After 35 years with Humane Society, Hartness most proud of spay, neuter progress

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, December 1, 2009

It was 35 years ago when four women who cared about animals started the Humane Society of Rowan County.
They began with three main objectives: the prevention of cruelty to animals, the relief of suffering among animals and the extension of humane education.
As the problem of dog and cat overpopulation grew, however, the Humane Society became more and more involved in educating people on the importance of spaying and neutering. And six years ago, its volunteers started their own spay/neuter program with donations from local friends and benefactors.
Since then, President Jane Hartness says the Humane Society has arranged for the spay/neuter of almost 6,000 cats and dogs. “In so doing, we have prevented the births of literally millions of unwanted cats and dogs,” she says.
Before the Humane Society’s 35th anniversary fundraiser last night, Hartness ó who helped start the Humane Society in 1974 along with three other women ó sat down with Post reporter Kathy Chaffin and reflected on its beginnings, accomplishments and role.
Here is an edited transcript of that interview:
Tell us a little bit about how the Humane Society of Rowan County got started.
Jane Arey, who is now deceased, Karen Wood, Sandy Jones and I were brought together by a letter to the editor that appeared in the Salisbury Post in May 1973.
The letter was from a Rowan County native who was active in a humane society in another part of North Carolina. She encouraged formation of an organization here and offered to help interested persons get started.
The really weird part is that I had just completed my final college exam and come home with the intention of writing a letter to the editor soliciting support for a humane society in Rowan County. Following my dad’s example and excellent advice, I sat down to read the newspaper before doing anything else.
There was the letter. Long story short, Jane, Karen, Sandy and I met through phone calls and sat down together the following October to begin laying the groundwork. The work that we do isn’t always easy, and the situations we deal with aren’t always pleasant, but relieving an animal’s suffering or improving the conditions under which some animals live keeps dedicated animal welfare workers going.
Q: Looking back on the last 35 years, what accomplishments are you proudest of?
A: If I had to pin it down to a single accomplishment, I would have to say our spay-neuter effort. We have always required that our placements be spayed or neutered.
We also encourage pet owners who did not adopt from us to have their pets spayed or neutered. Some pet owners need assistance with the altering of their pets through our spay-neuter program.
We use the services of reduced-cost spay/neuter clinics in Kernersville, Greensboro and Concord. Two local veterinarians offer reduced-cost clinics, and I think all of the local veterinarians participate in SNiP (a low-cost public spay and neuter program) twice a year.
Q: What do you see as the role of the Humane Society of Rowan County?
A: I think our education endeavor is a big one. We go to schools, civic organizations, churches, any group requesting a program.
One thing that we do that I don’t think people realize the magnitude of is our telephone outreach. It is an excellent means of educating and working with pet owners. We get an average of nine or so calls per day.
Many are requesting help in placing animals, and many now are requesting help with feeding their own animals. We have been able to help people who have called and are in a bad situation with the economy the way it is.
We dispensed over 34,000 pounds of food last calendar year and are moving toward that number this year. We’re fortunate to receive pet food donations from several area businesses and from individuals who collect for us.
Q: There are animal welfare groups, animal rights groups and animal activist groups. Which category does the Humane Society of Rowan County fall under?
A: We are an animal welfare group and an advocate for the humane treatment of animals. Throughout our history we have advocated for legislation and for enforcement of existing laws that regulate the care and treatment of animals.
We are not of an activist nature. We have always believed that it is more effective and fosters better relationships to sit down and discuss all the issues with the appropriate individuals. We need to maintain good working relationships with everyone involved with animal welfare.
Q: What do you think are the most important animal issues going on in Rowan County today?
A: Overpopulation and the variety of problems that come with that: cruelty, negligence, roaming animals, lack of veterinary care, etc. Mostly, it boils down to having cats and dogs that nobody wants.
I think that indiscriminate breeding is a problem. I look at that as a problem separate from overpopulation.
Indiscriminate breeding feeds into many of the problems we handle and that animal control officers have to handle every day.
It is disgusting to hear backyard breeders say, “Oh, I find homes for all of them,” when we bring up the subject of spay and neuter. What kind of homes do they find? Just because they sell a person a puppy or kitten doesn’t mean that little one is going to be cared for and loved.
We could give example after example of that. We receive at least a call a week during heavy breeding seasons from people who have bought cats or dogs in shopping center parking lots or at flea markets or yard sales.
They’ve been told by the breeder or the person who answered an ad and took all the pups and kittens (that should raise a red flag when you run a free ad, and someone offers to take all of them off your hands) that the money is to cover worming and vaccinations.
The new owner calls us to file a complaint against a person whose name they do not have or to ask us for help in getting veterinary care for the sick pet. When a puppy is dying of parvo, it’s fairly obvious no one had provided any vaccinations or vet care before selling it.
Another issue is too many unwanted animals roaming, causing problems, being maimed and tortured, ending up in the gas chamber. It is absolutely imperative that we have the cooperation of local entities to get some control over the overpopulation.
We’ve seen some decrease in the intake number at the Rowan County Animal Shelter since we started our spay/neuter program, and we can see even more with all of us working together.
Also, the need for humane education: Some people mean well but don’t understand the responsibilities of pet ownership or how to properly care for animals.
Education on animal ordinances is also needed. Review of existing ordinances governing the care and treatment of animals, additions to some of those and enforcement of ordinances.
For more information on the Humane Society of Rowan County, call 704-636-5700, e-mail humanesocietyofrowancounty@windstream. net or log onto humane
Contact Kathy Chaffin at 704-797-4249.