“Life is as dear to a mute creature as it is to man. Just as one wants happiness and fears pain, just as one wants to live and not die, so do other creatures.”
— The Dalai Lama
It is a shame on all of us that more than 4,000 cats and dogs each year are killed at the Robeson County Animal Shelter, victims of our own indifference, flicked aside like a spent cigarette butt.
But those who are least culpable are the people assigned the grisly task, folks who work at the shelter, and try to provide some dignity for these condemned animals during their final moments.
It was the late 1990s when Robeson County’s treatment of discarded animals came into plain view of the public, with this newspaper, pushed by animal rights advocates, providing the window. To be sure, it was shameful, not only the sheer number of animals being euthanized each year, routinely more than 5,000, but also how the animals were housed and treated at the county “shelter,” the quotation marks applied because it was anything but.
There have been substantial improvements since then in the care of the animals, including the construction of a shelter at the county landfill, which has much more room. It is run professionally, and is sanitary to the degree that such facilities can be. The county also has adopted its own policy of giving animals five days to be rescued, more than the state’s mandate of at least three, but obviously not enough for thousands of them.
Sadly, the number of animals killed at the shelter, after going down rather substantially, has been trending back upward in recent years and led North Carolina last year by about 1,800 over the next closest county.
When this newspaper decided a couple of weeks ago to do a story on the county’s euthanasia rate, we know county health officials, particularly Director Bill Smith, were concerned about the potential fallout. We want to be clear: In no way did they impede the effort, and in fact were accommodating in every way, both in answering our questions and providing access.
But they knew what would be next: A sharing of the story through social media, and scrutiny that will be unfair for lack of context and misdirected. The more thoughtful critics will be precise in their aim.
We proceeded not only because we felt the story needed to be told, but also because we are hopeful that it might attract the attention of additional rescue groups that might come to our county and pluck from the pound cats and dogs that can thrive with another chance and — this is a large point — make richer the lives of the people who open their homes.
Smith is sober in his analysis. There are only two ways to reduce substantially the number of dogs and cats that are euthanized at the shelter each year. The first is reducing the number of strays through aggressive spay and neuter programs, and the second is the rescue of the animals on death row.
This county, with the help of local veterinarians, provides two programs, called SNIP, each year for discounted spay and neutering, and although we know that has helped, more help is needed. Smith has been adamant that the number of euthanized cats and dogs at the pound rises and falls depending on the number of rescue groups. A few years back, they were more active here, and now, less so.
So our hope is that when this news begins making its rounds on social media, the outrage will be sufficient to push additional rescue groups in our direction. That appears to be the only hope.
We would like to say this county could do better. But two decades have provided us enough evidence to conclude otherwise.