From bad to worse

Published 9:13 pm Friday, June 19, 2009

WINDSOR – While there is vast disagreement over what should be Bertie County’s Animal Control Ordinance, one thing is for sure: the current document doesn’t work.

That was the consensus of Bertie County Sheriff Greg Atkins and the Bertie County Humane Society when each had the opportunity to discuss animal control issues at Monday’s meeting of the Bertie County Board of Commissioners.

During the meeting, Sheriff Atkins appeared before the board asking that they abolish most of the county’s ordinances as they refer to animal control. The sheriff said two of them may be a good idea, but as a whole, North Carolina State Law provided the foundation for animal control and he believed those laws were sufficient.

“If there are some things you feel strongly need to be done that we want to strengthen what the state law has, that can be done by policy,” Sheriff Atkins told the board. “I don’t think animal control should be a matter of ordinance.”

County commissioners can change policy by a simple vote of the board at any time. Ordinances can be changed only after a public hearing and public notice.

The sheriff told commissioners the current animal control ordinance was written in 1982 and may have been adopted for reasons that applied then, but were no longer necessary.

“Ya’ll probably know the animal control ordinance was written in 1982 and it probably has served us well,” he said. “What I am suggesting is that we virtually eliminate it as it exists. North Carolina state law requires virtually every situation involving animal control.”

Commissioner J. Wallace Perry said he understood what Sheriff Atkins wanted to do as far as eliminating most of the ordinance, but wanted to know what he wanted to change it to.

Commissioner Rick Harrell said he wanted to see a copy of the ordinance before he was comfortable even discussing the possibility of eliminating it.

Sheriff Atkins said he would like to remove most of the ordinance except Article V, Section 2 dealing with nuisance dogs and Article V, Section 3 dealing with a barking disturbance. He said other ordinances were covered under state law.

“What is it exactly that you would like to eliminate,” asked Commission Chairman Norman M. Cherry Sr.

The sheriff said anything that was covered by state law would not be needed in the local ordinance.

“A lot of things apply to state law and it would be better to be covered by state law,” he said.

Commissioner Perry asked what benefit there would be for the sheriff to have the ordinances eliminated and Atkins said it would streamline things.

Commission Vice Chairman L.C. Hoggard III said he wasn’t ready to make any decisions on the subject.

“I want to look at any ordinance before I vote to eliminate it,” he said.

Cherry then said he felt the board should take the sheriff’s recommendation under advisement.

The sheriff then informed the board he was seeking their help because animal control was in a bad situation because of charges that have been made against a Lewiston Woodville man for keeping nearly 50 animals in his home.

Stephen Kyprianides has been charged with 39 counts of misdemeanor animal cruelty after officers entered his home with a search warrant and found 47 dogs and three cats living in the house. The ammonia levels were so high the officers could not enter until it was ventilated.

Sheriff Atkins said the dog pound is absolutely full and that he is ordinance-bound to keep any animals that come to the facility for five days when state law only requires three.

The sheriff said he did not want to just put dogs down, but would like to be able to euthanize animals after three days if they were not adoptable and the previous owner signed a consent form.

“Animal control is ugly business,” the sheriff said. “I would love to be able to adopt every dog we get and, while they are in our care, be able to provide them with air conditioning, but that just isn’t’ feasible.”

Cherry said he wasn’t inclined to want to change the requirement from five days to three, because he had just adopted an animal from the pound and was thankful for the pet, but that he understood the problem that was presented.

County Attorney Lloyd Smith said his office was proceeding with a civil procedure that would require Kyprianides to pay for the animals being kept at the shelter. If he can’t, Animal Control Officer Skip Dunlow would then be authorized to adopt them or remove them if District Attorney Valerie Asbell approved it due to the impending court case.

“You’re in a catch-22,” Cherry said. “You have nowhere to put them and you can’t euthanize them because of the ordinance.”

County Manager Zee Lamb asked if the situation would exist if it weren’t for the criminal case and the sheriff said, no, but it was still a regular issue.

Harrell then said he thought the situation needed to be studied and made so the county was not in this situation in the future.

Following that conversation, Nancy Miller and Penny Thompson of the Bertie County Humane Society and Donnie Taylor, one of the county’s animal cruelty investigators, also had comments about animal control.

Taylor said, “The sheriff is in a bad position and Skip is in a worse position. The Bertie County Humane Society is in a bad position because we want them adopted.”

Taylor further stated that he had come before the board three weeks ago asking for stronger ordinances, not for the elimination of ordinances.

Discussion ensued about the possibility of strengthening animal control through ordinance or policy to shift responsibility back to owners.

Lamb then suggested appointing a committee to discuss the issue and report back to the board.

Cherry then appointed, Sheriff Atkins, Dunlow, Taylor, Miller, Thompson, Animal Cruelty Investigator Charlene Phelps and Commissioner Perry to the committee.

Sheriff Atkins asked that the committee be given a deadline to report.

“Everyone has the same interest, but I believe there will be a wide variety of opinion,” Sheriff Atkins said. “I believe we need a deadline.”

Cherry said he wanted the committee’s report by the July 20 meeting of the board.