland resident Eddie Franklin asked members of Rowland’s town board what can be done about dogs running loose in the community. He told the board that there were at least four dogs in his yard that dug up flowers earlier that day.
Franklin said that he called local police and an officer responded. By the time the officer arrived at his residence, however, the dogs were gone.
Rowland officials told Franklin that the county is required to respond to animal complaints. They also said that Rowland no longer has an employee designated as an Animal Control officer, and that there is no local animal shelter that meets state regulations.
“We try to get the county Animal Control people when needed,” Mayor Elizabeth Hunt told Franklin. “Sometimes they respond.”
Town officials suggested that residents contact their county commissioners to express their concerns that they are not receiving a service for which they are paying taxes.
According to statistics provided by Baxter, there were 3,386 dogs brought to the county shelter during 2011, a majority of which were picked up by Animal Control officers in response to complaints by residents. Baxter said that 26 of 27 dogs from Rowland brought to the shelter from October through December were brought in by county Animal Control officers.
Smith said that those communities that have their own dedicated employee for Animal Control can often respond to nuisance complaints that county officers may not be able to. Also, he said, local authorities can respond faster to a complaint, arriving before the animal disappears.
Communities that currently have designated Animal Control officers, according to Baxter, include: Fairmont; Lumberton; Maxton; St. Pauls; Red Springs; and Pembroke. Rowland used to have an officer who worked 10 hours a week.
Smith emphasized the county’s need for more Animal Control officers to handle the “steady” number of cases that officers must respond to each year. Robeson, with 951 square miles, is the largest county in the state.
“We’re working with the same workforce that was here when I arrived in the late 80s,” he said.
Baxter said that with more money and staff Animal Control services could be expanded.
“We could cut down on animal cruelty, dog fighting and overpopulation,” she said.
Currently, the county does not employ an animal cruelty investigator.
“Since July, there have been 160 reported cases of animal cruelty,” Smith said.
Reach staff writer Bob Shiles at 910-272-6117 or email@example.com.