Tag Archives: Ashe County North Carolina

Ashe County commissioners vote to end gas chamber use

Ashe County commissioners voted Monday to take a forward step toward civilized treatment of animals by ending the use of the carbon monoxide gas chamber in the county pound.

Voting to end the use of the barbaric gas chamber were Gary Roark, William Sands and Judy Poe. Commissioners had received hundreds of emails and calls from people against the gas chamber, and Commissioner Sands said that he was prompted to change his opinion and oppose its use after seeing an online video of animals dying in one.

The Ashe County pound can receive a grant of at least $7,000 through HSUS providing the gas chamber is dismantled and removed from the premises within 6 months.

Working gas chambers remain in Alamance, Beaufort, Cleveland, Davidson, Gaston, Granville, Iredell, Martin, Nash, Randolph, Rowan, Union, Vance, Wilkes, and Wilson Counties. Cabarrus County ended gas chamber use last month and will accept an HSUS grant but has not yet removed the chamber. Vance County has reportedly not used their gas chamber since November, 2012, but it remains in the facility. Lethal injection is reportedly the primary means of killing in Alamance, Gaston and Nash counties, but the gas chambers remain.

Advocates can find contact information for officials in gas chamber counties here.


Filed under Ashe, gas chamber

Ashe County commissioners to vote on gas chamber use

UPDATE: On Monday, Aug. 19, Ashe County commissioners voted 3-2 to discontinue gas chamber use at the county pound.

Ashe County commissioners decided last week to vote at the board’s next meeting Aug. 19, 2013, on whether to continue use of the CO gas chamber to kill pets in the county pound.

At least one commissioner has already changed his mind after seeing videos of the process and will vote against continued CO use, according to an article in the Mountain Times:

“I don’t know how many emails and telephone calls I got concerning this gas chamber over at animal control,” Ashe County Commissioner Gary Roark said Monday. “They want us to revisit that to eliminate it.”

Those calls and emails prompted Roark to further research the use of CO chambers, he said, and reverse his opinion on the subject.

“I’ve done some research online, and some of the videos show dogs just laying there and jerking (during the euthanization process),” Roark said. “I know I voted last time to keep that, but I’m not for it once I found that out. From what I’ve seen, I’d like to see it closed.”

“I’d vote with you,” Commissioner William Sands told Roark.

If  Roark and Sands vote against CO use, then  one more vote by a member of the five-person board would make a majority against the gas chamber.

Animal advocates who would like to thank Commissioners Roark and Sands for their careful consideration of the issue or respectfully inform other board members about the realities of the gas chamber can contact Larry Rhodes, Judy Porter Poe, Gerald Price, Gary Roark and  William Sands at administration@ashecountygov.com, 336-846-5501, fax 336-846-5516 or  by mailing to 150 Government Circle Suite 2500, Jefferson, NC 28640.

Inspiration for  letters may be found here and  here, and this sample letter may be used as a template.

One important point for commissioners to consider is that the debate does not have to be between killing animals with CO and killing them with lethal injection. They could end the killing of healthy and treatable pets altogether, and turn their county pound into a bona fide shelter, where animals’ lives are protected.  More than 160 communities across the US have ended the debate over the best way to kill healthy and treatable shelter pets by SAVING THEM through implementation of  a cost-effectiveproven program for lifesaving success. It’s time for Ashe County, NC, to join that list.

Veterinarians and regulatory authorities often approach the issue of humane euthanasia, particularly in animal shelters, from a technical starting point, having already accepted fait accompli that mass killing is necessary. While there are real technical concerns with carbon monoxide chamber, mass killing of dogs and cats in the shelter environment is not necessary, good, or required. The premise that there are “too few homes” for the millions of pets entering shelters each year is belied by the millions of pets acquired by new and existing pet owners. The premise that pets entering shelters are “not adoptable” for health problems—problems that are seen, diagnosed, and treated by veterinarians in these very same communities—is not correct. They are treatable and adoptable in the vast majority of cases. The premise that there is some public good in taking free-roaming cats  into shelters, terrorizing them in confinement for a stray hold, then killing them because  they’re “unadoptable” is not merely Sisyphean, it is cruel and ineffectual at successfully managing free roaming cat populations or free roaming cat “nuisance” complaints. ~Michael R. Moyer, V.M.D


Filed under Ashe County, gas chamber

Ashe County Commissioners consider, then reject, ending gas chamber use

The Ashe County Board of Commissioners this week considered changing the kill method in use at their pound from the barbaric gas chamber currently in use to lethal injection.

The meeting featured a lot of back and forth about money and killing and safety, but one alternative not proposed or considered in the meeting was ending the completely unnecessary killing of healthy and treatable pets. That’s how Sgt. Karl Bailey ended gas chamber use at  Seagoville Animal Services in Texas.  Bailey abolished the gas chamber on his first day, ordered that the killing come to an end, and went on to save more than 97 percent of its animals in 2011 and 98.5 percent in 2012. Because the gas chamber was the only airtight and waterproof place in the shelter, he began using it for food storage.

More than 16o communities across the country are saving more than 90% of their shelter pets, and there is no reason Ashe County, NC, cannot be the next.

Currently, Ashe pound director Joe Testerman  kills most of the animals that come in to his pound every year.

Testerman told the board the gas chamber is cheaper than LI and said that because the gas chamber is automated, staff can go off and do other things while it runs. He also cited “psychological trauma, or ‘burnout,’ experienced by staff performing LI” which presumably doesn’t bother them when they shove the pets into a death machine where the  animals fight a final, futile battle to cling to their lives. (Do Testerman and his staff suffer any psychological trauma or burnout when they go out and “capture” dogs by shooting them?)

Despite having been offered a grant by HSUS to get rid of the gas chamber, the Ashe County Commissioners decided to keep the gas chamber  “until other developments compel a vote.” 

Animal Advocates interested in trying to compel a vote can contact Ashe County commissioners Larry Rhodes, Judy Porter Poe, Gerald Price, Gary Roark and  William Sands at administration@ashecountygov.com, 336-846-5501, fax 336-846-5516 or  by mailing to 150 Government Circle Suite 2500, Jefferson, NC 28640.  County Manager Pat Mitchell can be contacted at  pmitchell@ashecountygov.com, 336-846-5501, fax: 336-846-5516 or 150 Government Circle Suite 2500, Jefferson, NC 28640. Joe Testerman can be contacted at joetesterman@ashecountygov.com. Feel free to put your own personal spin on this sample letter. (More inspiration for your own letter may be found here.)

While ending the use of the barbaric gas chamber would be a very good thing, ending the killing of healthy and treatable pets is the most important goal. So while it’s tempting to call for an end to gassing by citing the relative humane merits of lethal injection, why not call for an end to gassing through adoption of a proven program for lifesaving success?

Saving lives is a very effective way to end the dispute over gas chambers once and for all. Think of it: Ashe County pound took in 921 dogs and cats and killed 714, or almost 78%, of them in 2012. (Assuming the numbers they reported to the state can be trusted, which is doubtful, especially considering that for at least three months last year there were no adoptions at all from the Ashe County pound.) Foothills Humane Society, on the other hand, which fulfills the role of animal control shelter for Polk County (and parts of 2 SC counties), took in ALMOST TWICE AS MANY dogs and cats (1,746) in 2012, yet SAVED almost 99% of them, killing only 18 animals. Voilà, problems of expense, “safety,” “psychological trauma and burnout” solved!

Take killing off the table in Ashe County!


Filed under Ashe County, gas chamber

Beating and killing your own dog isn’t considered cruelty in Ashe County

Even though the names of the private citizens involved in this story are a matter of public record, I’m leaving them out. If you must know them, send a public records request to the Ashe County Manager. I will name the dog, however: she was a pit bull named Bullet.

In North Carolina, it is a Class H felony to “maliciously torture, mutilate, maim, cruelly beat, disfigure, poison, or kill, or cause or procure to be tortured, mutilated, maimed, cruelly beaten, disfigured, poisoned, or killed, any animal.”

So, if someone reports that they heard their neighbor beat his dog, heard the dog crying and yelping as if in great pain and then heard gunshots that ended the crying and yelping, do you think local law enforcement should perhaps at least investigate whether felony animal cruelty occurred?

If you said  yes, I hope you don’t live in Ashe County, NC, because you would be very disappointed. No one seems to have told the folks in charge there that cruelly beating and killing a dog is a felony in the state of North Carolina. They all still seem to think that if a dog is your property, you can do whatever you want with her.

Sometime in September*, an Ashe County resident called the sheriff’s communications center to report that her neighbor had horribly beaten and killed his dog after the dog had killed her Yorkie. According to an email from a sheriff’s captain to County Manager Pat Mitchell, “neighbors and their children could hear dog crying and yelping and heard the beating” before the man shot and killed the dog.

Took it home and beat it really bad. Neighbors and their children could hear dog crying and yelping and heard the beating.

The comm center referred the call to Animal Control, where it was handled by ACO Dana Shatley. According to an email from Animal Control Director Joe Testerman to Dr. Mitchell, the ACO  “explained that Mr. ___ did have a legal right to destroy his own property,” and that had the man not killed his dog, he would have been told to keep the dog on his property and issued a citation.

Well, I guess that settles it, then.

"It seems reasonable to me since the owner killed his own animal"

One may presume the rules are different if the animal one beats and kills belongs to someone else. That would probably be theft.

According to one email, a sheriff’s employee reported the incident to social services because the man’s 3-year-old son was present during the killing, and to “Narcs” because the man is “a meth user” and a convicted felon.

None of the emails mention any concern over why a convicted felon has a firearm. I guess if he’s only using it to dispose of his own property they’re all good with that up in Ashe County.

*I don’t know the exact date of the incident because the only records County Manager Pat Mitchell sent me as a result of my public records request were emails written more than a month after the incident.  Information I obtained elsewhere puts the date around Sept 23. Even though the emails reference calls to the county comm center, which are recorded and logged, I received no records from the sheriff’s department at all. Sheriff James Williams told me he had sent all dispatch records regarding this incident to Dr. Mitchell, and Dr. Mitchell told me she sent me everything she received. I can’t say if these records are being deliberately withheld from me or if this is just bureaucratic incompetence at work, but it appears the only way I would get these records is by filing a legal complaint against Ashe County.


Filed under Abuse, Ashe County, cruelty

Ashe County fires animal control officer, still isn’t a great place for animals

An Ashe County animal control officer has been fired after not responding to a call that would have “justified emergency response from animal control,” and then later lying about the incident to county officials. While it may appear that Ashe officials have taken care of the problem by firing one ACO, it could be argued that the incident sheds light on  a generally regressive attitude toward animals and their humane treatment by Ashe County employees.

The incident occurred on Sept. 27, when Animal Control Director Joe Testerman and his two AC officers were trying to capture a dog in response to calls from neighborhood residents. Testerman said the dog behaved aggressively toward the officers, so even though he had a catchpole, he decided to “capture the dog by shooting it,” according to a report he made later to County Manager Pat Mitchell.  The dog was shot but escaped alive, and according to Testerman it “was later found dead on Beaver Drive not far from where it was shot.” Testerman’s only concern about the incident appears to have been that the dog “was shot by a rifle at close range were a side arm would have been a better choice.”

Email from Joe Testerman to Pat Mitchell 10/09/2012

It turns out that the dog was “found” in the basement of a Beaver Drive residence, and “later” was the next morning. The dog had shown up there sometime before 7 pm the night before, alive and bleeding from his gunshot wound. The resident had called the sheriff’s communications center, and a dispatcher called ACO Jim Walters. Following is a transcript from the recorded call:

Dispatcher: Did you go out and shoot a dog this morning?
Walters: Uh, Dana shot it and we lost it.
Dispatcher: Well the lady says it’s back in her yard again. She didn’t know what to do with it.
Walters: Well …
Dispatcher: It’s, it’s not dead.
Walters: Okay, it’s not bothering anything, is it?
Dispatcher: Ah, uh, she didn’t say it was.
Walters: All right. Well, it probably wouldn’t be considered as an emergency. We’ll just try to get up there in the morning and pop it again.
Dispatcher: Okay.
Walters: I don’t want to shoot it with all these people home, you know.
Dispatcher: Yeah, yeah.
Walters: And, but I’ll call … I’m gonna be off tomorrow, but I’ll call Dana and tell him to go up there in the morning first thing and see if it’s there and pop him again and get it.

Setting aside Walters’ lack of concern about the animal’s suffering (he’s been fired, after all), what about the response by the dispatcher? A wounded dog is bleeding and, we can assume, suffering in someone’s basement and the dispatcher’s only response when an AC officer proposed leaving the dog there overnight was “Okay.”

Even if you don’t consider the animal’s suffering, what about the resident who has called the sheriff’s dispatcher about this wounded dog in her basement? Regardless of how deeply she may or may not have been affected by the suffering, she most likely called dispatch because she did not want a wounded and bleeding dog in her basement.

And in fact, shortly after the resident called, a neighbor called dispatch about the dog, stressing the fact to the dispatcher that the dog was bleeding and appeared to have been shot:

Dispatch: I talked to the animal control officer and he said that if it, hang on, he said that if the animal wasn’t causing any problems that they would just come out tomorrow and they would take care of it.
Caller: [unintelligible] is they’ve got it shut up in their basement and they said it looked like it might have been shot cause it’s bleeding.
Dispatcher: It’s what, I’m sorry, what did you say?
Caller: My neighbor called, it was another neighbor come down, because they knew that I knew one of the animal control officers and been in contact with him, and they said they’ve got it shut up in their basement as I said, but they said it’s kind of bleeding, looked like it might have been shot.
Dispatch: Yeah, it has been shot. They shot it, but they couldn’t find it.
Caller: Oh, OK.
Dispatcher: But they said they’d come put tomorrow and take care of it.
Caller: Oh, OK, thank you.

At some point, wouldn’t someone with a humane, compassionate outlook think: it’s not fair to anyone involved–the dog or the people–to leave this situation until tomorrow?

This incident may have never been heard about again, but the residents involved were so unhappy about the way the situation was handled that they complained about it to other people, and at some point the complaint reached Pat Mitchell, who investigated.

Despite the investigation,  there’s still one question left unasked and unanswered: how did the dog die? Joe Testerman said in his report that the only injury they saw was the single gunshot wound, so presumably the dog bled to death in that basement.

UPDATE: There is actually another wrinkle to this story that I had forgotten. There was a reference to this incident in emails I received following a different public records request. A sheriff’s department employee told Pat Mitchell that she heard of the incident from her grandson, who told her about an AC officer “shooting a dog in front of a group of kids and then the dog getting in his friend’s basement and the father having to kill it.” (Which partially answers the question of how the dog  died.) The sheriff’s employee said “Frankly, I disregarded this as I was sure no animal control officer would do that with 5 kids there.”

Email from Ashe County Sheriff's employee to County Manager

The emails, reports and audio files linked to in this post were obtained via a public records request.


Filed under Ashe County

Break out the punch bowl again: Ashe County pound has a dog available for adoption!

The Ashe County pound, which has not adopted a single pet to the public since the end of July*, has posted an adoptable dog on its Adopt-A-Pet and Petfinder pages. Some person or family who is able to get to the pound between the hours of 10 and 2 pm Monday, Wednesday or Friday can pick up a very sweet looking new friend named Barney.

Barney, Available for adoption from Ashe County Animal Shelter

Here is what they say about him:.

This nice Beagle/?Bassett boy is somewhere between 1-2yo, if not a little younger. He showed up as a stray at someone’s home and they contacted Ashe County Animal Control. The people in the neighborhood where he was roaming stray had nothing but good things to say about this boy. Unfortunately, nobody showed up to claim him during his 1-week stray hold. He has done very well at the shelter and allowed our volunteer to handle him all over w/o issue. Also, he seems to do well with other dogs but has not been cat-tested. We have no ability to test dogs with children.
The shelter does not have the ability to perform heartworm testing on-site. Deworming and/or vaccinations can be done on occasion when medication is available (we rely on donations for this). For reputable rescues, however, local volunteer assistance is available for transport to a local Vet clinic for such testing and to obtain appropriate vaccines and Health Certificate at the rescue’s expense.

In order to pull animals from Ashe County Animal Control, rescues must be approved. The approval process involves submitting an application, available by emailing a Friends of Ashe County Animals (FACA) volunteer at fabulousmcg@gmail.com. As part of the application, rescues will need to submit copies of their adoption application, adoption contract and 501c3. Rescues will also need to provide a Vet Reference. The Animal Control Officers prefer that all rescue-related inquiries be directed to the volunteer email (fabulousmcg@gmail.com) so please do not contact the shelter with rescue-related inquiries. An FACA volunteer will be checking this email daily so please allow 24 hours for a response.

Shelter information: Ashe County Animal Control 767 Fred Pugh Road Crumpler, NC 28617 Shelter Hours: 10:00AM-2PM, MON/WED/FRI. They are closed to public on TU/TH/SAT/SUN.

*I filed a public records request on Oct. 24 for the Ashe County pound’s latest statistics to verify this, but I am still waiting for a response. Some animals have gone out of the pound to rescue groups, so not every animal that goes in gets gassed to death. Just most of them.


Filed under Ashe County

Ashe County pound director Joe Testerman eliminates pet adoptions

In mid-August of this year, Ashe County Animal Control Director Joe Testerman, after “several hours of research,” decided to cut the hours his shelter killing facility is open for adoptions and owner reclaims to just 12 per week. He attempted to justify it by saying that “most animal control departments in North Carolina have similar business hours that they are open to the public.” Actually, not so much. Joe Testerman’s “several hours” of research most likely consisted of looking up the minimum requirements for keeping his pound open per NC law (“at least four hours a day, three days a week”).

Last week, Testerman responded to complaints about the extremely restrictive hours by claiming he and his ACOs needed to be away from the pound at all hours. “Our workload requires us to be out on the road working, and that’s where most of our work is at,” he said.

In fact, Testerman said, there is no guarantee anyone will even be at the pound during the open hours, state law be damned. “It’s good practice to call before you come, though, to make sure somebody is going to be here. The unknown is always a factor. We never know when we’re going to get an emergency call that requires all of us.”

Testerman claims that the public is welcome into the pound for adoption during open hours, but the reality is that the Ashe County pound is now pretty much out of the adoption business. According to statistics released by the Ashe County clerk in response to an open records request, Joe Testerman’s death house did not adopt out a single animal between late July and mid-September. The last animal adopted out of the Ashe County pound  was a cat that came in on July 23. (Scans of all adoption stats are below, click to enlarge. And yes, the Jake Testerman who turned in six collies on April 9 is in fact Joe Testerman’s brother.)

Ashe County Animal Shelter adoptions Jan 1-Sept 17, 2012Ashe County Animal Shelter Adoptions Jan. 1-Sept. 17, 2012

Since that time, six dogs have been released to the Ashe County Humane Society, and six dogs have been released to other rescue groups. Three dogs were returned to owner. No cats appear to have left that pound alive since the end of July. (The report for the open records request was run Sept. 17, so there may have been an adoption or two in the weeks since then. I am planning to file another request for the statistics from Sept. 17 to Oct. 17.)

In an article earlier this year, Testerman shed crocodile tears for  the animals he kills: “It’s a sad day for all of us, the animals we have cared for, petted, named, and hoped for homes for, are kept as long as we can. When the kennels are all full and more come in, we have to make the painful decision of who has to die and who lives.” Actually, Mr. Testerman has a very easy time with that decision. By restricting adoption hours and not advertising available pets for adoption, he is actively choosing death for these animals.

The only dogs shown for adoption on the Ashe County pound’s web site are a hound/lab mix with a photo dated April 20, and a Treeing Walker Coonhound in a photo dated May 20. There is one cat, whose photo is dated Feb. 14. There are three dogs and no cats listed on the pound’s Petfinder page (which also lists the old, more adoption-friendly hours, so may not be updated all that regularly.)

Testerman said that killing animals “takes something out of the humans who have to make that decision and if anyone has an answer for it, we are sure willing to listen.” I sent him a letter back in April telling him that I did indeed have an answer:

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% kill rates to 90%+ SAVE rates, often in the first year.
For example, in Seagoville, Texas, 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.
Let me know if you are interested. I would be overjoyed to help

I have never heard back from Joe Testerman.

All of the Ashe County Animal Shelter Statistics for Jan. 1 to Sept. 17, 2012 (and beyond when available) can be found in this spreadsheet (see the individual worksheets for the outcome breakdowns).


Filed under "Nobody WANTS to kill animals ...", Ashe County