Commissioner calls for no-kill shelter

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, January 22, 2014

One Rowan County commissioner says he’s not satisfied with finding a kinder way to euthanize animals at the Rowan County Animal Shelter — he wants to find a way to help more of them live.
And his being allowed to say that led another commissioner to get up and walk out of the Board of Commissioners meeting Tuesday.
Responding to protests against the use of a carbon monoxide chamber at the shelter — and the call for lethal injection as a more humane alternative — commissioners Vice Chairman Craig Pierce said he hopes the county can move to a no-kill model.
“It’s something that I feel needs to be done,” Pierce said in a rare response to public comment at the commissioners’ meeting Tuesday. “It can’t be done quickly, but it needs to be done, and I’m going to work toward that goal.”
Board members typically don’t engage with the public during the open comment portion of the meeting, but Chairman Jim Sides said he wanted to make an exception in this case.
Lisa Morgan, a Salisbury resident and one of five people who spoke out against the gas chamber during the meeting and took part in a rally outside beforehand, said she believes commissioners ignore gas chamber opponents.
“This is something that needs to be done now,” she said. “These animals are being tortured as they die. … It needs to be changed now.”
Once public comment concluded, Sides, acknowledging he was departing from standard procedure, addressed Morgan.
“I don’t think there’s one of us who would ignore someone who takes their time and energy to come to that podium,” he said. Sides went on to say there are “things going on behind the scenes” and asked Pierce to explain.
Pierce said he, Commissioner Chad Mitchell and County Manager Gary Page have been exploring how to move Rowan toward a no-kill shelter model. He said that might involve turning over adoptable animals to another organization whose only goal is to find them homes.
However, he said, “like all county programs … we can’t just flip a switch. … It won’t be done next year.”
After Pierce finished speaking, Commissioner Jon Barber asked if he could address the issue. Sides denied the request, saying he didn’t want it to turn into a lengthy debate.
Barber asked to be excused, then abruptly got up and left. His fellow commissioners appeared not to acknowledge him, while numerous gas chamber opponents in the audience applauded.
Barber had earlier moved to add a discussion of the gas chamber of the meeting agenda, but the motion died when no commissioner offered a second. After the meeting, Barber said he’s been trying to get the issue on an agenda for months and became frustrated Tuesday.
“I have tried to bring to the forefront this issue for months, and when the chairman allows a commissioner to make comments which are not in practice with what we normally do, then that same chairman should allow another commissioner to also make comments. When I was denied, that was it,” Barber said. “I didn’t mean to be disrespectful to my fellow commissioners in any way, but you’ve got to give every commissioner the same opportunity. We were all duly elected.”
Barber has frequently clashed with the majority on the board and is currently the subject of an investigation — started at the behest of his fellow board members — into whether he used county resources to make more than 4,000 copies for his personal use.
Barber contends the investigation is retribution for his opposition to many of the majority’s actions and his willingness to speak out about it.
“I have been bullied for over a year,” he said. The days of bullying are over.”
Pierce said after the meeting he heard the opposition to the gas chamber before his election in 2012.
“So my take on it was, if we’re going to dismantle the gas chamber for euthanasia, we probably need to investigate what the total end game needs to be, and in my opinion, it needs to be a no-kill animal shelter,” he said.
That doesn’t mean that no animal would be put down, he said. Animals with rabies or in their last days of life would still be euthanized. But he pointed out the county allocated $10,000 in this year’s budget for a pilot program to study the costs of moving to lethal injection.
Pierce said he’s talked with various agencies about how adoptable animals could be moved out of the county shelter. He said finding them homes and fundraising would also be a better way for volunteers to get involved than at the shelter, where the county could be liable for their safety.
And Pierce said he’d like all animals to be spayed or neutered before they’re adopted. Currently, the county gives people adopting an animal a voucher for a discount on those procedures, but only about 40 percent of those vouchers are used.
That means some of those animals are probably having litters that end up at the animal shelter, he said.
Pierce said he doesn’t know how long it would take to put such a plan in place, and he’d have to convince the rest of the board it could be done with the revenues currently used to fund the animal shelter.
“We are just not in an economy right now that I think would allow a tax increase for just about anything,” he said.