The Transylvania Times -

By Derek McKissock
News Editor 

County Tackling Animal Shelter Issues-Brevard NC

 

Transylvania County Animal Shelter

Transylvania commissioners Monday heard praise and criticism of the county's Animal Shelter, and staff's plans to correct the problems that saw the state issue fines.

As previously reported, the N.C. Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services' Animal Welfare Section cited and fined the county for $10,150 for unauthorized animal euthanasias performed at the shelter.

On July 16, the state animal welfare division received a complaint that an animal euthanization had not been conducted by a certified Animal Shelter employee.

This led to an inspection of the shelter's euthanasia files from Sept. 1, 2014 to July 21, 2015, where state officials discovered there were 205 cases of euthanasia performed by staff members who were not certified.

During Monday's commissioner meeting, the Animal Shelter dominated the public comment portion.

Bill Briggs, chairman of Friends of Transylvania Animals (FOTAS), said the media coverage, particularly television, of the citation and fines was "one-sided" and didn't show the "huge progress" that has occurred at the Animal Shelter the past two years.

Briggs said the shelter's euthanasia rate has dropped "dramatically" the past few years. He believes the problems were how the euthanasias were recorded and not how they were carried out. Transylvania's Animal Shelter is not a "no-kill" shelter, it was also pointed out.

The shelter's director, Paul Vis, is "one of the most kind and caring people," concerning animals, Briggs said he has ever known.

"(Vis) has kept adoptable animals at the shelter for months trying to find families to adopt them," Briggs said.

In its report, the state said 46 of the 205 cases occurred while Vis was suspended from his duties from Sept. 24, 2014 until Oct. 20, 2014. The reason for Vis' suspension has not been made public.

From Sept. 1, 2014, to roughly July 24, 2015, Vis was the only person certified to perform euthanasias at the shelter.

During an interview with the state inspector, Vis also acknowledged that after returning from the suspension he modified the euthanasia log by signing his initials to five entries for euthanasias during the time he was suspended.

Briggs said FOTAS has been operating a successful spay and neuter program at the shelter during the past year and has given out more than 300 vouchers, decreasing the number of "unwanted animals" in the county.

This month, free spaying and neuter vouchers will be available at the shelter.

"Paul Vis is 100 percent in favor of the program," Briggs said, noting they are looking at starting a computer chip program at the shelter to track animals.

Local veterinarian, Dr. Clyde Brooks, who also led efforts to raise funds to build the new shelter, reiterated Briggs' point that the "errors" are "administrative only" and not about how the animals are being treated.

Vis was hired in the summer of 2013 and worked as an animal control officer with the Asheville Humane Society before coming to Transylvania.

Brooks said Vis "inherited" an antiquated record keeping system and when he was hired he didn't have anyone to assist him with the shelter's administrative duties. Brooks said new computer software is now in place, while certified staff training, which was "neglected" for years, he said, has been implemented, along with outreach programs, including with the school system. Vis has shown "tremendous compassion to the animals in his charge," Brooks said.

Connie MacLellan, a volunteer at the shelter, said she has been "very impressed" by the staff and believes the media has "only told one side."

FOTAS member Sandy Briggs said those painting Vis as a "villain" are misguided.

When Vis started, she said, he "inherited so many problems."

Kathy Riddle a long-time animal rescue volunteer with Charlie's Angels said she doesn't deny that Vis cares for the animals, but she was critical of his management of the shelter. Riddle said she met with county officials and Vis twice last year to address problems at the shelter but nothing has changed.

Riddle accused Vis of "deceptions" and there being a "lack" of "accountability," "integrity" and "professionalism" at the shelter.

She said information on the animal intake cards is often incorrect, reflecting "poor attention to detail" and a poor "attitude."

She said there is an "unwillingness" to be a "team player" and to get animals adopted, spayed and neutered

"We've always been polite and friendly and anxious to work with the shelter staff, according to their rules," Riddle said.

She said as a taxpayer she expects all county officials to conduct themselves with "integrity."

Riddle said that "she has been lied to so many times" at the Animal Shelter.

"I've lost confidence," she said.

She said she is not "surprised that Vis was accused of "falsifying logs."

She asked commissioners what would have happened to them in their careers if they had been shown to "falsify documents."

Riddle said Charlie's Angels wants to have a good relationship with the county, noting this year the organization has "pulled" 195 animals from the shelter.

She said the group has financially supported, held adoptions and are responsible for taking the pet adoption photos that appear in The Transylvania Times.

Kathleen Barnes, who described herself as an animal lover, said she found it "horrifying" that a dog was accidentally euthanized.

The Animal Shelter was also cited by the state with mistakenly euthanizing an owned dog that was at the shelter for a 10-day rabies quarantine. Barnes said commissioners need to address this failure in supervision and noted the fine will be paid by taxpayer money, which, she said, could have gone toward more spaying and neutering.

After the public comments, County Manager Jaime Laughter gave a presentation on staff's response to the citation and fines.

Laughter went over several specific steps - that have been previously reported - including the Animal Shelter's reorganization; regular oversight and monitoring of all operations and paperwork; and reorganization and addition of new staff trained to new standards and operating procedures.

Laughter said the county has invited the state to reinspect the shelter some time this month. Laughter said she was "saddened" by the situation while also saying county staff must be held "accountable" to protecting the citizens and animals in its care. She said staff is focused on moving forward and improving the program. Laughter said she cannot comment on personnel issues in reference to Vis' earlier suspension.

The case of the dog that was mistakenly euthanized, Laughter said, is part of a lawsuit filed against the county that was voluntarily dismissed this year.

However, she said, that case could be refiled during a roughly one-year time period, and she cannot comment on the case for now.

Laughter also highlighted that in the spring, before being cited and fined by the state, commissioners approved certain goals (see below) for the Animal Shelter during the current fiscal year, which began July 1.

Laughter said staff has made a recommitment to meet state requirements and to be the kind of Animal Shelter that is "compassionate and looks at the big picture beyond just the state measures."

"We are committed to doing that and moving forward," she said.

Laughter said that Dr. Patricia Norris, the director of the N.C. Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services' Animal Welfare Section, told the county its plan is "set up for success."

Laughter invited the public, including animal rescue groups, to work with the county to improve animal control within the county.

Commission Chairman Mike Hawkins said the county is in an "ongoing process and is taking it very seriously." He said that during his seven years in office staff have always gone above and beyond to correct problems when they arise.

Commissioner Larry Chapman thanked county staff and was critical of the one-sided, he said, media reporting. He encouraged citizens to stay involved, noting how much the Animal Shelter has improved in recent years.

Commissioner Page Lemel believes staff has taken "positive steps" to correct the problems.

Editor's Note: More from the commissioners' meeting will appear in Monday's paper.

Animal Shelter Goals

In the spring, Transylvania County commissioners approved the following goals for the Animal Shelter during the current fiscal year, which began July 1. The goals were part of the new county budget process:

• Promote responsible pet ownership for a safe and welcoming community environment.

• Provide educational opportunities to increase understanding and support for responsible pet ownership.

• Provide education that connects irresponsible pet practices with community safety concerns.

• Enforce rules and regulations that support responsible pet ownership.

• Increase public awareness of animal issues to facilitate an informed, safe community.

• Provided educational opportunities regarding rabies risk factors and preventive measures.

• Enforce rabies rules and regulations that support rabies prevention.

• Co-operation with non-discriminatory breed rescues and breed specific rescues.

• Identify opportunities to communicate and collaborate on shelter needs, and identify opportunities to communicate and collaborate on community needs.

 
 

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