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Efforts to become a ‘no-kill’ shelter not fast enough for some

Commissioners are in the process of implementing change at Rowan County Animal Shelter with the aim of taking the facility further toward being “no-kill.”

Members of Fix Rowan, a local animal advocacy group, are getting impatient.

“I think some people are upset. (Commissioners) said the gas chamber would be removed. If they were going to be dismantling it, why would they be keeping it at the location on Julian Road?” said Melissa Connolly, founder and co-director of Fix Rowan. “We do believe they want to not use it anymore. If that’s the case, they should band together and dismantle it.”

The gas chamber still is operating, Connolly said.

Commissioner Chad Mitchell stepped up to defend the board’s actions at Monday’s meeting.

“The gas chamber is gone as of July 1. It’s not July 1 yet. It won’t be used anymore. June 30 at midnight — that’s it,” Mitchell said. “We’ll still be euthanizing animals after July 1 using (injections). We won’t be a no-kill shelter at that point.”

For the shelter to go toward being truly no-kill, Mitchell said, the county would need to have space for hundreds of animals or allow people to “just take them.”

The county is moving toward getting rid of the gas chamber and only euthanizing animals that are not adoptable or dangerous, Mitchell said.

“That, to me, is the core concept of no-kill,” Mitchell said. “It might not meet some definitions of no-kill, but if we are not euthanizing any animal that is adoptable and not dangerous, than I think we’ve made some extremely good progress in just a period of six to nine months.”

Although Fix Rowan members were hoping for the shelter to receive a trained veterinarian, they are happy now that commissioners voted to give them a veterinary technician to work there.

Commissioners also voted Monday to hike taxes three-quarters of a cent in order to pay the debt on a variety of planned capital improvement projects, including $150,000 for an addition at the shelter.

“We wanted to have a veterinarian, and I don’t know why they chose a vet tech over a veterinarian,” Connolly said. “It is better than what we have now.”

Connolly said commissioners promised to support an adoption center, which Fix Rowan members said is not necessary at West End Plaza.

“Our main thing is that they tell us to trust them, but they don’t give us any details,” Connolly said. “We trust you, but we’re having dogs and cats die everyday. Time is of the essence.”

Rowan County Manager Gary Page said the county runs the shelter in compliance with the law and has never failed an inspection.

“We will dismantle the gas chamber and recycle it,” Page said.

The numbers of animals constantly coming in week after week make a true no-kill shelter difficult.

The shelter takes in 125 animals a week, which amounts to 500 animals a month and 6,000 a year, Page said.

The county is adopting out between 2,000 animals and 2,500 animals a year.

“Even if we doubled the number of animals adopted out, increasing it 100 percent to 5,000 animals a year, we would still be taking on 1,000 animals a year after that,” Page said.

The county ultimately would need to build new shelters and hire more staff to accommodate the difference.

Connolly said many options exist for mitigating the shelter’s problems.

Volunteers could provide free labor at the shelter, animals could stay and be socialized in people’s homes given a contract is signed and a pet retention program could garner animal food donations to be distributed to financially strapped owners to help them manage feeding their animals during hard times to cut down on the amount of drop-offs.

Commissioner Craig Pierce, the board’s vice-chair, said the county is moving further toward no-kill, but there is no immediate fix given the county’s cash supply.

“I told (Fix Rowan members) from the very start that it wasn’t going to be like flipping a light switch. It takes time and it takes money,” Pierce said. “This is why we are identifying $150,000 to go to the shelter. We’ve also identified some other things we’re going to be doing at the shelter.”

Fix Rowan co-director Jane Felts said commissioners made the right move in adding a veterinary technician, but it is only a start.

“Once you are no-kill, a community will come behind you and support you,” Felts said. “They want to implement no-kill by little bits and pieces, and that hasn’t been shown to be successful that way.”

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