County employee placed on leave after cat injured

Published 12:10 am Friday, March 11, 2016

By Josh Bergeron

A Rowan County animal control officer has been placed on administrative leave following an incident where a cat’s jaw was broken.

The officer, who County Manager Aaron Church declined to name, allegedly broke the cat’s jaw while shelter staff were microchipping the animal. Church said the officer is on administrative leave with pay until a state inspector wraps up an investigation. The cat, named Cooper, was released from China Grove Animal Hospital on Thursday afternoon after receiving surgery that stabilized the front part of his jaw.

China Grove Animal Hospital veterinarian Scott Vaughan said two parts of Cooper’s jaw were fractured. Vaughan said the fractures occurred recently — within a couple days at the most. Vaughan said he was unable to determine exactly when or how the animal’s jaw was broken.

Debbie Orbison, who is fostering Cooper until he is adopted, said the cat will receive additional surgery at a clinic in Charlotte.

The cat’s injuries stoked anger among Rowan’s animal advocate community, with much of the discussion occurring on Facebook. Local animal advocates even created a Facebook page for Cooper that’s attracted hundreds of “likes.” Orbison said dozens of people have also donated hundreds of dollars to help cover Cooper’s veterinary bills.

“When I first started, in my mind I was thinking I’d ask my friends to help cover the costs, raise $10 or $20 and then do the best I could,” she said. “Never in a million years did I think this would happen.”

She alleges that an animal control officer broke Cooper’s jaw Tuesday when placing a microchip in the cat. Orbison said Cooper was healthy when shelter staff brought the cat into a closed-to-the-public area of the shelter. Cooper was bleeding from the mouth after being microchipped, Orbison said.

“I can’t say what happened, but when he went back to get microchipped he was fine,” she said. “He came back with a fractured jaw.”

When asked, Church said he wouldn’t rule out firing an employee depending on the outcome of an investigation. He qualified the statement by saying he doesn’t know what happened or what an investigation would find.

Orbison said she wants “justice done to the people that did this” to Cooper.

“There’s no way this way not done by animal control,” she said. “It’s just so sad because he didn’t deserve this.”

She said Church asked in a phone call whether Cooper’s injuries occurred before or after the cat left the Rowan County.

Orbison said she hasn’t yet decided what to do with Cooper after he receives additional surgeries. At least one person has already offered to adopt Cooper.

For now, Orbison says she’s continuing to raise money to pay for veterinary bills. She has raised enough money through Paypal donations to pay for the stabilizing surgery at the China Grove Animal Hospital, but says she will need additional money for more intensive operations.

To contact Orbison, email

Contact reporter Josh Bergeron at 704-797-4246.