County decision a lifesaver for Matthew mutts

And finally there were none.

More than 400 days after Hurricane Matthew sent more than 200 dogs to the Robeson County Animal Shelter because they had no place else to go, all of them have either been reunited with their families or found another home, fulfilling a promise that shelter officials made shortly after the epic event — although they didn’t have to, and no one would have been critical if they hadn’t.

The last dog, a shepherd mix named Knox, was adopted this week. His future, once bleak, appears to be one of chasing sticks, rolling in the grass and sleeping on the couch.

We all felt helpless as we watched in the days following Oct. 8, 2016, as floodwaters being pushed by Matthew destroyed so much around us. Cats and dogs, whose owners were often displaced and couldn’t bring along their pets, were perhaps the most helpless among us. They didn’t even have the advantage — if that is the correct word — of knowing what was happening, and why they were being left behind to fend for themselves.

In the weeks following Matthew, these strays began being picked up, one by one, and taken to the county pound. In some instances, families reluctantly dropped of their pet, because there was no way to care for them at their temporary home, perhaps a shelter, a hotel room or the home of a relative or friend.

Jason Allison, the manager of the county pound, and Bill Smith, the director of the Health Department, which oversees Animal Control, made a decision — that none of the Matthew animals would be euthanized; instead, all would be housed and cared for until a permanent home could be found.

It was a selfless decision — and one that would test the pound’s resources for 14 months as the number of Matthew rescues at the pound dwindled slowly, yet surely.

The Robeson County Animal Shelter has a complicated past.

Around the turn of the century there were many critics who complained about the condition of the pound and that too many animals were being euthanized, as many as 5,000 a year. The problem was a reflection of a county in which dogs and cats were seen as property and not beings, and too many of them ended up at the county pound, which didn’t have the resources to properly deal with them. Theirs was a short walk to the euthanasia room.

But the Health Department responded positively to the criticism, and the result is the county has a nice facility that serves as a county pound, a staff of compassionate people who care about the welfare of the animals that are taken there, and the waiting period before euthanasia is longer than is required by the state.

All of that is indicative of a new way of thinking in regard to these discarded animals, that they are worthy of being treated humanely, fed and kept comfortable until they can be placed into a home or, absent that, must be euthanized.

It was that new way of thinking that prevailed 14 months ago when county officials made the decision that Matthew wasn’t going to claim the lives of what would become more than 200 dogs, and why today they are running free, tongues dangling and tails-a-wagging.