Tuesday, 16 February 2021 17:20

Protestors call for changes at Richmond County Animal Shelter

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A sign at a Tuesday afternoon protest calls for the termination of Bonnie Wilde, director of the Richmond County Animal Shelter. See more photos in a gallery below. A sign at a Tuesday afternoon protest calls for the termination of Bonnie Wilde, director of the Richmond County Animal Shelter. See more photos in a gallery below. William R. Toler - Richmond Observer

ROCKINGHAM — A group of around 20 animal rights activists stood in front of the Richmond County administration building Tuesday afternoon, calling for changes at the animal shelter — including a new director.

Protesters, most wearing red shirts, stood on the sidewalk holding signs as motorists drove by the busy intersection. Some posters featured animals that had been euthanized, while others read that shelter Director Bonnie Wilde — and County Manager Bryan Land — “needs to go!”

The protest was organized by Sarah Holder. The majority of the group met in the former Big Lots parking lot before driving over to the county office.

Those gathered were protesting what they consider mismanagement of the shelter in recent years, which has led to two investigations and subsequent penalties by the N.C. Department of Agriculture and Consumer Service Veterinary Division Animal Welfare Section.

There is also a separate online petition calling for Wilde's termination.

Holder said they want new staff at the shelter and for the abuse and neglect to stop.

The most recent investigation, which centered around an injured dog, found that cages weren’t cleaned properly, and kittens and puppies weren’t fed at required intervals on a Sunday.

Several of the protesters were former volunteers at the shelter, including Kristi Newton-Maines, whose complaint in 2019 led to the first investigation.

“This isn’t about us, this isn’t about people,” Newton-Maines said. “When you’re in that shelter, there’s exits everywhere. You, a person, can go out any exit in there, but animals either go out the front door or they go out the back door — and a majority go out the back door … that means they’re killed.”

An inspection of euthanization records from June 1 to Sept. 23 of 2019 showed that 82 animals were euthanized — 10 prior to the end of the required 72-hour holding period with no records documenting exceptions, according to state documents.

The shelter was initially fined $2,000 following the first investigation, however, those fines were reduced to $500, according to Land.

Newton-Maines criticized the shelter’s use of the website Pet Tango (which seemed to have technical problems when checked by the RO) and accused shelter management of having no will to get the animals adopted.

A review of  the shelter’s Facebook page shows 11 animals have been adopted out so far this year. An additional 13 were listed for adoption this month, and one dog and one cat were posted to try to find the owners.

“There’s just so many things that could be done, they just don’t want to,” Newton-Maines said.

During the December 2019 meeting of the Richmond County Board of Commissioners, after Newton-Maines addressed the board, Land said the county had almost quadrupled the number of adoptions in the past six years from around 200 in 2013 — when the county took control of the shelter from the Humane Society of Richmond County — to an average of 800 in the last two years. He added that the euthanasia percentages of been cut by almost 80 percent, from 1,400 to around 300 per year, including a 31 percent decrease within the past 12 months.

Land said in a statement Tuesday that the shelter’s daily census was below 60 for the first time in three years and that 25 cats had been moved out in the past two weeks.

Newton-Maines also compared the local shelter to the one across the river in Anson County, which she said went from being a high-kill shelter to having a no-kill status within about two years.

She and several others also commented that volunteers are no longer welcome at the shelter.

The Humane Society recently cut its ties late last year.

“There’s not a successful shelter out there that doesn’t have volunteers helping,” she said “This is our shelter. We all as taxpayers pay for this shelter … animal lovers want to help, and not being allowed, not being welcome, the animals suffer.”

“We could bring a lot of rescues, just like we have in the past,” said Ingrid Marks. “It could be close to a no-kill (shelter).”

Another former volunteer, Alice Kaulfers, said she had good and bad experiences at the shelter — but the bad outweigh the good.

“The conduct of certain prior volunteers was having a detrimental effect on Staff and created a borderline hostile environment for staff to work in,” said Jimmy Quick, the county’s information technology and human resources director. “I recall we called for a halt and cooling down period to evaluate how to proceed forward. Obviously, restrictions and preventative measures due to COVID-19 deprioritized this review due to the minimization strategy we asked each department to implement. Restricted access continues to be in place to protect the staff and the sheltered animals.”

Sally Culley, a former shelter employee — who said she was fired for “gross misconduct” after telling someone who dropped a puppy at her feet “Bite me!” — said the shelter needs compassionate people.

“As a kennel tech, I used to ask myself, “What has this animal been through? … This animal’s been through trauma, it don’t need no more trauma. It needs compassioned hands,” Culley said. “It don’t need to come into the shelter and be slung into a kennel and not touched … the biggest thing we need is people with compassion in that shelter.”

Culley agreed with comments made earlier this month by Chairman Jeff Smart, who said county residents should also take more responsibility for their pets.

“It would make our jobs a lot easier if we were all able to take care of our pets and handle them accordingly, and treat them and love them like they deserve,” Smart said. “Then we wouldn’t have near as many pets at the animal shelter.”

Culley said spaying and neutering should be encouraged more.

“It’s not all the shelter, it’s a lot of the people in the county,” she said. “They need to realize what needs to be done for these animals.”

Richmond County Animal Advocates helps provide a low-cost spay-neuter clinic, but hasn’t been able to raise funds this year because of social distancing guidelines, according to a Feb. 9 Facebook post asking for donations.

Holder suggested that lowering adoption fees would also help.

According to the shelter’s page on the county’s website, the adoption rate is $80 for dogs and $65 for cats.

“It’s all about saving lives and not taking lives,” Culley said.