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Investigation: County didn’t break law when cat was injured

Results of a state investigation into the Rowan County Animal Shelter casts doubt on whether employees broke a cat’s jaw when placing a microchip in the animal.

The investigation’s findings, which were submitted to Rowan County on Monday, say no state laws were broken as a result of an incident where shelter employees allegedly broke a cat’s jaw. In the letter, State Animal Welfare Director Dr. Patricia Norris doesn’t specifically say how the jaw of a cat named Cooper was broken. However, Norris notes shelter employees noticed blood dripping from Cooper’s mouth before he was microchipped, which is when animal advocates alleged the cat’s injuries occurred.

When asked Monday about the state investigation, County Manager Aaron Church noted that no violation of the Animal Welfare Act occurred.

“We appreciate Dr. Norris’ thorough review and we are glad due process was followed,” Church said in an email.

In a letter to Church, Norris said her investigation consisted of a site visit; interviews with shelter staff, rescue personnel and veterinarians; and a review of records pertaining to the cat.

Cooper’s time at the Rowan County animal shelter began on Feb. 26, when he and three other cats were brought into the Rowan County Animal Shelter by their owner. Soon after being surrendered, Cooper was moved to an area for unsocialized cats because of aggressive behavior, according to Norris’ report.

A rescue group named Precious Furbaby Rescue on March 8 asked to adopt Cooper from the Rowan County Animal Shelter. Norris’ report states representatives from the rescue went to lunch while shelter staff prepared Cooper for adoption. One shelter employee requested help from another staff member when preparing Cooper because of previous, aggressive behavior.

When employees approached Cooper’s kennel, he was outside of a transfer carrier located inside of the enclosure. Norris’ report state Cooper “was not cooperative” with employees’ efforts to move him into the transfer carrier.

“During the effort to move Cooper, he became agitated and ran headlong into the (transfer carrier) and the sides of the enclosure,” Norris states in the report. “At one point during this period, the plexiglas window pane of the carrier was broken … drops of blood were first noted by the shelter staff members as Cooper was removed from the kennel.”

Animal advocates, however, alleged Cooper was injured when shelter staff placed a microchip in the cat. A rabies vaccination and insertion of a microchip occurred after blood was first noticed by employees, according to Norris report.

Cooper was transported to the veterinary clinic by the rescue within 30 minutes of being given to the rescue group’s care, which complies with the Animal Welfare Act.

The cat went through multiple surgeries to fix his jaw, which Rowan County government has committed to pay for.

Although Rowan County’s employees didn’t violate any laws, Cooper’s injuries have resulted in anger from local animal advocates.

A petition on Change.org with more than 4,500 signatures calls for Animal Shelter Director Clai Martin to be fired. A Facebook page calling for Martin to be fired has also been created.

Cooper’s injuries are the first reason listed on the petition for Martin to be fired. Others items listed as reasons include: photos of a dog being dragged by an animal control officer, shelter leadership refusing to implement a volunteer program, and the length of time animals are allotted before being euthanized.

Throughout controversy, Church has stressed that county employees are following state law.

Norris’ letter to Church, however, recommends three areas of improvement: reviewing polices pertaining to handling of aggressive or unsocialized animals, reviewing policies pertaining to staff’s discretion to forego or terminate procedures when they are concerned for the safety and well-being of themselves or the animal, and reviewing training and documentation of training of staff members.

Contact reporter Josh Bergeron at 704-797-4246.

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