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Greene County Animal Shelter Struggling Amid Significant Budget Reductions

We explore the plight of the Greene County Animal Shelter.  Local animal advocates are rallying around the organization to prevent its closure.

Greene County is having financial problems this year that affect its local government as a whole. Interim county manager for Greene County, Richard Hicks, says they have a major deficit.

“Right now we’ve got about a three hundred some thousand-dollar deficit between now and June 30th that we still haven’t filled, and we’ve gone through virtually every department and tried to reduce costs where we can, but we still don’t have that deficit covered.”

Hicks says they hope to resolve the deficit by July.  One of the departments taking a hit is the Greene County Animal Shelter.  For three years, the county has struggled to financially support the shelter. But in April 2011, mother nature would make it even more difficult. A powerful tornado went through Snow Hill, barely missing the shelter.  In order to prepare for an influx of displaced animals, shelter staff were forced to either euthanize some of the cats and dogs, or find them homes.   The shelter attendant at the time, Lynn Graves took to Facebook and within 24 hours found homes for nearly all the 51 cats and dogs.  Two years later, the shelter is still facing severe budget cuts, and a host of other problems. Although the past has shown the Greene County Animal Shelter’s resilience,  many doubt its future. Stephen O’Connell has more.

The shelter itself is in distress, and in February failed its annual inspection. Although the inspector noted the health and well being of the animals she saw, the shelter still must fully comply with the Animal Welfare Act, and that means the major repairs are necessary. In the next two months the Greene County Health Department and the animal shelter employees have to patch a leaky roof, scrape and paint parts of the fencing, repair the septic system, close the gaps that connect dog runs, replace the dog run panels, and repair the flooring.  Director of the Animal Welfare Section, Dr. Lee Hunter.

“ If a facility does not meet the animal welfare act, we have a series of things we go through with various people trying to bring them into compliance, anything from working with them, talking to them, trying to get things fixed, to warning letter, to civil penalty and we do have the authority to have a revoke a certificate, or suspend a certificate or even to deny a certificate the next time a license application is made.”

When it comes to Animal Control Services, the responsibility for its existence is up to local government. Over the past few years the Greene County Animal shelter has increasingly had to demonstrate self-reliance. This year they’ve had 74 animals come in and have only euthanized 5, but with the 13000-dollar shortfall volunteers for the shelter, the shelter attendant, the animal control officer, and friends of the shelter online are concerned that they won’t be able to both maintain the animal’s wellbeing and fix the infrastructure.  They also have a vacant position in their staff, and that position is frozen until July.  Lynn Graves of the Greene County Humane Society is a voice for the shelter, and works to get donations and find homes for the animals.

“Shelter staff does the best they can every year in the wintertime on the North side of the building. They place tarps on the fencing to stop the wind, and that sort of thing, but they’re operating on a shoestring budget.”

This fiscal year, the Shelter received 145 thousand dollars from the county, but in December when County officials realized the severity of the budget crisis, cuts were made. The shelter was housing 30 animals when we talked with them on Thursday and with the lack of funds this year they’ve been relying heavily on charity.

“We’ve had quite a few donations, I personally picked up a large donation from a lady over near Grimesland on Sunday and I delivered it on Monday and I have a 2500 Dodge and it completely filled up the bed of that truck and the entire backseat, bedding, towels, some food, some cat litter, and some cleaning supplies.”

Since the beginning of the year the shelter received cat litter, food, washing machines, dryers, air conditioning units, paint, paintbrushes, new fencing, and money donations. But Graves says the contributions aren’t enough.

“what our volunteer groups in Greene County have been concentrating on is getting enough donations right now to cover the immediate need, but also to put in place a safety net.”

She says the fallback plan would be a program that’s able to bring in constant and scheduled donations, but most of all, the shelter staff, the volunteer organizations helping, and the Health Department, which oversees its operation, would like to get the animals adopted. Both the shelter and the humane society have a face book page that advertises the dogs and cats available. The New Leash on Life program trains dogs to prepare them for adoption. Public Health Director for the Greene County Health Department, Michael Rhodes, hopes they don’t have to euthanize as many animals as they have in the past.  He says last year they were putting animals down on a weekly basis.

“ What we’ve tried to do is actually increase our adoption rates tremendously, increase our rescues tremendously, and sometimes we’ll go two or three months without euthanization of our animals, and it used to be on a weekly basis, so that’s the kind of program that we want to see and that we want to see continue is rescuing the animals as much as possible.

Because shelter staff only has to hold an animal for 72 hours, the euthanizations can easily become a common occurrence, but since the new adoption efforts they’ve only had to euthanize a few. On Thursday we talked with Shelter Attendant, Gail Joyner, about the situation at the shelter.

“ Quite honestly, the biggest thing, the biggest challenges that we have right now is that we are hoping that come July 1, when the new fiscal year starts, that the animal shelter, the animal control budget is back where it needs to be, second challenge we’re facing and actually being handled is most of the repairs are being done by volunteers, probably by the end of another two weeks our shelter should be up to par.”

Although optimistic, Joyner is concerned about being the only attendant at the shelter, and over rumors the shelter is closing.  In the next few months Joyner and the Animal Control Officer at the shelter will be juggling donations, making repairs to the facility, and working on a budget plan. Stephen O’Connell, Public Radio East.

Jared Brumbaugh is the Assistant General Manager for Public Radio East. An Eastern North Carolina native, Jared began his professional public radio career at Public Radio East while he was a student at Craven Community College earning his degree in Electronics Engineering Technology. During his 15+ years at Public Radio East, he has served as an award-winning journalist, producer, and on-air host. When not at the station, Jared enjoys hiking, traveling, and honing his culinary skills.