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Animal shelter strategy needs rational planning
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Forsyth County News


A powerful argument can be made that Forsyth County’s biggest single need in terms of government facilities is a jail. The current jail is antiquated and far too small for the county’s size.

On more than one occassion voters have turned down special financing options to allow construction of a jail, and as a result county commissioners have pretty much turned a blind eye to that particular need and pretend it doesn’t exist.

Commissioners have, however, found time to discuss another sort of holding facility — a county animal shelter.

There’s nothing new to that particular topic. County officials 15 years ago were planning to build a new animal control facilty ... and they still are.

The ludicrous nature of the current discussion became obvious last month, when Commissioner Jim Harrell made an unsuccessful motion to accept a low bidder’s proposal to build a shelter. The only problem was that commissioners had not yet reached agreement on what sort of shelter to build, or where, or how it would be operated, or by whom.

The county has for years contracted with a third party to operate an animal shelter. Last week it renewed the contract with veterinarian Lanier Orr for another year, buying more time to decide what to do. While the current operation may have its critics, truth be told the county owes Orr a debt of gratitude for providing the county an animal control option when elected officials for more than a decade have failed to find an alternative.

The topic of animal control generates impassioned rhetoric. At one end of the spectrum are those who think money spent on abandoned animals is wasted and that the county should be quick to capture and euthanize. At the other end are those who feel no animal should ever be killed, and that with sufficient time and effort a loving home can be found for every pet.

The majority fall somewhere in the middle, eschewing any mistreatment of animals but at the same time recognizing the impracticality of providing shelter and food for every animal seized until willing adopters can be found.

This is not a problem unique to Forsyth County, as several surrounding counties have held the same debates and disscussions.
Many of the options being discussed here have been tried in nearby counties, with varying degrees of success and failure. There are lessons there for those who will take the time to study them.

Before commissioners can make an intelligent decsion, there must be a consensus on what is a reasonable role for government to play in dealing with shelter animals. Without agreement on that point, it will be impossible to put forth a logical plan of action.

Eventually, commissioners must decide if they are to operate a shelter as part of the county government, or contract with a vendor. If the service is to be contracted, should the vendor be a non-profit animal group such as the Humane Society, or a for-profit business?

Once those decisions are made, then commissioners can decide whether they will build a shelter, what it should cost, how it should be designed, and what amenities it should include. To vote on funding first, before resolving other philosophical issues, is to put the cart before horse, in this case most likely a horse without a home.