Economy Puts More Stress On Animal Control Program
The economic downturn forced local governments to rethink spending on programs and policies - including animal control. Many struggling pet owners turned to local shelters when they couldn't take care of their pets anymore. Local governments are turning to non-profit pet organizations to help care for the animals. Those relationships are becoming permanent as local governments look to improve animal control policies. In partnership with the Concord/Kannapolis Independent Tribune, Ben McNeely reports. There are about 20 dogs locked up at Cabarrus County Animal Shelter in Concord. Some are there because they got loose and ran away. Some were abused. And lately, some are there because their owners simply couldn't afford to take care of them anymore. "We had more and more people calling us on our personal lines or just coming in and saying I've lost my job, I can no longer care for this animal," said Judy Sims of the Humane Society of Concord and Greater Cabarrus County. Sims says the Humane Society used to see a spike in pet surrenders during fall and winter months. Now the problem is constant. "You decide I'm either going to take care of this animal or I'm going to take care of my children. And if I don't have a place to live, I'm not going to keep it in the car." In 2008, when the economy tanked, the number of dogs and cats left at the shelter jumped by several hundred. About 21 percent of the 4,270 animals picked up were dropped off by their owners. The numbers have slightly leveled off the last two years, but still well above the 12 percent the shelter used to see. The problem is similar in Mecklenburg County, where 22 percent of the 21,000 animals brought to the shelter last year were classified as pet surrenders. It's a lot to handle, especially when you take into consideration pet adoptions. In fact, Cabarrus Commissioner Bob Carruth says it's too much to handle. "A private shelter can, if I show up, if you show up to adopt a dog or cat, they can say you don't meet our criteria, we're not going to let you adopt. It's very difficult to do that at a public shelter." Cabarrus commissioners may give the Humane Society the money it currently gives to the sheriff's office to take over adoption services and care for the animals. This would allow animal control to focus on enforcing animal control laws. "We've really had to go back and look and say do we really need to be in the sheltering aspects or can we ask the humane society to come in and pick up that part of their mission and provide them the funds that we provide the sheriff," Carruth said. The issue will come to a vote in the next couple of months. There are similar arrangements with the local humane societies and in Asheville and in Polk County. The issue came to a head in Cabarrus County after an animal control officer shot and killed a dog on the loose in Concord last May. The shooting was controversial, but Carruth said something good came of it. It started a dialogue on how the community can better care for its pets.