Category Archives: Robeson County

Robeson adoption rate “less than half” of pre-distemper levels

The Robeson County pound killed 1,035 pets during the months of March, April and May 2012 because of a distemper outbreak (which was at least the third large distemper outbreak there in a little more than a year), and now adoptions are less than half of what they were before the outbreak and the kill rate has “barely decreased,” according to an article in The Robesonian.

The shelter reopened on May 23 after being closed since Feb. 29. In June and July combined, 1,001 dogs and cats were euthanized, 152 animals were adopted or rescued and 35 pets were reclaimed by their owners — an average survival rate of 16.5 percent for dogs and 9.5 percent for cats. August statistics were not available for this story.

Oh, but rest assured, it’s not their fault! Former director Lori Baxter (now employed blaming others for the failure of the Sampson County pound) and former adoption coordinator Sara Hatchell stole the pound’s “customers,” (i.e. rescue groups) when they left to take jobs at other pounds, according to Robeson County Health Director Bill Smith. “It’s much the same as any employee who leaves an employer, they sometimes take customers with them,” Smith said. “… Somebody else gained, and we lost.”

(Meanwhile, Robeson pound’s adoption coordinator Wanda Strickland might not be endearing herself so much to the rescuers who do choose to work with her.)

Actually, it’s pretty nice of Smith not to blame Baxter for the distemper outbreaks to begin with, since they happened during her tenure as manager (as did a “dip” in adoption rates and a spike in kill rates, despite ballyhoo about how she “turned the shelter around”). But wait, as her boss, Smith is probably the one who holds the purse strings, so it may have been his decision not to administer vaccinations upon intake, which are “vital lifesaving tools that must be used as part of a preventive shelter healthcare program.”

Smith also assigns some blame for his shelter’s failure to … wait for it … “poor treatment by county residents of their animals.” The Irresponsible Public! But again, wait … who is it that interim manager Bryon Lashley says will soon be coming in greater numbers to adopt and are currently bringing “donations of puppy food, dog food, cat food and toys coming in and helping us out”? The article says it’s local residents … yes, the Irresponsible Public to the rescue again.

2 Comments

Filed under "irresponsible public", Distemper, Robeson County

Euphemisms and memory holes in Robeson County

Ron Houston just wants people to know about the No Kill Revolution. Given that the Robeson County pound killed more than 61% of the pets who came in during 2011, he thought maybe they could use the good news that there is an alternative to the killing.

So a couple of days ago Ron posted a link to the No Kill Revolution Facebook page and the No Kill 101 pdf to the Robeson County pound Facebook page. “I also shared a volunteer rescue group [Blount County Humane Society] and the success they have had and encouraged those on their page to become more involved to ultimately save more lives and that killing was totally unacceptable any longer,” he said.

I’m pretty sure Issue #3 in the decree below is about YOU, Ron:

I would like to address 3 issues that have come to light on our page in recently. First, the issue that all animals in the shelter are not listed. You are right, they are not. There are some animals that cannot be listed including those that are sick, injured, feral, quarantined, etc. Even when Lori and Sara were here, they NEVER listed every animal in this shelter. Secondly, the issue of urgents. ALL animals in this shelter are and should be considered urgent. I find it disheartening and sad that many do not want to work to save an animal until they think it is in its last days or hours. NO animal should have to be "marked" or on a "list" to be saved; ALL should be worked immediately; their lives depend upon it. Please consider all urgent from this point on. And, finally, the issue of negativity. I have reminded you several times that this page will not tolerate negativity. This page was created soley for the purpose of promoting our animals and saving lives. Negative comments about this shelter, its staff, or its supporters will NOT be tolerated. Any and such comments will be deleted and could result in you being blocked from commenting. If all the energy that is being used to tear us down was used to build us up, think of all the lives that could be saved. Wanda

You see, the Robeson County pound Facebook page has a purpose. It’s a place where pound workers use crisis marketing, a rather  disturbing and increasingly popular practice in which the people who have the direct power to choose NOT to kill the pets, or volunteers who allow no criticism of the pound or the staff, post them on Facebook with captions like “This precious baby will DIE tomorrow unless we get a commitment” (as if the pets are just dropping dead of their own accord) or, “We need to make space! We don’t want to have to pts!” (which puts the onus for killing on the rescuers if they fail to liberate the pets).  Meanwhile, very caring people work double-time to get the pets out, valiantly trying to save as many as they can. It’s unsustainable because it burns out the rescuers who, no matter how many pets they save, can’t seem to stop the endless “URGENT!” posts.

In Robeson’s case, when the rescuers don’t “work” animals well enough, they apparently get a rebuke from Wanda (presumably Wanda Strickland, adoptions coordinator) , who finds  it “disheartening and sad” that rescuers don’t want to do her job for her for free “until they think [a pet] is in its last days or hours.” Because c’mon, people, when you kill as many healthy and treatable pets as the Robeson County pound does, they are ALL “super urgent” the moment they come through the doors.

But mention that there is a positive, life-affirming way to SAVE most of the pets who enter animal shelters, and you’re on shaky ground, buster.

“Think of all the lives that could be saved,” Wanda says, if you would stop talking all that nonsense about how healthy and treatable pets should not be killed. Oops, can’t say killed … the proper term is “euthed” or even better, “pts,” short for “put to sleep.” Because what Robeson staff really do is read the pets a bedtime story and sing them lullabies until flying unicorns carry them over The Rainbow Bridge, where they are greeted by Scruffy, the dog your parents told you “went to live on a farm” when you were a kid.

This is the pound that keeps half its kennels EMPTY at all times because it’s easier to clean that way and they claim it reduces disease outbreaks. And yet …

Distemper Won't Leave Us...

Robeson pound staff killed 700 dogs between the end of March and the end of May 2012 following repeated distemper outbreaks. “Think of all the lives that could be saved,” if the Robeson County pound would only vaccinate, which is the cornerstone of distemper prevention in a shelter.

But anyway, back to Ron.  His post about a proven way to end the needless killing of healthy and treatable shelter pets was deleted.

So he posted asking why:

Ron said the third comment, by RCAS, came after a separate exchange concerning a mother cat and her kittens who had been killed by pound staff:

Someone asked about a mother cat and her kittens that they were to rescue and she was told by [a volunteer] that they had been “euthed” on Friday but that they had another mother and kittens (including a stray the mother had adopted) that “only had until Monday before PTS”. I posted “Put to sleep??!! Don’t you mean killed or murdered!” All of these posts were deleted and this is where RCAS posted “Ron any comments that reference killing, murder, slaughter, or type of euth will be deleted”. I then posted my last post “You have to be kidding me”.

That post was deleted as well, and Ron was banned from posting.

Meanwhile, the pound staff and their volunteers, like those at most pounds committed to the old, broken system of “save a few, kill the rest,” will continue (for now) pretending  that No Kill doesn’t exist or is impossible and responding to criticism by claiming the killing is inevitable until other people do Magical Thing A that will bring about change.

Fortunately, the old beliefs are falling apart under criticism and the growing success of the No Kill movement, and a trickle of communities implementing the No Kill Equation is turning into a river. Six months ago, there were 30 known communities with open-admission shelters saving at least 90 percent of the pets who came in. Two weeks ago, that number became 50! (As of this writing, the total is  currently at 52. Check the No Kill Communities blog often and see the number in the upper left keep rising.)

According to Nathan Winograd, almost half of the 800 attendees at this year’s No Kill Conference came from shelters, many of them municipal facilities facing public criticism over high kill rates. The No Kill Revolution is steaming ahead, showing that change is possible even in places like Robeson County.

For those of you who are advocates living in communities where the local shelter is still killing; who are rescuers and animal lovers that find the door to the shelter closed to you despite their claim of an open door philosophy; who work at shelters that still have a long way to go, it can be very easy to get cynical and discouraged—to hear from some of the speakers and hear about their 90%, 95% even 98% save rates; to see your situation as not hopeful by comparison; to see the road as too difficult or even impossible to climb. Take heart.

Every community that has achieved success was once steeped in killing, was controlled by a “good ole boys” network, had a media and city council that appeared indifferent. In short, a situation that seemed impossible to overcome. But they did it—individuals just like you because they refused to give in to cynicism and defeatism. Cynicism breeds inaction because it creates the illusion that the problem is insurmountable. It allows the status quo to continue: “They are too powerful.” “Our City Council ignores us.” “No one cares in the South.” ~The Adjacent Possible

3 Comments

Filed under NC county/municipal pounds, No Kill, Robeson County

New interim director at Sampson County pound aims to “bury” gas chamber and kill the modern way.

Lori Baxter, former director at the  Robeson County pound, started a new job last Friday as Interim Director of the Sampson County pound. The county hired Baxter as part of an “image makeover” for their pound, known according to at least one observer, as “the killing place.” Exactly how killing of a killing place is a mystery, however, because former director Kim Williams never bothered to report the Sampson pound’s outcome statistics to the North Carolina Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services as mandated by law.

Baxter is said by some, including herself, to have “turned around” the horrid Robeson County pound. Some might argue that point, however. Baxter did succeed somewhat in reforming the Robeson pound’s image among kill shelter apologists, despite a high kill rate while kennels sat empty and repeated distemper outbreaks due to failure to vaccinate  animals upon arrival.

Baxter has started the Sampson image rehab program by creating a Facebook page for the pound and then boldly announcing that she is going to literally bury the Sampson pound’s gas chamber. [Update: the Facebook note that link went to has since been deleted since this entry was posted. But never fear, I was thinking ahead and made a screenshot.]

Make no mistake, the gas chamber is a barbaric instrument and has no place in any facility, period. It is a throwback to a less civilized time when it was introduced  by humane societies as an improvement over far more brutal ways of killing animals. As Nathan Winograd notes in Irreconcilable Differences

They introduced the gas chamber to replace slower and more painful ways of killing. (It should be noted that by current standards, there is no real debate about the gas chamber being inhumane. But in the 19th century, activists viewed this as a better alternative than drowning, shooting, and at least in Philadelphia, beating the dogs to death in the public squares.)

Getting rid of gas chambers in NC is without a doubt something that needs to be done without delay.

But hold your horses, it’s still going to wait. Baxter is holding on to her gas chamber until she is sure she has access to some other way to kill pets. “It takes time to get a more humane form of euthanasia into place.” Heaven forbid she should be forced not to kill animals until the Fatal Plus arrives.

Another of Baxter’s first actions as director was to “adjust” the shelter’s open hours to afternoons only,  limiting visitation and adoption hours to 1-4 pm Monday through Friday, “a move made toward better customer service and to bring the local shelter in line with those from surrounding counties.” Thanks to Google’s cache feature, we can see that the Sampson pound used to advertise  open hours of  9 am to 5 pm Monday through Friday, which means that Baxter has reduced by 62% the opportunity for people in the community to choose shelter adoption when they want to add a pet to the family.

Former open hours of the Sampson County Animal Shelter

A screenshot of a page cached on may 4, 2012 shows that the Sampson County pound advertised open hours of 9 am to 5 pm Monday Through Friday. new Interim Director Lori Baxter has “improved” customer service by providing fewer hours for the public to view or adopt pets.

Quite simply, Lori Baxter has cooked up a recipe for reduced adoptions and increased killing. She calls the gas chamber  the “ONLY resource to make needed space,” which she seems to feel is her job at the shelter. Not protecting animals or saving their lives. Making space. And her preferred method of doing that seems to be killing. (To be fair, she is also begging rescues to take the animals out of her pound, but that is only one tiny step of the only program proven to produce lifesaving success.)

Regardless of what method is used to exterminate the pets, it’s indefensible. To quote Nathan Winograd again:

Even if we were simply to surrender reality and conclude that killing savable animals cannot be ended, killing animals would still not be ethical, merciful, or defensible. Animal lovers would still be morally bound to reject it. Any “practical” or utilitarian consideration about killing cannot hold sway over an animal’s right to live. Just as other social movements reject the “practical” when it violates the rights of individuals for which they advocate, we, too, should reject the idea that killing animals is acceptable because of the claim that there are “too many” for the “too few homes which are available.” Simply put killing healthy or treatable animals is immoral.

UPDATE: Immediately after posting this, I saw that YesBiscuit had published an amazingly appropriate post called “Ending the Killing of Shelter Pets TODAY.” It’s perhaps the perfect thing to read next. Or at least ponder this excerpt:

It is astounding to me that many advocates are willing to accept the misery and chaos of desperately working to save animals from kill rooms at shelters every day yet reject the idea that shelters could simply stop the killing.  I understand that change can be daunting but really, how bad could it possibly be?  The bar has already been set for many rescuers at misery and chaos, anything above that should be a welcome change.

3 Comments

Filed under gas chamber, NC county/municipal pounds, Robeson County, Sampson County

Answer from Ashe County: we vaccinate “if we have the vaccine”

After discovering that Ashe County pound had closed for distemper, I emailed AC director Joe Testerman to find out if he routinely vaccinated upon intake,  which is essential to preventing the spread of distemper in an animal control facility:

Vaccination is the cornerstone of distemper prevention in a shelter. The canine distemper vaccine is one of the most rapidly protective vaccines available in veterinary medicine: It can provide meaningful protection within hours of administration. All dogs 4-6 weeks of age and older should be vaccinated immediately upon intake with a modified live or recombinant vaccine (earlier end of age range in the face of an outbreak or high risk environment). The recombinant vaccine may provide superior protection in the face of  maternal antibodies, and therefore may be a good choice for puppies during an outbreak or in a community where distemper is a frequent threat. Because vaccintion is never absolutely reliable in puppies under four months, extra care should be taken to mechanically isolate puppies in a shelter facing a distemper problem.

Teasterman’s reply (emphasis mine): “We do vaccinate puppies upon receiving them if we have vaccine on hand. At this time the vaccinations we have are donated, and we have not been able to purchase these vaccinations as we are not bugeted for that. We are working on a proposed policy at this time.”

So in short, no, Ashe County  does not have a policy of vaccination upon intake. Testerman cites lack of funds, but  as at other pounds around the state, there seems  plenty of  budget for enough Fatal-Plus to kill all the dogs when it’s time to close the pound because of a distemper outbreak. (To my knowledge Ashe is not a gas chamber pound; someone please correct me if I am wrong.)

So in essence, even though killing bothers Joe Testerman, the lack of a vaccination protocol at his facility amounts to a de facto choice of killing over saving lives. The reality is that sooner or later a dog carrying distemper will enter a  shelter. The only protocol that can protect the rest of the animals in that facility starts with vaccination upon intake.

But Joe Testerman seems sincere, and if he really does want to stop killing so many animals I am on his side. So I emailed him back:

The truth is that there IS an answer for it, and it you really are willing to listen I would be happy to share. Others have taken shelters just like yours and turned their numbers upside-down, going from 85 percent kill rates to 90 percent+ SAVE rates, often in the first year.
For example, in a small Texas town, a police sergeant with no previous animal control experience was put in charge of the animal control center. He told his boss he would do it only if he didn’t have to kill animals. And he did it:

Sgt. Karl Bailey of Seagoville Animal Services is an inspiration: a veteran of the police department, he took over a rural kill shelter in Texas with no experience, abolished the gas chamber on his first day, ordered that the killing come to an end, and last year saved roughly 98% of all the animals. Seagoville, Texas just might be the safest community in the U.S. for dogs and cats entering shelters—on average, only one animal loses his or her life every month, due to extreme illness, injury, or for dogs, aggression.

You can read more here if you are interested.

Just to our north in Virginia there are now SEVEN open-admission city or county shelters that have achieved lifesaving rates of 90 percent or more:  Arlington,  Charlottesville,  Fluvanna County, King George County, Lynchburg,  Williamsburg, and Powhatan County. There are also several more “in progress” toward a 90 percent lifesaving rate (you can see more here, check out the list on the right-hand side of the page).

There is no reason you cannot achieve the same, and all you need to do is follow a formula that has been tried and tested by many before you.
Yes, there is a lot of work involved, but the rewards would be huge for you, your community and thousands of animals you would be saving instead of killing. What’s more, once you put your facility on this positive path toward saving many more animals than you kill, you will almost certainly find members of your community who previously avoided your shelter lining up to help you do your life-affirming work.
You never know until you try …

2 Comments

Filed under Ashe County, Distemper, NC county/municipal pounds, Robeson County

Rescuers and adopters battle distemper spreading from NC pounds

A rescuer who pulled a dog from the Duplin County pound in early February ended up losing that dog, plus a litter of five pups she was fostering, to distemper. A dog adopted from Duplin County was boarded at a Triangle area kennel and another dog there soon came down with distemper, despite having been vaccinated. Before long, the kennel was forced to close for 30 days and 14 dogs were dead, including the kennel owner’s personal pets. A young Durham vet tech who pulled a dog to foster  from the Robeson County shelter, not knowing the shelter was in the midst of one of many distemper outbreaks, only managed to save the animal after spending thousands of dollars at NCSU vet school.

Canine distemper is a highly contagious airborne disease that kills nearly half of the adult dogs who come in contact with it and nearly 80-percent of puppies.  In family pets, the best prevention is vaccination, but stopping the spread in animal shelters requires a combination of vaccination, quarantine, isolation, disease recognition/diagnostic testing and environmental decontamination. In shelters that fail to follow these protocols, the disease can spread rapidly and leave the facility via adopted and rescued dogs before shelter managers realize they have an outbreak going on.

The Robeson County Shelter keeps HALF its 50 kennels empty at all times, meaning they routinely kill dogs even when there is plenty of space for them, because they say it “reduces disease outbreaks.” How is that working out for them?

Distemper Won't Leave Us...

The Robeson pound closed for a distemper outbreak on March 26, killing all the dogs who had the misfortune to be there. It had only just reopened on March 19 after the previous distemper outbreak, which cost the lives of at least 60 dogs. This comes a year after a large distemper outbreak at the Robeson pound caused it to be closed for two weeks of quarantine.

This pound has a long history of failed inspections, neglect allegations and suspicion of improper euthanasia, all of which have been extensively chronicled at YesBiscuit!. This record of shoddy standards notwithstanding, (now former) director Lori Baxter laid the blame for the distemper outbreak on “the public”: “This is 100 percent preventable, and if people do not start vaccinating their animals, it’s never going to end,” Baxter said, despite the fact that the Robeson pound itself does not regularly vaccinate upon intake the way any pound that wants to prevent the spread of distemper must.

Yes, people should vaccinate their pets against distemper. But since when have ALL the dogs that come into a rural pound been escaped or lost family pets? Since probably never. Countless animals that make it into rural pounds have either been stray for months or years or were born out in the rough and have never had a home. Every shelter manager should expect that animals coming into the facility may not have been vaccinated and have possibly been exposed to CDV (also carried by many common wild mammals), and take proper precautions. The best defenses against spreading the virus are to segregate new arrivals, maintain a clean facility and vaccinate every new animal upon arrival. The spread of distemper once it is inside a facility is the pound manager’s fault, not the public’s, and it is preventable.

Meanwhile, two counties away in Duplin, the outbreaks have been alternating between parvovirus and distemper, beginning in early December 2011. On December 5 a parvo outbreak was reported on Pet Friends of Duplin County’s Facebook page.  Although the Duplin pound manager Joe Newborn apparently knew of the outbreak, he continued to release dogs until announcing on December 18 that the pound would close that week to kill all dogs and sanitize.

Less than two weeks later, a rescuer posted to the PFDC page that she suspected  a distemper outbreak at the pound.  Dogs continued to be released from the Duplin facility however, and before long a few other participants on the PFDC page posted their suspicions of a distemper outbreak.

On Feb. 9 the Pet Friends organization (not the pound management) notified some rescuers of the outbreak, far too late for many.

After the outbreak was announced on the PFDC facebook page, many PFDC supporters raised funds to purchase vaccines. But they were never administered because according to County manager Mike Aldridge, nobody at the pound knew how to administer them. Never mind that I learned how just now by googling “How to give a distemper vaccination.” There is no requirement that shelter staff be certified or licensed to give these vaccines, and knowing this is part of Aldridge’s and Newborn’s jobs.

Then in March, parvo spread again. The Duplin pound closed on March 12, killed all the dogs, and then opened again and took in new dogs on March 13. Meanwhile, Aldridge knows the pound is dirty and unsantizable because of cracked floors (noted repeatedly over six years of inspections by NC Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services vets), but he has no plans to do anything at all about it. He told rescuer Kris Casey “I am not going to spend $15,000 when the whole shelter needs to be bulldozed.”

And surprise! Aldridge also blamed “the public” in a conversation with Casey: “The problem begins with the fact that Duplin is a ‘poor’ county and the first thing poor people do is get an animal and they can’t take care of them and end up turning them loose.” But is it the public’s fault that the Duplin pound has not only failed its last 5 NCDA&CS inspections, but has passed only 6 of the 22 inspections performed since November 2006?

In August 2010 the NCDA&CS issued a warning letter to Duplin County for failing to correct repeated sanitation violations and in October 2011 the county was assessed civil penalty of $1,000 for non-compliance with the state animal welfare statute. Yet the shelter continues to operate, continuing a cycle of disease that results in the deaths of hundreds of dogs monthly and sends infected dogs into other NC communities. Meanwhile Mike Aldridge blames the people who pay him a salary to make sure their county services run correctly.

If these outbreaks really were because of unvaccinated dogs, one would expect similar stories from pounds in surrounding counties, right? But the also “poor” counties that sit between Duplin and Robeson have not been affected by the recent distemper outbreaks. Both Bladen and Sampson are rural counties, the pounds have annual budgets similar to those in  Robeson and Duplin and they probably have a similar percentage of residents who fail to vaccinate for parvo and distemper. Bladen county pound had a distemper outbreak in early 2010,  and Sampson had one in 2010 and 2011. But neither shelter has been stuck in a constant cycle of contagion like the Duplin and Robeson pounds. Perhaps they are doing something to prevent it? Maybe Mike Aldridge should call over to Bladen County and get some advice.

Until Duplin and Robeson Counties bring in managers who actually care about saving the lives of animals in their pounds (and the communities that rescue and adopt from them), expect more of the same. Unfortunately, it’s the animals who will pay the most.

7 Comments

Filed under Distemper, Duplin, NC county/municipal pounds, Robeson County