Very few people are allowed inside the Johnston County SPCA (even town of Clayton and Johnston County animal control officers had to wait outside for someone to come get the animals they were dropping off), and animal advocates say very few animals make it out alive.
(Photo courtesy of Clayton SPCA Discussion Group.)
For at least 20 years, animal advocates have been trying to shut down the Johnston County SPCA, citing deplorable conditions and a closed-door policy that allowed few people in and very few animals out alive, among other problems. Even the Town of Clayton (which previously had an animal control contract with the JCSPCA and on whose land the JCSPCA sits rent-free) recently joined the effort, terminating their contract and seeking ways to void the lease.
In early March an article in the Clayton News Star reported that Melinda Barefoot, the shelter’s director for 29 years, would be retiring and that the JCSPCA board had voted to close the shelter effective June 1. That would be a cause for celebration by animal advocates, but at this point few believe it will actually happen. Two members of the JCSPCA board at the time of the announcement, Clayton Town manager Steve Biggs and former town council member Alex Harding, are no longer on the board, having been forced off before they could sign an intent to vacate. Without the intent to vacate, the 99-year rent-free lease with the facility cannot be terminated, and town officials do not believe the remaining board members will sign it.
Because the facility eventually earns “acceptable” ratings on inspections (usually only after being given second and third chances to comply with regulations by inspectors), the NCDA&CS cannot take action. There appears to be no other authority under state or local laws that can protect animals from neglect or abuse when it occurs at such an animal “shelter.” Meanwhile, no one knows exactly how many animals are still inside (or what condition they are in).
The situation at the JCSPCA appears to be very similar to some of the private hoarding situations that are often used used to justify mass shelter killing. Animals have been observed in filth, often left with no food or water. “I literally saw dogs drinking their own urine; I never saw an animal being fed in there the entire month I was there,” one volunteer said.
No one is allowed inside, not even to look for lost pets that may have been taken there by animal control. In fact, when Clayton and Johnston County AC officers arrived with dropoffs, they were required to wait outside until shelter staff came out to get the animals. Owned pets known to be in the facility are often not returned to their homes without a fight. Animals are rarely adopted out because the adopters are deemed not good enough, or Barefoot and company simply refuse to return emails and phone calls inquiring about the animals. Many people who have tried to adopt cannot even get Barefoot to send them an application.
Animal advocates have been able to document a few things, like this cat, left overnight in a tiny filthy cage with no food, water or litter pan:
This cat was left overnight at the Johnston County SPCA on March 1, 2012, with no water or litter pan in direct violation of the NC Animal Welfare Act.
(Photo courtesy of Clayton SPCA Discussion Group.)
Or this dog, left outside alone all night long:
When such conditions occur in private homes, the people are labeled “hoarders” and sooner or later, through various legal means, their animals are taken from them. But call yourself an “SPCA” and get 501(c)3 status, and apparently you’re now above the law and no one can touch you. In the state of NC, that’s true even when you do not comply with the regulations that are supposed to govern shelters.
Since 2008,the JCSPCA has failed to file the statistics required by the North Carolina Animal Welfare Act (§ 19A 65.) But the only sanction the law provides against non-complying facilities is the withholding of spay/neuter reimbursement funds. So even though the JCSPCA is in non-compliance with the law and has had chronic difficulties passing inspections, NC animal welfare law is so poorly written and unenforceable that the NCDA&CS is almost powerless to close a non-complying facility. (For example, Duplin County pound.) So the JCSPCA has been allowed to operate as a secret hoarding society, with no one knowing how many animals are inside or what happens to them after they enter.
Animal advocate Holly Nielsen filed an open records request for the JCSPCA’s intake and outcome records, under the reasoning that because their facility is on Clayton land and the organization received public funds through its animal control contract, it was serving as a public agency. Barefoot ignored the request.
Nielsen filed suit in April. The JCSPCA is claiming that they do not have to comply and are not subject to open records laws because the town of Clayton has no authority over them, they answer to the NCDA&CS. And yet, for the past four years they have ignored their responsibility to file their stats with the NCDA&CS. Seems like the JCSPCA owes someone some statistics. Which is it, JCSPCA?
Meanwhile, it’s anyone’s guess how many animals are still in the facility. In March the JCSPCA released 9 dogs to the Wake County SPCA (but not their vaccination records, which it could not produce). The JCSPCA currently lists five dogs on their Petfinder page. Educated guesses on the Clayton SPCA Discussion Group Facebook page say 50-70 dogs. Advocates believe few or no cats remain inside.
Unfortunately, it doesn’t seem like the animals’ chances are good for making it out alive, even if the JCSPCA does close as promised. It appears they are far more likely to starve or end up in Melinda Barefoot’s gas chamber than be adopted or released into rescue. But the closure of the JCSPCA hoarding facility would be the best thing for the remaining animals in Johnston County.
The very existence of such a place as the JCSPCA is a compelling illustration of the need for a Companion Animal Protection Act in North Carolina.
Donations to the legal fund can be made here. This page provides details about the efforts of animal advocates and the problems with the JCSPCA.
Here is a video put together by one of the advocates for the animals at the JCSPCA: