Philanthropist reconsidering future projects after shelter’s failed inspection

Published 12:03 am Wednesday, August 31, 2016

By Josh Bergeron

SALISBURY — You can give Rowan County a $1 million cat wing, but that won’t ensure the new facility operates properly, says Philanthropist Christine Morykwas.

Earlier this year, Morykwas donated a $1 million cat wing to Rowan County. She paid a contractor directly for construction of the facility before giving it to county government. Some stipulations came with the donation, including new cleaning techniques. Morykwas planned further philanthropic donations, including a potential dog wing or a spay and neuter clinic.

After Rowan County failed a state inspection, however, Morykwas is reconsidering future investments.

“Just like you can lead a horse to water, you give these people a million-dollar cat wing, and they still can’t do it right,” she said in an interview with the Salisbury Post. “I don’t regret it, but I’m saddened by what’s going on. It would convince me not to invest anything else.”

Some of the findings in Rowan County’s inspection — conducted Aug. 23 and released this week — found feces smeared on the inside of cat cages, dirty and wet cage surfaces, a generally messy cat isolation room and a record keeping system that makes it hard to identify cats.

The failed inspection isn’t the first of its kind for Rowan County or other shelters in North Carolina. Two years ago — on Aug 14, 2014 — Rowan’s shelter failed an inspection. Rowan County wasn’t penalized for the 2014 inspection results. A North Carolina Department of Agriculture spokesperson said the Animal Welfare Division also hasn’t set a penalty for the most recent inspection.

Rowan County will have seven days to respond to the most recent inspection. A penalty, financial or otherwise, won’t be enforced unless problems continue, according to the Department of Agriculture.

When asked about the inspection, Rowan County Manager Aaron Church said staff turnover at the facility is high and the Rowan County Animal Shelter is a tough working environment.

“Lots of people expect perfection, and we try out best to do everything to perfection,” he said, noting that summer months typically result in a higher intake for cats.

He said the addition of the cat wing nearly doubled space at the Rowan County Animal Shelter.

“This is our first summer with the cat wing and issues during the beginning are to be expected,” Church said. “However, we have excellent staff and fully expect that things will continue to improve while providing a service to the citizens and animals of Rowan County.”

County Commissioner Craig Pierce made similar arguments when asked about the shelter’s failed inspection. Pierce also noted commissioners’ ongoing efforts to improve the Rowan County Animal Shelter.

Some of those efforts include: removing a gas chamber used to euthanize animals, raising the adoption fee to provide vaccinations, buying new software for better record keeping, overhauling the shelter’s management structure and drafting plans for in-house spay and neuter programs. Last year, the animal shelter’s budget also exceeded $1 million for the first time.

Pierce said the animal shelter has followed cleaning procedures it committed to as part of Morykwas’ gift.

Despite the improvements, he said county officials “aren’t sitting on our laurels” and continue to pursue animal-related policy changes. The alternative, he said, is for the Rowan County Animal Shelter to euthanize a larger percentage of its animals.

“If all we had to do was euthanize the animals, we could have the cleanest shelter ever,” Pierce said. “It’s a trade off.”

Rowan County, for example, took in 2,538 cats in 2015. It euthanized 304. Stanly County took in 768 cats in 2015 and euthanized 763. Davidson County took in 1,140 cats and euthanized 930. Iredell County took in 2,376 and euthanized 1,390.

Even with the failed inspection, Morykwas said cats brought into the shelter are better off than prior to the cat wing.

“We would still have cats in those horrible dog pens and that is what was bothering me,” she said. “I’m just sorry that (the county) can’t get it together.”

Morykwas said she understands the difficulty that employees at the animal shelter face, but “there’s no excuse for what happened.”

In the state’s recent report, an inspector noted three cat cages that were “very dirty” during her visit on Aug. 23. One of the cages contained a mother cat and five kittens. It was streaked with feces and litter, according to the report.

Quoting shelter staff, the inspector said she was told that afternoon cleaning staff comes in on Monday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday. During the day, staff “spot cleans” cages, the report states.

“This was not the case during my inspection as the cages were left untouched with wet newspapers from at least 12:00 – 2:15 p.m.,” the report states.

Newspapers and towels were scattered across the table in a cat isolation room. The inspector said all bedding or newspapers should be stored in sealed containers in a separate room to prevent contact with any airborne illnesses.

Morykwas said Rowan County’s animal shelter would operate better if “they cleaned house.” Morykwas noted the recent change in management but said more change is needed.

“There just needs to be a complete overhaul,” she said. “Maybe one of these centuries, we will finally get someone in there that knows what they’re doing.”

Contact reporter Josh Bergeron at 704-797-4246.