Tag Archives: Johnston County

Johnston County may be getting rid of gas chamber for real

Forwarded emails aren’t always the best source of information. But I got one the other day that a knowledgeable source says is true. It originated from someone who had spoken to Ernie Wilkinson, the director of the Johnston County pound and said:

He was happy to share the following news — use of the gas chamber to euthanize was discontinued last week.  The chamber is still on site, temporarily, but is no longer in use and all gas canisters have been disposed of.  The chamber will be dismantled and removed in the near future.  The shelter was waiting for issuance of its drug license, which came, and now all euthanasia will be done by injection.

Wilkinson had announced in December that he was planning to reduce gas chamber use but retain the contraption for use on “vicious”animals.

While getting rid of the gas chamber altogether will represent progress, there is no reason to be killing healthy, treatable and rehabilitatable animals at all in the face of lifesaving alternatives. The next step for Johnston County should be to implement ALL of the proven lifesaving steps of the “No Kill Equation“:

  • Feral Cat TNR Program Trap-Neuter Release (TNR) programs allow shelters to reduce death rates of free-living cats. Traditional methods of managing the feral cat populations have involved removing cats from their home territories and euthanizing them. Modern community cat management strategies involve neutering the cats and returning them to their capture site (TNR). As a neutered community cat population ages, the number of cats will decrease by natural attrition and will not be replaced by subsequent generations. Numerous studies have shown that trap/neuter/return is the most effective way to reduce community cat populations over time, and it is the only successful method to keep feral cats from being euthanized.
  • High Volume, Low Cost Spay and Neuter Services No-and low-cost, high-volume spay and neuter reduces the number of animals entering the shelter system, allowing more resources to be allocated toward saving lives. These services should be readily available to targeted populations of people unable to afford the surgery at the normal rate and/or specific jurisdictions within a community known for having a large number of unaltered animals. These services have been proven to reduce shelter intake, making spay and neuter incredibly cost effective.
  • Rescue Partnerships Rescue groups provide a valuable resource to shelters. An adoption or transfer to a rescue group free up kennel space, reduce expenses, and will improve a community’s rate of lifesaving. Partnerships between shelters and rescue groups are vital, and rare is the circumstance in which a licensed rescue group would be denied an animal.
  • Foster Care Volunteer foster care is a low-cost and often no-cost way of increasing a shelter’s capacity, caring for sick and injured or behaviorally challenged animals, and thus saving more lives. Providing temporary foster care to litters of puppies or kittens that are too young for adoption, animals who are shy, those that need some extra TLC, or animals who need special medical attention can dramatically increase the lifesaving capacity.
  • Comprehensive Adoption Adoptions are vital to the lifesaving mission. The quantity and quality of shelter adoptions is in shelter management’s hands, making lifesaving a direct function of shelter policies and practice. If shelters better promoted their animals and had adoption programs responsive to community needs, including public access hours for working people, providing a welcoming atmosphere and excellent customer service, offsite adoptions, adoption incentives, and effective marketing, contrary to conventional wisdom, shelters can adopt their way out of killing.
  • Pet Retention While some surrender of animals to shelters are unavoidable, others can be prevented-but only if shelters work with people to help them solve their problems. Saving animals requires shelters to develop innovative strategies for keeping people and their companion animals together. And the more a community sees its shelters as a place to turn for advice and assistance, the easier this job will be.
  • Medical and Behavioral Programs To meet its commitment to a lifesaving guarantee for all savable animals, shelters need to keep animals happy and healthy and keep animals moving efficiently through the system. To do this, shelters must put in place comprehensive vaccination, handling, cleaning, socialization, and care policies before animals get sick and rehabilitative efforts for those who come in sick, injured, un-weaned, or traumatized.
  • Public Relations/Community Involvement Increasing adoptions, maximizing donations, recruiting volunteers and partnering with community agencies comes down to increasing the shelter’s public exposure. And that means consistent marketing and public relations. Public relations and marketing are the foundation of a shelter’s activities and success.
  • Volunteers Volunteers are a dedicated “army of compassion” and the backbone of a No Kill effort. There is never enough staff, never enough dollars to hire more staff, and always more needs than paid human resources. That is where volunteers make the difference between success and failure and, for the animals, life and death.
  • Proactive Redemptions One of the most overlooked areas for reducing killing in animal control shelters are lost animal reclaims. Shifting from a passive to a more proactive approach has allowed shelters to return a large percentage of lost animals to their families.
  • Compassionate Director The final element of the No Kill Equation is the most important of all, without which all other elements are thwarted–a hard working, compassionate animal shelter director who is willing to be accountable to results by implementing these programs. Get the right people on the team who bring strong, knowledgeable, flexible, and inspired leadership!


Filed under gas chamber, Johnston County

Sampson pound gets grant to stop using gas chamber

The Sampson County commission voted to accept $16,000 in grant money for its animal shelter this week , including $7,000 from the Humane Society of the United States to “phase out” the use of its gas chamber. The rest of the grant money is from the Petfinder Foundation to fund kennel cough  and FVRCP (Feline Viral Rhinotracheitis, Calicivirus, Panleukopenia) vaccine programs.

The terms of the HSUS grant stipulate that the county must “phase out the use of the gas chamber in six months from receipt of the $7,000.” Any surplus funds are to be used for shelter repair or upgrades or “animal enrichment.” Previous Interim Director Lori Baxter had announced last June on the pound’s Facebook page that she was applying for a grant to “bury” the gas chamber, but there doesn’t appear to be any stipulation in the HSUS grant about dismantling or removing the gas chamber so that it can’t be used again at some future time.

This is an important step because the Sampson gas chamber had been taken out of service previously after many problems with faulty seals and leakage. The issues became widely known in 2004 following an incident in which four puppies who did not die after being put into the leaky gas chamber were  adopted by Teresa Stewart of  Roseboro, who had no idea they had been gassed. All four puppies subsequently died, and the truth came out after Stewart complained publicly.

The gas chamber was taken out of service, but after a new pound was built, the gas chamber was moved there and put back into service by Assistant County Manager Susan Holder, who was then serving as interim shelter director.

There have been several recent announcements regarding county pound gas chambers in NC. The Johnston County pound announced in December that they will reduce gas chamber use, reserving it for “vicious” animals.

The Vance County pound is reportedly eliminating the use of their gas chamber. According to an email newsletter sent to certain rescue groups by HSUS NC director Kim Alboum, Vance County “made the commitment to eliminate the use of the gas chamber as a form of euthanasia.” She doesn’t mention that they received a grant, but a Facebook post by the Vance County SPCA reports that they did. (Commenters on that post claim that the chamber will be retained for use on wildlife.)

The Person County pound, which had stopped most use of its gas chamber in October, removed it from the premises last week, according to a news article cited by the NC Shelter Rescue Blog. Person County Manager Heidi York said the unit was removed “to assure the public that it is no longer in use.”

The demise of the Person County Gas chamber came about partly because of public pressure. Person pound director Ron Shaw was quoted on CNN as saying “The gas chamber’s not cruel, but animal activists don’t agree with it. And I’m fed up with dealing with it.”

The pressure needs to continue until the other gas chambers are dismantled and removed. Advocates can email Johnston County Manager Rick HesterSampson County Manager Ed Causey and Vance County Manager Jerry L. Ayscue and ask them to completely remove the gas chambers from their pounds.

Advocates can also email Person County Manager Heidi York to thank her for getting rid of the gas chamber and ask her to continue the path toward progress and civilized treatment of animals by encouraging shelter staff to implement the  lifesaving programs of the No Kill Equation.

In other Sampson County news, new pound director Alan Canady started work this week. One change he may consider is actually opening the facility during hours that are favorable to increasing adoptions.  “There are certain processes that we can do where we can possibly open earlier and maybe stay open a little bit later,” he said. The shelter’s current hours, established by Canady’s predecessor Lori Baxter, are 1-4 pm weekdays.


January 10, 2013 · 10:22 pm

Johnston County to sort of maybe kind of end use of gas chamber

The Raleigh News and Observer reported today that Johnston County pound employees will begin using lethal injection instead of the gas chamber for most of the killing they do beginning in 2013. However, pound director Ernie Wilkinson insists on keeping the gas chamber active for use on “vicious” animals. The article did not say who will decide which animals are “vicious” or what criteria they will use to make that determination.

According to the article, Wilkinson doesn’t get why people care how he kills animals and “wishes people would focus instead on helping shelters fight pet overpopulation through spaying and neutering education.” Johnston County does not participate in the state’s spay/neuter program.

The Johnston County pound killed 4,850, or 75.36 percent, of the dogs and cats that came in during 2011.


Filed under gas chamber, Johnston County

Johnston County residents beg to be allowed to volunteer at pound

A group of Johnston County residents are begging the county commission to make pound director Ernie Wilkinson let them volunteer. But “county officials” claim that there are “bureaucratic hurdles” in the way.

For example, the pound manager said, his previous volunteer program was badly managed. And then there are all the feral animals that might attack volunteers. And he would have to train all those volunteers in the very difficult art of walking dogs.

Amanda Walrad, community relations manager at the Wake County pound, which has about 800 volunteers, has offered a consultation, but Wilkinson hasn’t accepted the offer.

Wilkinson was the recipient of a Humane Society of the United States/NC Voters for Animal Welfare “Shelters We Love” award in 2011, because he “has worked to create  robust volunteer and community outreach programs.  Ernie is always willing to reach out to other agencies to share knowledge and build coalitions to benefit the animals in NC.”

In 2011, 75 percent of the dogs and cats who entered Ernie Wilkinson’s pound were killed in its gas chamber (which doesn’t appear to have been inspected since 2009.)


Filed under Johnston County, NC county/municipal pounds

Johnston County SPCA: Little Shop of Hoarders

Johnston County SPCA

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:

Cat with no water

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:

Dog at Johnston County SPCA

A dog left outside alone all night at the Johnston County SPCA March 1, 2012.
(Photo courtesy of Clayton SPCA Discussion Group.)

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:


Filed under Johnston County, Johnston County SPCA