Dogged pursuit

First Posted: 7/18/2013

It’s never fun to come under the radar of animal rights advocates.

Ask Bill Smith, director of the county Health Department, which has been under fire for much of the last decade and a half. Some of the criticism was fair — and led to a better facility and conditions for the dogs and cats that have been discarded, gathered up by Animal Control, and then put on a pretty quick march to death.

Then there is the other kind of criticism — based on rumor, innuendo or outright lies.

Smith bristled recently when this newspaper, prompted by a call from a critic of the pound, began asking questions for a story that was published a week ago today. Smith responds to the criticism in a column that can be found on today’s Health page.

The most recent criticism of the pound is that the number of adoptions has fallen in the past year after significant staff turnover at the pound — and that not enough is being done to turn that tide. Smith said rescue groups followed the departed staff to other shelters, and that animals continue to be rescued, but not necessarily from the Robeson County facility.

A reporter from this newspaper dropped in unannounced at the shelter recently and did not see any signs that animals were in distress or that they were being abused, a complaint that we also received.

Finally, we were told that the pound was not using social media to publish photographs of all the animals, which dramatically decreases the odds that those that remain faceless will be adopted, and is turning away volunteers who could help with that process. We checked the shelter’s Facebook page and more than 100 animals were visible for adoption, not all of them obviously, but we know taking and publishing photos of all the animals is time-consuming and would indeed require volunteers.

On volunteers, Smith said this in his column: “… It is a mistake to have a volunteer work with a staff member alone — it sets the stage for allegations. I have stated we would be open Saturday afternoons if sufficient volunteers would cover it. To date, a sufficient number of committed individuals has not been identified, so we are not open. That opportunity still exists.”

We know some will find that answer unsatisfying, but lawsuits are costly, and part of Smith’s job is to keep the county out of civil court. Perhaps sufficient volunteers will step forward that the facility could open for adoptions on Saturdays, when rescuers from out of the county can more easily pull animals from the pound.

The problem isn’t the shelter nor the people who advocate for animals. The problem is that too many pet owners in this county allow dogs and cats that have not been spayed or neutered to roam, growing the number of strays that have to be taken to the shelter and either adopted or killed.

According to Smith, a full 10 percent of all animals in North Carolina that were sterilized through a state voucher program in the first quarter of this year were from Robeson County, so that is the good news. That is a result of an outreach effort by the Health Department, one that needs to keep repeating.

If that happens, the number of strays being put to death at the county pound will eventually drop. Absent that, don’t expect the critics to stop howling.