Robeson Co Animal Shelter – Good News and Bad News

North Carolina:  If you’ve been following the Robeson County Animal Shelter’s fight to keep the “heartstick” as its main method of killing pets, you will probably be as surprised as I was to learn that they have suddenly given it up:

The Health Department last week quietly changed its euthanasia policy at the Robeson County Animal Shelter, conceding to animal rights advocates’ demands to euthanize intravenously rather than with heart stick.

This is good news although the shelter is still threatening to open hours later than its usual time of 10am (yo, that’s already late) to allow for extra killing time needed for IV injections.

Then there’s this troubling bit:

The intravenous method will cost less: The Health Department will no longer have to purchase ketamine, a sedative.

An animal cannot be sedated during intravenous euthanization because sedation reduces blood flow, which collapses veins so they’re more difficult to find. Instead, one worker holds the animal, and another finds a vein to inject a shot sodium pentobarbital.

I’m not a Vet but I thought one of the advantages of ketamine was that “[i]t can block nerve paths without depressing respiratory and circulatory functions” – is this incorrect?  Also, what about all the Vets and shelters who give a sedative prior to the IV injection – are they doing it wrong?

We have been lead to believe that sedation followed by IV injection is the most humane method of relieving suffering via euthanasia.  If the Robeson County Animal Shelter knows different, I wish they’d share with the class.

Party of No, Your Table is Ready

Note:  For background on the Robeson Co Animal Shelter in NC, see posts here, here and here.

On Wednesday, NC State Rep. Pat McElraft and two pet advocates met with shelter manager Jeff Bass and Robeson Co officials to discuss recommendations for changes to improve the shelter:

A pattern arose during the two-hour meeting: Advocates presented an issue they wanted addressed, and county officials explained why it wasn’t feasible.

All major requests were denied by the county on the basis of a wait-and-see-what-the-HSUS-says-in-their-review excuse.  But that HSUS review is by no means a done deal:

The Humane Society shelter review presented another issue: The national organization wants the county to pay for part of the cost, but so far its proposed costs have been too high. [Bill] Smith [director of the Health Department] said he won’t sign a contract until it’s affordable.

McElraft was surprised the organization wanted payment at all; she felt that could compromise the legitimacy of the review, raising questions about impartiality. She emphasized that she trusts the national Humane Society’s ability to conduct a solid review, and said she would call the organization and try to reduce or eliminate the county’s cost.

With all the coins in their coffers, I would think HSUS could work something out so that a poor county like Robeson could improve conditions at their shelter.  We’ll see if the state Rep’s arm twisting squeezes any blood from that stone.

Pet advocates’ main issue was the killing of shelter pets by “heartstick” – overdose of barbituates injected directly into the heart of a sedated pet.  Robeson currently has a system where the killing technicians go down the row of kennels and sedate each pet and then “the technician goes down the row and sticks each animal’s heart”:

Smith said if the shelter switched to intravenous, it would have to open two hours later because the method — inserting an IV of sodium pentobarbital into an animal’s vein, which takes two employees — is time consuming.

I don’t know how Robeson Co taxpayers feel about it but at my job, if my boss tells me I have to take on duties X and Y which will mean more work for me, I don’t have the option of a witty riposte such as, “Fine then – we’ll just have to open the office 2 hours later so I can get this extra work done!”  I  am simply required to figure out how to manage the workload I’ve been given because that’s what I’m being paid for.  What are Robeson Co residents paying these yahoos for exactly?

The pet advocates also asked the shelter to switch from Clorox and Ajax to standard veterinary cleansers.  A year’s supply of free veterinary grade cleansers was offered if the shelter would make the switch.  No dice there either.

All in all, a basically fruitless meeting.  The only concession made by the county was an agreement to put softer beds in with puppies – beds they got for free but were apparently not using.  I guess this about sums it up:

At the end of the meeting, [Susan] Barrett asked Bass if he had a dog that she was supposed to adopt on behalf of a friend. She said Bass showed her the paperwork that said the dog was sick and had been euthanized that morning.

Right.  Because we wouldn’t want to get treatment for a sick dog or let his adopter get treatment for him.  That might besmirch the fine reputation of a classy establishment like Robeson.

More on Robeson Co Animal Shelter

There is another article in the local paper regarding allegations of cruelty at the Robeson Co Animal Shelter (RCAS). It’s basically a he said/she said type deal with the shelter manager countering one eyewitness report with this handy retort:

“She did not witness anything. What she thinks she saw was not the truth.”

Beyond the back and forth, there are a couple of noteworthy items:

Robeson Co is paying for the HSUS to come down and evaluate the shelter. Part of the expense is being covered by a “grant” although the article doesn’t give any details on that. It seems a shame that a shelter with less than a $400k annual budget would spend money on getting an evaluation from an organization that does not operate a single shelter. Since RCAS kills roughly 4000 of the 6000 pets they take in each year, I would think they’d want to spend their money on consultants who actually shelter and save pets. But what do I know?

The article ends with the county and Rachelle Dudgeon, a shelter critic, enthusiastically blaming the public for the killing:

One point the county and Dudgeon agree on unequivocally is that the shelter’s problems start with pet owners: “These animals wouldn’t even be in the shelter if people took care of them,” Dudgeon said.

County officials and animal rights advocates both emphasize the necessity of spaying and neutering animals and properly identifying them with collars and tags, which would reduce the number of animals that have to be euthanized.

“Everyone needs to understand that everything that is happening is preventable,” Dudgeon said.

There will always be pets in shelters. Pet owners become incapacitated/die, stray animals reproduce, etc. The idea that if everyone just did what I said, we’d have no need for shelters is fatally flawed.

Preventing unintentional breedings and putting ID on pets are fine ideas but those things are not going to stop the killing.

What is preventable is killing healthy/treatable pets. And you don’t have to pay HSUS to tell you that.

Robeson Co Animal Shelter Inspections

The following info is snipped from state inspections of the Robeson Co Animal Shelter over the past two years. These snippets are summaries – not direct quotes. You can click the links to view the original reports (pdfs). My notes are in parentheses.

April 16, 2008 inspection: 108 enclosures with 54 dogs and 4 cats in the shelter. Cross contamination issues.

April 22, 2008 inspection: 108 enclosures with 33 dogs and 4 cats in the shelter. Pets need resting surfaces. Use large feed trays for resting surfaces if size appropriate.

May 15, 2008 inspection: 108 enclosures with 55 dogs and 15 cats in the shelter. Cross-contamination and resting surfaces issues remain.

August 25, 2008 inspection: 108 enclosures with 43 dogs and 19 cats in the shelter. All runs now have resting platforms. Cross-contamination issues. Sick/injured pets are not being treated or euthanized in a timely manner.

October 2, 2008 inspection: 108 enclosures with 43 dogs and 5 cats in the shelter. Sick pets being euthanized in a more timely manner than previously. (No mention made of sick pets receiving veterinary care.) Cross-contamination issues.

December 16, 2008 inspection: 108 enclosures with 24 dogs and 2 cats in the shelter. Cross-contamination issues.

(No inspection reports listed for 9 month period – were any performed?)

September 8, 2009 Euthanasia inspection report: Animals being killed without being checked for tattoos, identification or microchips first.

September 8, 2009 inspection: 108 enclosures with 27 dogs and 15 cats in the shelter. Awaiting new kennels to address cross-contamination issues.

November 17, 2009 Euthanasia inspection report: The shelter is converting their feed room into a euthanasia room.

November 17, 2009 inspection: 108 enclosures with 29 dogs and 1 cat in the shelter. New kennels have been installed and no issues of cross-contamination.

March 1, 2010 inspection: 108 enclosures with 75 dogs and 10 cats in the shelter. Shelter is using Ajax mixed with Clorox to clean kennels, resting boards and food/water bowls. The Ajax label says the product should not be mixed with chlorine bleach. Irritating fumes present in shelter. Dogs and inspector suffered from eye irritation and discomfort as a result.

March 9, 2010 inspection: 108 enclosures with 30 dogs and 10 cats in the shelter. No longer mixing Clorox and Ajax. Every animal now moved to a clean pen daily. Staff no longer cleaning with animals in cages. (The shelter manager, Jeff Bass, apparently provided the inspector with copies of e-mail complaints he received at this visit. The e-mails are not shown in the pdf. Mr. Bass refers to the e-mails in this letter: “[…]the messages continue to come like “chieu hoi” pamphlets falling from the sky in Vietnam”.)


A few observations: At the time of the above inspections, the shelter was never at capacity. The population ranged from 26 to 85 pets during the time span. With 3 AC officers and 3 employees, I have to wonder why they are killing pets (without checking for chips/tattoos!) when there are empty cages at this facility. And yet:

Bass said that at one time, the shelter was putting down 90 to 95 percent of the animals that came through its doors because of too little space and too few adoptions.

Where is this “too little space” issue? It’s not evident to me from these inspection reports.

I also wonder why there is no mention of getting veterinary care for sick/injured pets. Has the shelter tried to get veterinary care for their pets?

Mixing Ajax with bleach – duh. Even if your mama didn’t tell you to never mix ammonia and bleach and you didn’t bother to read the label on the bottle, you could always check the internets (search for “homemade bombs”). Didn’t it burn the staff’s eyes too?

At any rate, the inspection reports appear to corroborate at least some of the allegations made by eyewitnesses in various online postings about the shelter.

What’s Going on at the Robeson Co Animal Shelter in NC?

An online search turns up countless stories of neglect, cruelty and killings alleged to have taken place at Robeson County Animal Shelter in NC. As with all things posted on the net, you have to judge for yourself what seems credible to you. Stories include:

  • 1997 video of pets being cruelly killed by shelter workers (Warning – graphic)
  • After the lawsuit which followed the video, the shelter reportedly changed its ways. This posting details a 2010 eyewitness account indicating the shelter has not changed and is still inflicting unnecessary cruelty in the killing of pets.
  • 2010 video depicting 73 empty kennels (out of 100) at the shelter yet a dog with a rescue waiting to pull her was killed
  • Another lawsuit is currently being considered against the county by the same complainant as the previous case alleging similar acts of cruelty and neglect by the shelter.

The director of the county health department (responsible for shelter operations) recently sent a letter to a local paper in defense of the shelter. He ends the letter as follows:

There are three animal control officers and three employees at the shelter — with some contract assistance — who take care of the animal needs of a human population of nearly 130,000 people in the largest county in the state. They are typically stressed and stretched. By and large, they remain conscientious of their duty to the residents and the animals. The constant probing and prodding take away any satisfaction in the job.

Is it perfect? Absolutely not. It is good though, it adheres to all standards and licensure requirements, but it could be better. We continue to move toward that goal.

While the opposing sides are far apart, I’m sure most everyone will agree that working towards continued improvement is a worthwhile effort. I wonder if the shelter could make its practices more transparent to the public and thus reduce the perceived “probing and prodding” referred to in the letter. Public shelters should be accountable to the public to my mind. If there was more transparency in the sheltering world, it would go a long way toward reassuring the community that pets are being well cared for which is the main concern I think.

How about it Robeson County – could the shelter make itself more transparent to the public so that the community doesn’t have to rely on internet postings for information on how the shelter cares for pets?

Note: There are numerous posts circulating indicating that ABC News is looking for eyewitness accounts for a story they are doing on the Robeson Co shelter. The posts provide the contact information for someone at ABC. I have contacted the person listed and she does not wish her name and contact info to be posted any further so please do not post it in the comments.