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Editorial: Shelter needs supervision

A failed inspection for the Rowan County Animal Shelter shows the county has a lot to learn about taking care of a bigger facility while striving to be a no-kill shelter.

The “disapproved” judgment from inspectors was more than embarrassing for county officials, who two years ago agreed to build a separate area for cats with a generous donation from animal advocate Christine Morykwas of Winston-Salem. The initial $400,000 gift grew to more than $1 million as the project moved along, money that Morykwas was willing to pay to provide a better facility for unwanted cats. The goal was to give cats a better shot at being adopted.

Morykwas’ wonderful donation gave the county a new facility, but with it came added responsibilities. The cat wing has to be staffed and maintained, a never-ending job. The wing’s cages held 107 cats when state inspectors arrived on Aug. 23. It’s not unusual to have more than one cat in a cage, but it is unusual — or at least unsanitary — for cages to sit for hours with feces smeared inside and surfaces that are dirty and wet. The inspectors also cited a messy cat isolation room and an ineffective record-keeping system for the cats.

By comparison, the chipped paint and open bags of food found in the area for dogs seem nearly inconsequential. Still, all the issues cited by inspectors add up to a shelter that is begging for better oversight. The reorganization that County Manager Aaron Church put in place earlier this year lacks sufficient supervision and sanitation.

Church and Commissioner Craig Pierce, who spearheaded improvements at the shelter, are not downplaying the unsanitary conditions that inspectors found, but they say it will take some time for shelter employees to learn to deal with so many animals. Realistic people don’t expect perfection overnight — or even within six months. And you have to recognize steady improvements in the way Rowan cares for these animals. Last year, Rowan took in 2,538 cats and euthanized 304, while surrounding counties had much, much higher kill rates. The “give us time” line of thinking does nothing for the cats who were living in what sounds like squalor. On the other hand, the cats are living, not executed in a gas chamber as in the days of old, nor administered a lethal injection.

Rowan County government has partnered with activists and volunteers to give unwanted animals more humane treatment — but the improvements obviously are not complete. County officials should move quickly to address the deficiencies found in the inspection. They have called for more time; the public wants to see more effort.

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