The Guilford County Animal Shelter has been reprimanded by the Animal Welfare Section of the North Carolina Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services over the treatment of a dog with a broken leg, inadequacies in record keeping, a failure to administer rabies shots in a timely matter and other concerns.
State animal welfare officials have filed a formal complaint with the North Carolina Veterinary Medical Board and notified the Guilford County Sheriff’s Department as well as asked it to investigate to determine if any criminal charges should be filed in the case.
Guilford County Sheriff BJ Barnes said his officers had investigated and no charges would be filed.
In a Thursday, April 20 letter that was hand delivered to the Guilford County manager’s office, Patricia Norris, the director of the state Animal Welfare Section, gave notice to Guilford County of the violations that state investigators found at the shelter and she also made the county aware of the state’s subsequent actions.
Norris is the same director who, in 2015, found sweeping violations and over 60 instances of animal neglect and cruelty by the United Animal Coalition (UAC), the nonprofit that ran the shelter for nearly two decades before that huge scandal. As a result of those findings, Guilford County took over operation of the shelter two years ago and the new allegations from the state are especially disheartening given the attempts Guilford County has been making to rebuild its reputation in animal services.
Norris sent the April 20 letter to Guilford County Deputy Manager Clarence Grier, who oversees Guilford County Animal Services. The letter stated that, as a result of a complaint over a dog with a crushed leg, the Animal Welfare Section had opened an investigation that found other issues.
“The review of 17 medical records showed inadequacies of documentation in all records,” Norris wrote. “In addition, 3 of the 17 animals did not receive the required rabies vaccination within 15 days of intake.”
“The investigation also revealed that a dog with a comminuted femoral fracture was treated by the Shelter Veterinarian. However, AWS [Animal Welfare Section] has serious concerns about adequacy of the veterinary care and staff monitoring of this dog. In addition, at the time of the site visit, 2 animals were observed to have easily visible medical conditions that, based on the review of the medical records and interview of the veterinarian, did not appear to be receiving adequate veterinary care and/or monitoring.”
The letter referred to an “apparent lack of protocols and procedures to ensure the timely reporting and monitoring of the veterinary medical care,” and it also stated that, though the shelter did provide some veterinary care to the dog with the broken leg, that care was not adequate.
The letter states, “AWS understands that the shelter did have the animal with the comminuted femoral fracture seen and treated by GCAS Veterinarian, a licensed veterinarian. However, AWS has serious concerns about the adequacy of the veterinary care. Given the severity of the apparent failure of the GCAS Veterinarian to provide adequate veterinary care to a severely injured animal in the care and custody of the shelter, I have filed a formal complaint against this veterinarian with the NC Board of Veterinary Medicine. I have also notified the Guilford County Sheriff’s Office of this incident.”
Barnes acknowledged that his department had been contacted by the state’s Animal Welfare Section.
“They wanted to see if there were any criminal charges,” the sheriff said.
He said that, in response, the Sheriff’s Department conducted an investigation but found that it was not a situation that warranted criminal prosecution. He said it was more of a case where there was a difference in opinion concerning the proper way to care for the injured animal.
“There was never any intent to harm,” Barnes said. “The dog was not whining or complaining.”
Barnes also pointed out that most people are well aware that he is not soft on those who mistreat animals. When former Guilford County Shelter Director Marsha Williams was found by the state to have allowed multiple cases of animal neglect and cruelty at the Guilford County shelter, Barnes was determined to see her prosecuted.
Guilford County District Attorney Doug Henderson said at that time that there wasn’t enough evidence to prosecute Williams, and Barnes and Henderson exchanged some harsh words in the media after Barnes held a press conference – with former Gov. Pat McCrory’s wife Ann there as well. At that press conference, Barnes argued why charges should be filed against Williams.
Barnes said this new matter involving the treatment of the dog with a broken leg was in no way reminiscent of what happened in 2015. The sheriff said the current case was more akin to a disagreement over the level of medication an animal should receive.
He said that, just as people vary with regard to the amount of painkiller they should take for pain, the same is true with animals.
Barnes noted that he has two rods in his own body from surgeries he’s had, but he rarely takes prescribed pain medication, while many who have had the same procedure take quite a bit. He said one also has to make that same call with regard to animals and the level of painkillers.
Barnes said that, given what happened in 2015, it does seem as though the shelter would be careful about keeping accurate documentation, but he added that the flipside is that, given that shelter’s history, the state is keeping a very close eye on it.
In the huge scandal that rocked Guilford County government in 2015, some of the charges concerned poor documentation and a failure to treat animals with obvious medical conditions. The UAC also ran the Davidson County shelter at that time and the state found many similar issues in that county as well. Williams and two other shelter workers who worked at both the Guilford County and Davidson County shelters were charged in Davidson County with felony cruelty as the result of a failure to treat or euthanize a dog, Nana, with a broken back and other severe issues. Two weeks ago, Williams pled guilty to lesser charges and got a suspended sentence. The county was glad to have the book closed on that incident so it could move forward.
The new state investigation of the Guilford County shelter began with a complaint, according to Norris’ letter. That investigation included, in addition to the shelter visit, interviews with shelter staff and an examination of records at the shelter.
The state has also recommended that the Guilford County shelter consult with other shelters in the state who have implemented record keeping systems that provide safeguards and procedures ensuring the shelter’s records are in compliance with state regulations at all times.
The letter Norris sent contained a subhead that had, in bold print and underlined, “Notice of Warning,” and it listed the administrative codes the state maintains the county shelter violated.
News of the April 20 notice to the shelter will no doubt not sit well with the animal welfare advocates in the county, many of whom have been critical of the shelter in recent months. They have aired complaints at Animal Services Advisory Board meetings, on Facebook and in the media. Some concerns have been about transparency, euthanasia policies, the way in which the county works with rescue groups, and a sudden mass firing of employees earlier this year. In the wake of that firing, the shelter was dramatically understaffed.
Grier and Guilford County Animal Services Director Drew Brinkley have explained the county’s animal shelter practices to animal welfare advocates and the media but there has still been a lot of discord. At the Animal Services Advisory Board meeting last month, it was standing room only and the county took the unusual step of having an armed security officer at that meeting.
Barnes said the Guilford County Animal Shelter has been working hard to correct some problems of the past but it is not an easy job with the number of animals coming in and the limited resources.
One thing that is expected to help in that regard is a new $9 million shelter the county is planning to build. The Guilford County Board of Commissioners is discussing whether to build that shelter at the current location at 4525 W. Wendover Ave., or in a second location that has not been disclosed.