Animal abuse results from irresponsibility, Alamance County faces the consequences

Miriam Williamson

When the Alamance County animal control division received a phone call from a Town of Elon resident about a loose dog “terrorizing” the neighborhood, no one imagined how it would end.

cimg6341Instead of finding a single dog who had escaped from its yard, officers discovered 17 pit bull dogs and puppies crowded into a small backyard. There was only a dog house for the mother dog, and according to neighbors the dogs were only fed once a week.

This immediately became an animal abuse case and the 17 pit bulls were loaded into the back of the Alamance Animal Control Division’s two trucks and taken to the Alamance Animal Shelter.

While there is still no national reporting system for animal abuse cases, compiles most cases from across the country.

Compared to other counties in North Carolina, Alamance does not have an unusually high amount of animal abuse. Buncombe County, in eastern North Carolina, had eight times as many cases. Compared to its neighboring counties, Alamance has fewer cases than Guilford, but more than Chatham.

Regardless of the statistics though, animal abuse is very present in Alamance County. The sherrif’s department reports a high number of incoming calls dedicated to citizens suspecting animal abuse.

Neglect: Lack of education and finances prevent owners from properly caring for their pets

The owner of the pit bulls was charged with 17 counts of animal abuse, related to neglect.

According to the U.S. Humane Society, neglect is when an owner does not provide proper food, water, veterinary care or shelter for an animal for an extended period of time.

“I think a lot of times people are getting caught up in other things and just neglect the animal,” said Matt Evans, deputy of the Alamance County Animal Services division. “You decide to go on a trip, and think ‘Well the dog’s fine.’ Well if no one’s home for a week, how’s the dog getting fed?”

Kurt Lankford, a sergeant with the sherrif’s office and the animal control supervisor said he contributes some of the neglect seen in the county on a lack of education.

cimg6343“People just aren’t aware of what’s required,” Lankford said. “Animals have to have adequate shelter when they are tied out that is accessible at all times, cold or not. And they have to have water provided. Rabies vaccinations are even required by law.”

As the economy worsens, the Alamance Animal Shelter has seen an increase in owners that are unable to care for their animals.

“A lot of people simply can’t take care of their animals,” said Laura Michel, Alamance Animal Shelter outreach coordinator. “We’re just seeing an increase in surrender though, but not abuse or neglect.”

Neglect is the most common form of animal abuse seen in Alamance County, and the majority of calls the Animal Services division receives are complaints that animals aren’t receiving the proper care or shelter.

“The biggest majority is they’re not being feed or not getting the stuff they need,” said Rudy York, an animal control officer. “Especially with cold weather coming up… just not having the right shelter or bedding.”

While most of the animals involved in any sort of animal abuse case are dogs, the county sometimes faces abuse towards livestock.

“It’s expensive taking care of livestock,” York said. “With horses and cattle, that migh just be that they can’t afford them and they don’t have the ability to take care of them.”

In addition to protecting the animals, the Alamance County Animal Shelter puts a lot of emphasis on educating pet owners.

“These guys [animal control officers] work hard to try to educate people,” Michel said. “They’ll go and investigate and try to talk to the owner. Explain what would be a better idea to take care of the animal – whether it’s provide shelter or make sure the animal can get to the water. They work very hard to educate the people first and help them.”

Michel and York both cite a misconception of animal control that makes them seem unforgiving.

“It’s the idea of the ‘dog catcher,’” Michel said.

York has even been called that on a few occasions. But this is far from the truth.

“The last thing we want to do is take an animal,” York said. “If we can talk to them [owners] and give them a better understanding and check back and make sure the animal is getting what it needs, that’s far better than just ripping the animal away.”

The first thing officers do is always look at the situation and gather information. Unless it is a truly dangerous situation for the animal, the officers usually work with owners to try to rectify the situation. Then, they will return later to make sure adjustments have been made. But sometimes the animals still must be removed from the situation, regardless of whether or not the owner is OK with it.

“People don’t want to give up their animals,” York said. “In most cases it’s about like taking a child from somebody. You’ve got people who are abusing children but they’re not going to let you go in there and take their child. They’re going to put up a fight. We try to do it in the best interest of the animal with the least harshness for the person. A lot of times people love their dogs, but it’s like some people love their kids, but they just don’t give them what they should.”

In the case of the pit bulls, the dogs were seized immediately.

Abandoment: Owners unable to care for their animals surrender or desert their pets

Sometimes lack of funds to care for an animal results in neglect, but other times it leads to abandonment.

Of the 655 cases of neglect or abandonment reported in the US in 2008, 19 of these occurred in North Carolina, according to Neglect or abandonment also had the highest number of cases of any type of abuse in both the US and North Carolina.

According to Evans, at least 75 percent of the animals at the shelter are lost or strays.

“People are just dumping them out with the way the economy is,” Evans said. “Animals are not being fed. The way the economy is, people are not taking care of their animals.”

Because the Alamance Animal Shelter is a public facility, it must accept every animal that is brought. But the shelter and the animal control division for the entire county are operated by the city of Burlington. So space and funding are limited.

“We don’t have the luxury to be a no-kill shelter,” Michel said. “There is far more intake than space, and not every animal is adoptable. I think it really depends case to case, each animal. If it’s a case that the animal has simply been neglected and hasn’t had the basic necessities and it’s something that can be rectified, and we can put it up for adoption, then we will. But if it’s physical abuse it’s just going to depend on the extent of the abuse.”

The Alamance Animal Shelter takes in animals from owners who can no longer care for their pets, but there is no guarantee for what will happen to the animal. With little space available, it is not always possible to provide food and shelter for the amount of animals that come into the shelter.

Animals are also picked up that are strays. If there is any ID though, the owner will be contacted, so it is important to keep IDs up to date.

In regards to the shelter’s euthanasia policy, three things must be determined about an animal that has either been seized or surrendered: space, medical state and behavior. Of the more than 8,600 animals brought into the shelter each year, approximately 6,000 must be euthanized.

“This is not a problem we created,” Michel said. “This is a problem we have to deal with.”

Physical Abuse: Pets face the consequences of owners’ agression and brutality

While much of the animal abuse in Alamance County is not directly physical cruelty, there are still cases, especially related to dog fighting.

North Carolina had the third highest number of dog fighting cases of any other state in the US so far in 2008.

While there is no efficient evidence that any physical cruelty or dog fighting was involved in the recent case at the Alamance Animal Shelter with the 17 pit bulls, according to Evans, the dogs were scarred, which could be a result of dog fighting. Also, while none of the dogs were aggressive towards humans, they have all shown aggression towards the other dogs.

“There is a bad perception of pit bulls, but really it’s just the way they’re raised,” Evans said about the animals’ aggression. “You raise up a dog like you raise a child.”

Like Evans, Michel said she believes the common stereotype of pit bulls causes people to think of scary or mean dogs, but in reality, it just depends on the environment an animal is raised in.

“This is what the breed has become,” she said.

Multiple studies prove a direct link between domestic violence and animal abuse. While some, like the one conducted by the University of Illinois College of Veterinary Medicine, compare the link between animal abuse and domestic violence within the same household, Michel noted the link between victims and future abusers.

“You hear about teenagers doing these horrible things to animals, and that’s just the cycle starting all over again,” Michel said. “More than likely if you look, that child may have been a victim of abuse.”

Other forms of physical abuse and cruelty have been reported, and the officers’ jobs are to make informed decisions about what is the best option for the owner and animal.

“If it’s true cruelty… if a dog’s life is endangered, these guys [animal control officers] have the authority to go in and take it,” Michel said. “If it’s really scary they can have the police come and arrest them and take them to jail. Then the dog has to stay here until the court case is taken care of.”

Animals removed from abusive situations must be held until any pending court cases are resolved.

Animals removed from abusive situations must be held until any pending court cases are resolved.

Regardless of the type of abuse, the shelter is required to hold animals for a certain amount of time, and animals must be held if a court case is unresolved. The 17 pit bulls were taken back to the animal shelter until the case is fully resolved. The owner was found guilty, but is appealing the case, so the dogs will remain in the shelter’s custody.

“When you’re dealing with live evidence, it’s not like you can put it on the shelf and go back and look at it,” Lankford said. “The sooner we can make a disposition the better.”

In each case, the judge and shelter must determine whether or not the animal is fit for adoption or if they must be euthanized.

Several of the pit bulls have died while in the shelter’s custody, due to preexisting health problems. If the owner is still denied custody of the dogs after the appeals, some of the remaining dogs may be suitable for adoption.

The owner has returned to see the dogs since they were seized from his home, but still refuses to acknowledge that he did anything wrong.

“Hopefully he’s a little more educated than he was,” Lankford said.

If anyone in Alamance County suspects animal abuse, they are encouraged to call the Animal Services division immediately. Even if the officers do not find any evidence of abuse, they will investigate to ensure the animals’ safety.

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One Comment on “Animal abuse results from irresponsibility, Alamance County faces the consequences”

  1. Janna Says:

    Due to the massive volume of articles I will be reading over the next few days, I won’t be giving you a lot of deep commentary and some of the stories you have posted won’t be getting any comments added. I want you to know that I have read and appreciate the content you have developed on your site.

    You have some good reporting in this piece. It is an important issue and you ask some good questions of people who are knowledgable. Look through the story one more time for typos or other errors. For instance, you left a letter out of the word Abandonment in one of the subheds. You’re good at using direct quotes and transitions in your work!

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