Sheriff candidates discuss animal control issues

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Animal control issues and operation of the Wilson County Animal Shelter have sparked concern and generated controversy in the race for Wilson County sheriff.

Ahead of the May 8 Democratic primary, The Wilson Times is quizzing candidates on the issues and allowing them to deliver their message in their own words.

Questions on animal control and enforcement were distributed to Sheriff Calvin Woodard and challengers Chris Boykin and Dinise Williams. Their responses, organized in alphabetical order by last name, are provided below.

What can the sheriff’s office do to increase adoption rates and decrease euthanasia rates at the Wilson County Animal Shelter?

BOYKIN: Wilson County is fortunate to have very active pet-owning citizens and passionate local rescue groups. Developing good working relationships between the sheriff’s office, animal advocates and rescue groups is a top priority of mine, if elected. As sheriff, my office will emphasize partnering with local groups and proactive citizens to assist in the functions of the shelter. Presently, no volunteers are allowed to assist in the shelter, even though they would do so at no additional cost and bring tremendous value. The euthanasia rates are where they are here in Wilson County largely due to the time and efforts of local advocacy groups operating in total independence from Animal Control. The groups tirelessly match animals with loving homes. They maintain and operate local rescue pages such as Lost and Found Dogs of Wilson and Facebook groups, and spend their resources sorting and posting local shelter dogs as a public service. This is an area where we can work with local groups and change the policy, to increase both efficiency and effectiveness. Presently, available animals are not posted on local sites by Animal Control for adoption or owner reclaim. They are posted on a national site, which is not easily located by and sortable for local adopters or owners looking to find their lost pets. Neighboring counties have successfully promoted their shelter animals at off-site events. We must join in similar efforts so the public can interact with the animals. It is no secret Wilson County has been dire need of a new animal shelter and nothing has been done to address that need over the last eight years. My ideas for a new shelter include the incorporation of an adoption area together with the traditional shelter facility. That will allow volunteers from the community to interact with the animals.

WILLIAMS: The sheriff’s office can increase adoption rates by lowering adoption fees. Today, it costs $114 to adopt an animal from the animal shelter. Many potential owners shy away from the high cost of adopting pets. Lower fees will serve as incentives that will attract more owners, consequently increasing adoption rates and boosting the ability of the animal shelter to take in more animals and reduce euthanasia rates. Another incentive the sheriff’s office can use to increase adoption rates and decrease euthanasia rates is reducing neutering and spaying fees. Besides that, the sheriff’s office can increase the animal control funding, source more funding through grants and donations and improve partnership with local animal centers to help construct more and larger animal centers and streamline existing ones.

WOODARD: The Wilson County Sheriff’s Office has increased adoption rates and decreased euthanasia rates. We have been actively engaged with pet adoption/rescue groups within and outside of Wilson County to ensure that the pets are placed within loving homes — this is done daily and even after working hours. I have implemented a pet adoption program which includes increasing the state-mandated holding days from three to five days. I have reconstructed the staff so that the shelter is open on the first Saturday of the month. Our adoption program includes an adoption kit to assist pet owners with educational and instructional material on properly caring for their new pet. Also, pets are placed on adoption websites for viewing by the public.

Is it fair that responsible pet owners are assessed animal privilege fees to fund shelter operations and subsidize irresponsible owners who allow their pets to reproduce and run at large?

BOYKIN: It is not ideal the way the commissioners have it set up presently. When the animal privilege fee was implemented, it was done so with the purpose of raising funds to build Wilson County a new animal shelter with an adoption facility. Presently half (or less) of the annual fees collected are being allocated for their intended purpose. As sheriff, I would immediately go before the county and request the remaining half ($60,000-plus annually) be set aside for its original purpose; to fund a shelter and related shelter operations. If there had been proper allocation and usage over the last eight years, there would now be sufficient funds for a shelter. The present administration has not addressed the direction of the fees, nor have they used these funds toward building a new animal shelter. The animal privilege fee was modeled after counties like New Hanover County, where the fees were applied to directly help the shelter and animals in New Hanover County. The program was successful there and the fees were directly used to improve animal enforcement. We need a new shelter, period. As sheriff, I will work to plan for a fiscally feasible shelter to be constructed. It may not happen immediately, because of the present situation, but I vow to immediately begin planning and addressing operational policies at the current shelter, including reinstating the community Animal Advisory Committee to assist with planning and policy.

WILLIAMS: This practice is very unfair to responsible pet owners. It would be more prudent if both responsible and irresponsible pet owners know that there are too many homeless pets in the county. Our existing shelters are filled to capacity. They cannot accommodate the high influx of these homeless animals. Subsidizing irresponsible owners who allow their pets to reproduce and run at large merely compounds the problem. Today, the phrase “irresponsible pet owner” should not even exist. Every pet owner should and must be responsible to their animals. It is important to understand that owning a pet is a lifetime commitment. Therefore, if you can’t make the commitment and be responsible, just don’t get the pet.

WOODARD: Before I became sheriff, the pet privilege fee was developed and adopted by the county commissioners with a committee of animal advocates. The fee collected was understood to fund the building of a new shelter and/or fund Animal Enforcement services. I strongly believe that the taxpayers should address the issue with the county commissioners, because county ordinances are amended by the local governing authority. Pet owners who allow their pets to run free or cause a nuisance are handled by the guidelines in accordance with the Wilson County Animal Control Ordinance and state law. Animal Enforcement deputies respond to these calls and assist the citizens on such violations.

How can the sheriff’s office encourage more pet owners to spay and neuter their animals in order to prevent overpopulation?

BOYKIN: It starts with public awareness and making the spay/neuter program much more user-friendly, which it currently is not. Reducing the pet population through spay /neuter will have a cumulative positive effect on our shelter and animal control resources. In addition, we must work with our local rescue groups and have community volunteer involvement to educate our citizens about spay/neuter and the prevention of over population. Presently, Wilson County is participating in a state-funded program for spay/neuter. This program is not specific to Wilson County. This program is underutilized and many are unaware of it. It needs to be publicized to those who can take advantage of the assistance. As sheriff, I would approach the Wilson police chief and other area LEO leaders to put out public service messages raising awareness about the program. The present administration has chosen to partner this program with veterinary hospitals in Wake and Nash counties to provide the spay/neuter services. Transportation to Wake and Nash counties creates hardships on Wilson County people using the program. We need to partner this program with Wilson County veterinary hospitals to make the program more convenient to our citizens. During my campaign I have reached out and discussed ways to make additional discounted services more available here in Wilson by partnering to set up quarterly spay/neuter clinics as well as partnering with mobile spay and neuter clinics.

WILLIAMS: The sheriff’s office should lower spaying and neutering fees to encourage pet owners to spay and neuter their animals. I believe the higher cost of these two practices partly contributes to the overpopulation in Wilson County. If elected sheriff of Wilson County, I will seek more funding to help offset not only spaying and neutering costs but also medical, microchip and vaccination costs. With the lower fees, the Animal Control will see a surge in the number of animals spayed and neutered, consequently preventing overpopulation. Additionally, educating and training existing and all potential pet owners on best practices and responsible animal ownership can help prevent overpopulation. I believe responsible pet ownership extends beyond the provision of adequate water, food and shelter to include spaying, neutering and provision of other basic needs.

WOODARD: I have implemented a successful no-cost spay and neuter program for citizens whose income prevents them from having this service performed on behalf of their pet. The program is advertised at the sheriff’s office, other county buildings and on the internet. Pet owners who adopt from the animal shelter, regardless of their financial income, are provided a voucher to assist them in the cost of having their pet spayed or neutered. This helps in lowering the number of unwanted pets in our community. We run yearly advertisements, during our rabies clinics, to express the importance of spaying or neutering your pet. With awareness being a key issue, we also provide educational pamphlets at the animal shelter.

What is the main problem facing Wilson County Animal Enforcement and what would you do as sheriff to overcome that problem?

BOYKIN: The lack of trust and working partnerships between Animal Enforcement and the community is the biggest problem. Yes, we need a new shelter and adoption facility. Yes, we need to address spay-and-neuter to decrease overpopulation in Wilson County. But, ultimately, we need to work together, and take advantage of the resources here in Wilson County in our community groups. They operate on a cost-efficient basis and have a broad network of connections and resources. I will reinstate the Animal Advisory Committee with representatives from veterinary hospitals, local county government, local business partners, animal rescue groups and sheriff’s office personnel so we can collaboratively make Wilson County a leader in Animal Enforcement. Our neighboring counties are making it work and we can too here in Wilson County.

WILLIAMS: Limited resources remain the main problem facing animal enforcement in our county. Each month, our shelter takes in over 100 animals. These numbers are overwhelming and lead to high euthanasia rates. As sheriff, I would seek more funding to revamp animal control, lower adoption, spaying and neutering fees and increase education on responsible pet ownership. I would strengthen partnerships between Wilson County Animal Enforcement and other stakeholders including nonprofit organizations and local rescue groups. We need a new animal shelter including an adoption facility. I believe that overpopulation and the animal menace affects every individual in Wilson County. This is a community problem and we need to work together to find solutions.

WOODARD: The main problem facing Wilson County Animal Enforcement is the current condition of the shelter. The existing building has passed extreme inspections and I am proud to say that the state inspector indicated that its daily operations are portrayed as a model for other animal shelters. Even with the love and care exhibited toward the existing building, the deterioration of the current shelter remains an issue. Since I have been in office, I have been involved in meetings with county officials and have requested a new shelter. The meetings have been very progressive and funding has been appropriated toward a new shelter. We are now in the stages of final design of a new shelter, and I look forward to the completion of this goal.