Shelter task force receives volunteer program proposal

Published 12:05 am Friday, May 8, 2015

By Josh Bergeron

The Rowan County Animal Shelter moved one step closer to adopting a volunteer program Thursday, when its director introduced a policy that was received positively by community members of the shelter task force.

In the second of what’s scheduled to be three meetings, the task force reviewed a volunteer program proposal drafted by animal shelter staff and spent a lengthy amount of time discussing the implementation of a trap, neuter and release program for feral cats. Other topics included ensuring shelter staff are giving uniform directions to the public and purchasing new software for the shelter.

Immediately after the meeting convened, County Commissioner Craig Pierce, a liaison to the task force, asked Animal Shelter Director Clai Martin to describe a volunteer policy drafted by county staff. Members of the task force, including Pierce, said that some tweaks would need to be made to the proposed policy. Overall, however, the task force responded positively.

“The county commissioners, the county manager and myself realize that in the past, the county has not been open to having volunteers based on past negative experiences,” Martin said about implementing a volunteer program. “With that said, this is just a start. It is not perfect. We can certainly go through and tweak it however we want to do it, but this is a starting point.”

Previously, including during the first shelter task force meeting, Martin expressed hesitation about letting volunteers into the shelter. Citing experiences from other shelters, Martin said volunteers don’t commit to a predetermined schedule, require supervision and make allegations of misconduct against county employees.

The volunteer proposal Martin presented Thursday includes a lengthy list of guidelines, including preventing cell phone use during volunteer hours.

Initially, the proposal would allow three volunteers into the Rowan County Animal Shelter volunteer program. The volunteers would be required to work a four-hour shift twice per month for six months. Volunteers would be prevented from entering certain areas of the shelter and subjected to a background check and drug test. Felons and people convicted of animal cruelty offenses would not be allowed in the program, according to Martin’s proposed policy.

An application would also have to be submitted to participate in the shelter’s program.

“I’m excited about it,” Martin said during the meeting. “I really am, to be honest with you.”

The task force quickly moved on from the volunteer program. Pierce recommended task force members review the proposal and return to the third and final meeting with proposed changes. He expressed some concern about the cost it would take to implement a volunteer program.

The longest period of discussion concerned implementation of a trap, neuter and release program. Veterinarian Rebekah Julian, involved with nonprofit No Pet Left Behind, suggested the program.

Julian suggested her nonprofit and others be legally allowed by the county to trap, neuter and release colonies of feral cats. She said the program would reduce intake to the shelter and reduce disease among feral cat colonies.

Multiple task force members acknowledged feral cat colonies already exist in Rowan.

Pierce questioned the cost to the county. Julian said the animal shelter’s staff wouldn’t take on any additional responsibility. No Pet Left Behind, Julian said, would take on responsibility for trapping, neutering and releasing animals. Grant funding could be available for the program, she said.

Confusion about the county’s code of ordinances clouded discussion on whether feral cat colonies were currently legal in Rowan. After the meeting, County Manager Aaron Church said keeping feral cat colonies would be equivalent to an animal cruelty charge.

The county’s code of ordinances requires all animals owned by a person to be given water every 24 hours. All animals in Rowan County must also “be kept in a clean area and provided adequate shelter which consists of an enclosure of at least three sides and a roof,” according to the county’s ordinances.

Julian’s request would require the county to change its ordinances to exempt them, Church said.

Perhaps the most contentious issue, however, came up at the conclusion of Thursday’s meeting.

As the meeting drew to a close, task force member Barbara Hart brought up the story of a dog that was close to being euthanized despite the fact that the animal was just separated from its owner. She said members of the public, including animal non-profit groups, frequently get mixed messages about the shelter’s policies and procedures.

“We get an inconsistent message and the public gets confused,” Hart said. “Unfortunately, once it hits social media, it can be taken a completely different way.”

Church responded by using police officers as an example of how policies work. He said police officers are able to use discretion in certain situations and may not always issue tickets for violations of the law.

One police officer may not issue a speeding ticket to a driver going 35 mph in a 30, while another officer would, Church said.

“We are all humans operating under rules and regulations, and we all have different ways to interpret those rules,” he said.

The task force also briefly considered the purchase of advanced software for the shelter. Church said the software would cost about $30,000 initially and $13,000 per year afterward.

The task force set its next meeting for Thursday, May 28 at 5 p.m.

Contact reporter Josh Bergeron at 704-797-4246.