Guilford County is sitting on nearly a quarter of a million dollars donated for the care of neglected, abused and injured animals – money that hasn’t been touched in years and that still isn’t getting to the animals that need it, despite the fact that the fund has been in the hands of the county since June.
What makes the non use of the fund, Susie’s Fund, particularly disheartening for area animal welfare advocates is that, before the fund was turned over to Guilford County, it sat untouched for over a year – which means it’s been a very long time since the money has helped any animals in need. Animal lovers are now asking why the county isn’t using that money.
The fund is named after a dog, Susie, that, seven years ago, was burnt, beaten and left for dead in a Greensboro park. The dog recovered after a great deal of care, and the incident inspired the creation of the fund bearing Susie’s name. That fund – which was meant to help abused, neglected and injured animals at the Guilford County Animal Shelter – was for years in the hands of the United Animal Coalition (UAC), the organization that ran the Guilford County Animal Shelter until August 2015. At that time, state animal welfare investigators announced that they had found over 60 cases of animal neglect and mistreatment at the shelter under UAC management and Guilford County took over operation of the shelter.
After Guilford County made written promises to the North Carolina attorney general’s office that the money in the fund would be used for its intended purposes and that the county would provide transparency for expenditures, the money was handed over to Guilford County. Part of that commitment by the county was that it would list all fund transactions on the county’s website. So far, there’s only one entry: a July 15 deposit of $233,636, made after the county received those funds in June.
Since then, none of the money has been spent and some shelter volunteers say that means some animals have been needlessly euthanized.
Also, prior to the fund being turned over to the county, Susie’s Fund wasn’t being used much if at all – which is one reason that it climbed to over $233,000. When, during the investigation of the UAC, it was revealed that the fund contained so much money, it greatly surprised donors and supporters of the fund, and they questioned at that time why it hadn’t been used more since many animals had come through the shelter in need of the care that Susie’s Fund could have covered.
Roberta Wall, a local real estate agent who was a primary founder of Susie’s Fund, said this week that she did not wish to comment publicly on the situation.
Guilford County Deputy Manager Clarence Grier, who helps oversee shelter operations, said the county is determined to see that the money is used responsibly for its intended purpose, but he added that it’s taking the county time to get administrative procedures in place for the fund.
He said Guilford County had been filling key positions at the shelter in recent months and that the county is currently establishing the policies and procedures for the use of Susie’s Fund. According to Grier, Susie’s Fund money should be flowing by December.
Grier reeled off some questions that need to be answered first so the money can be used responsibly.
“What determines when it will he used?” he said. “What is the severity of the case? How should we proceed medically? Who do we send it to? How do we bid that out?”
One volunteer who helps out frequently at the Guilford County Animal Shelter said she and other animal welfare advocates had been wondering why Guilford County had not put that money to use. She added that some volunteers had begun making inquires of county officials. She said she and others didn’t want their names in the paper because they need to work with the shelter and they did not want to upset county officials and employees who manage and run it. Some volunteers have also contacted county commissioners to inquire why Susie’s Fund isn’t being used.
Another shelter volunteer said it was just bad business not to spend that money as needs arose because no one wants to contribute money to a fund that’s been doing nothing but sitting there for years. She said that people who donate money instead want to see results from their contributions.
Also, she said, strategically, using Susie’s Fund as needed is a good way to increase the money coming in to help animals, because, she said, when an animal needs help and has been abused or neglected, and that case is publicized, people in the county are always willing to open up their wallets and purses for that cause. If the fund was being used, county officials could point to the good work being done and donors would give more money.
She also said county volunteers would be more than willing to handle the logistical requirements that came with using the fund – such as transporting the injured animals to local vets for treatment.
“The shelter is often short staffed,” the volunteer said, “and, if you are using Susie’s Fund, that usually means the animal has to be taken to an outside vet. Volunteers would help with that if the fund were being used.”
Chairman of the Guilford County Board of Commissioners Jeff Phillips said that this is something that the commissioners are now hearing about and he added that he’s looking into the situation.
“It’s a valid frustration in my mind, he said. “It frustrated me as well. It certainly is a priority.”
Phillips said that, speaking for himself at least, he was going to encourage Animal Services to go ahead and start using the money for its intended purpose.
It’s kind of strange to see the money just sitting there unused month after month given the tug of war over the money the county engaged in for almost a year after the huge UAC shelter scandal.
In February of this year, as part of the UAC’s dissolution proceedings, the UAC surprised everyone – especially Guilford County officials – by suddenly and quietly handing over the Susie’s Fund money to another group for administration – the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals of the Triad (SPCAT). Both Susie’s Fund and about $32,000 in a building fund to help pay for a planned new county animal shelter were given to the SPCAT.
Soon after, however, the attorney general’s office froze those funds and instructed the SPCAT to keep the money separate from other SPCAT funds until state officials could complete their investigation. At that time, Guilford County filed a request with the North Carolina Department of Justice for the state to deliver the $265,000 in both funds to the county.
Guilford County promised at that time that it would set up a “publicly assessable website” that would disclose the nature of all expenditures of existing funds and future donations. (No one realized back then that that process would be so easy because there would be zero transactions to account for.)
In a letter that Guilford County Attorney Mark Payne sent via email on March 15, 2016 to the attorney general’s office, he wrote that “the most efficient and effective” way for the funds to be used as intended would be for the SPCAT to “distribute the funds in their entirety to Guilford County.”
Payne’s letter explained the rationale for requesting the state to turn Susie’s Fund, as well as the building fund, over to the county.
“These funds,” Payne’s letter reads, “came from individuals donating money to the UAC for the express purpose of assisting in the design and construction of a new Guilford County Animal Shelter, veterinary services and care for animals that come into the Shelter resulting from severe trauma, neglect and cruelty situations respectively.”
Payne also stated in his letter that Guilford County is “most appreciative of the Attorney General’s interest in soliciting Guilford County’s opinion on the best way to finally effect the wishes of the donors and to comply with statutory mandates in the distribution of the assets.” He wrote that it was his view that all parties involved had the same goal of seeing that the funds being used in the way that donors intended.
At that time, some animal lovers expressed fears that Guilford County might shift funds around and use Susie’s Fund for some other purpose. However, now their fears are starting to have more to do with county bureaucracy hindering use of the fund at all.