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Animal control officers soon will carry rifles

By Steve Huffman
Salisbury Post
Rowan County Animal Control officers will apparently soon be carrying .22-caliber rifles.
Members of the Rowan County Board of Health earlier this week approved a policy whereby officers will likely begin carrying the guns July 15.
Leonard Wood, Rowan County’s health director, said the date for the policy’s implementation isn’t set in stone, depending upon reaction from county commissioners and the amount of time it takes to have officers trained in the use of firearms.
“If they’re not ready, I have the authority to delay until everything is set,” Wood said.
He said he didn’t expect negative feedback from commissioners, noting that Commissioner Chad Mitchell is the liaison to the health board and attended the meeting where the carrying of firearms was discussed and approved.
“He had lots of questions, lots of concerns about liability issues,” Wood said of Mitchell’s feedback. “But I think we got everything worked out.”
He said if that turns out not to be the case and commissioners say they don’t support the officers’ carrying rifles, “The health board will have to revisit” the matter.
Wood said animal control officers will be trained in firearm use by officers with the Rowan County Sheriff’s Office.
“I’m not going to do this until I feel comfortable,” Wood said of implementation of the policy. “I have to make sure we’re clear about liability and training.”
He said animal control officers in about 10 neighboring counties carry firearms, some carrying pistols as well as rifles. Meanwhile, in Rowan County, animal control officers must rely on deputies or neighbors to provide firearms in the event an animal needs to be put down.
“Who’s got a gun? That’s exactly right,” Wood said of how officers typically handle such situations.
He said the push to outfit local officers with firearms was heightened about a month ago when there was a call where a rabid fox bit a woman. Fortunately, when the animal control officer arrived, a deputy was already there and shot the fox.
Wood said had the deputy not been in the vicinity, the animal control officer would have had only a catch pole to try and contain the fox.
“The officer came back and said, ‘If the deputy’s not there, this is what I’m faced with,’ ” Wood said of squaring off against a rabid fox with a catch pole.
He said officers may use rifles on their jobs in these situations:
– For protection or,
– In the event of a badly injured or sick animal that needs to be put out of its suffering.
“It’s a life-and-death decision,” Wood said. “It’s not something they take lightly.”
He noted there are times when putting an animal down with a shot to the head is the most humane thing to do. For instance, if an animal has been hit by a car and suffered a broken back, watching it suffer when there’s no hope for recovery only prolongs the animal’s agony.
“They should be able to make that decision without having to get a homeowner or deputy involved,” Wood said of officers ending the animal’s suffering.
Contact Steve Huffman at 704-797-4222 or shuffman@salisburypost.com.

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