Are we doing enough?

Published 8:39 am Wednesday, April 10, 2013

GATESVILLE – Issues with Gates County’s current Animal Ordinance will be addressed.

At their meeting here last week, the county’s Board of Commissioners adopted a resolution that, in part, dealt with the formation of an ad-hoc Animal Welfare Advisory Committee. That came after two county citizens addressed a growing problem with abandoned and abused dogs. Amanda Smith and Carolyn Whitt both spoke during the public input portion of the board’s April 3 meeting.

“I was very disappointed in your lack of empathy at your last meeting towards the dogs and what we have to say. There was no emotion shown, nothing,” Smith said.

She recalled one particular topic of discussion at the last commissioners’ meeting – the pending renovation of the old courthouse. Smith said there was talk about preserving it as a tourist attraction.

“As a resident, my concern is that when people drive through our county they won’t remember a building; they’ll see and remember us for the dog abuse that goes on here. There was one just recently found on Johnny Harrell Road….on a body scale of 1-to-10, he was a one,” she noted.

Smith said from what’s she’s been told, Gates County Animal Control was contacted three times about this particular dog, but, “he was never picked up,” she said.

“A good samaritan picked up this dog on March 25; he had been abused, starved and neglected,” Smith noted. “His teeth were filed down; he has scars, but yet nothing was done (when county authorities were contacted).”

Smith added that the bodies of two dead dogs were recently dumped on a road near her home.

“This is what people will see and remember when riding through our county,” she stressed. “It’s great to restore the courthouse and have a historic site, but I think we need to first start with cleaning up the dog abuse in our county.

“You guys are in a position to make a change to our county and to the lives of animals that have feelings and emotions…they feel pain, they feel suffering,” Smith continued. “Please make this change. I look forward to it.”

“Ditto on what Amanda said about the lack of empathy; that really concerns me,” said Whitt. “This dog (on Johnny Harrell Road) was called about three times (to county officials); he’s not the first in this county.”

Whitt, who has a past history with dog rescues, said it seems she is the one who gets the calls from residents about stray pets, not Gates County Animal Control.

“I’m their first line of defense,” she said. “They call me to see if I can help. I’m not animal control; I’m not the county shelter. The care for these dogs comes out of my pocket; it comes out of Amanda’s pocket because this issue is very important to us.”

Whitt said she has addressed this issue with Gates County Sheriff Ed Webb.

“He needs help,” she stressed. “He needs a full-time Animal Control Officer…one that this is all he does and he’s got plenty to do in this county because I can take you on a ride right now and show you what’s not being enforced (by the county’s Animal Ordinance) and all the suffering going on in this county.”

Whitt encouraged the commissioners to sit down with Webb and give him the helps he needs. She added that the county is also in need of animal cruelty investigators.

“They will not cost you a dime; they are volunteers who are trained (to investigate),” she stated. “We need at least two investigators in this county.”

Whitt urged the commissioners to take a stand on this issue and, “stop the generational abuse that’s going on in this county.”

“Educate our citizens; put somebody in charge that can help us change this nasty little image we have out there in our communities,” she said. “As a rescuer I hear it all the time….you are from North Carolina, you are from GatesCounty where they abuse dogs. And you know what, it’s true.”

As part of last week’s agenda, the commissioners did discuss the consideration of bylaws, terms and membership make-up of an ad-hoc Animal Welfare Advisory Committee.

“We decided at our last meeting to put together a committee to address the situation we have here in the county regarding the welfare of animals,” said Commission Chairman Henry Jordan.

A resolution was prepared in advance of organizing such a committee, which, in part, stated that “the condition of animals and their welfare is of particular concern to the citizens of GatesCounty,” and there was a need for public input on this advisory board.

The resolution went on to say that this nine-member board should be in place by May 1. The scope of the committee is to identify animal welfare needs and recommend courses of action to improve the condition of animal welfare, generally, and specifically address animal adoption and stewardship of sheltered animals, animal cruelty (to include tethering), and to address consistency in the county’s existing Animal Ordinance.

According to the resolution, five of the committee members will be appointed (one each) by the board of commissioners by the district they represent (Eure, Hobbsville, Gates, Gatesville and Sunbury). The remaining four will be by appointment of the Tri-County Animal Shelter, Gates County Health Department, Gates County Sheriff and the Gates County Manager.

After much debate, the commissioners each vowed to search out the best candidate possible from their respective district to serve on the board. However, if there is no worthy candidate within a certain district, that commissioner can look outside their general area for a committee member. If one is located within the district of another commissioner, that board member is to be given a “courtesy call.”

“This is not by voting district; you can select anyone within the county at your pleasure as you deem fit to serve,” noted Gates County Manager Jon Mendenhall.

“I will look within my district first, but if there isn’t anyone that wants to serve then I have to look elsewhere in the county,” said Commission Vice Chairman Jack Owens.

“I would like to see equal representation from throughout the county,” said Jordan.

“I concur, but I do want to see the most educated people concerning this kind of situation on this committee and seek them out,” stated Commissioner John Hora. “I feel we have some qualified people in this county that can serve on this committee and have a passion to serve.”

“I’d like to see geographical representation on this committee instead of having the members from one cluster of the county,” said Commissioner Linda Hofler. “This is a countywide issue and people would like to have their voice heard.”

There are a handful of county citizens who have already expressed interest in serving on the ad-hoc committee. Mendenhall said four had applied to date and would supply the commissioners with the names of those four. The application period is open until April 23 by contacting the CountyManager’s office in Gatesville.

The resolution was approved by the board without objection.

Following the meeting, Jordan was asked by the Gates County Index of why the committee was being formed.

“The way our current animal ordinance is worded, it’s a little difficult for our sheriff to enforce,” Jordan noted. “Some of the efforts of this committee will be to re-word the ordinance to make it easier to enforce. It’s too generic right now.

“As far as the sheriff having enough personnel, that’s a whole other issue,” Jordan added.

Whitt also spoke to the Index following the meeting. She said the dog – a young lab/boxer mix – rescued on Johnny Harrell Road was in such poor health that, “you could take your fingers and slip them between his ribs. He was found scavenging for food on the side of the road.”

In an email sent to the Index late last week, Whitt said that despite the best efforts to save the dog, to include having him seen by a local vet, he died.

“Some folks believe they’re doing the best they can with the care of their dogs, but they don’t understand the right way. We’ve got to educate them,” Whitt stated.

Whitt added that an effort is currently underway to organize a “Doggy 101” club to educate youngsters on the proper care of animals.

The Gates County Board of Commissioners approved the currently animal ordinance in February of 2009. Even that came with much public debate and several instances of re-wording the document.

About Cal Bryant

Cal Bryant, a 40-year veteran of the newspaper industry, serves as the Editor at Roanoke-Chowan Publications, publishers of the Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald, Gates County Index, and Front Porch Living magazine.

email author More by Cal