Animal shelter re-opens

Two hours after the Catawba County Animal Shelter re-opened, 20 animals were surrendered to the shelter’s care.

At this rate, the shelter, which has a capacity of 78 animals, will return to its overcrowded conditions within weeks.

“In two weeks, we’ll be back to where we were before,” said Jay Blatche, Catawba County Animal Services manager.

The shelter re-opened Tuesday after a complete sanitation of the facility following the outbreak of two mystery illnesses, which ultimately led to about 200 cats and dogs being euthanized.

“We had people waiting in the parking lot for us to open (at 11 a.m.),” Blatche said.

Although the illness outbreak and subsequent facility sanitation didn’t prevent some people from giving their animals to the animal shelter, others gathered at the 1924 Courthouse in Newton during the Catawba County Board of Commissioners meeting for an explaination about what they called “mass killings” of Catawba County shelter animals.

“The public needs to know that these animals didn’t have to die, but it was the agenda of Mr. Blatche to have a new shelter,” said Deborah Laux, an animal rescuer who spoke during a public comment period about the animal shelter.  

She told commissioners she thought Blatche created the illnesses in an effort to rid the shelter of animals.
Blatche called the accusations ridiculous.

“Why would we do that? We don’t want to kill animals,” Blatche said. “We’re going to have as many animals as we had before in a few weeks. It just doesn’t make sense.”

Catawba County Emergency Services Director Bryan Blanton gave the Board of Commissioners an update about the shelter, where he outlined events leading up to and following the mysterious illnesses’ outbreak.

The shelter experienced a 117 percent increase in animal deaths and a 134 percent increase in euthanasia due to illness in comparing Aug. 1-19 to the same dates in August 2009.

From Aug. 1-19, 76 dogs and 67 cats were euthanized due to illness, which is almost two times the number euthanized from illness at the same time last year.

Animals suffering from the illness inside the shelter received treatment, but they died despite treatment received.

“The shelter won’t let a sick animal suffer,” Blanton said.  

While the decision to euthanize animals exposed to the illnesses was difficult, Blanton said the choice was made in the best interest of future shelter animals and other Catawba County animals.

“Clinical medicine is very different than shelter medicine,” Blanton said. “With shelter medicine, you have to look at what’s best for the most (animals).”

Officials also took into consideration the possibility that the illness could spread beyond clinic walls and into other locations, like veterinarian clinics and rescue groups, and infect a larger portion of Catawba County’s animal population.

“All those animals need to be protected from exposure, since this illness has proven very difficult to treat,” Blanton said.

Animal shelter officials previously said one illness was responsible for the mysterious deaths of shelter animals. Blanton said Tuesday there are separate illnesses for cats and dogs.

Blanton said the shelter is cleaned three times every day. The animal is removed from its kennel or cage, and the storage area is cleaned with a 5 percent solution of bleach and water and an antiviral agent. This process happens daily in the morning, at lunchtime and at 3 p.m.

Blanton’s presentation, however, left questions unanswered for the citizens who spoke during the meeting’s public comment period.

Anneliese Simmons spoke to commissioners about the possibility of a new shelter near Lowe’s Hardware and Hickory High School in Long View.

She said majority of the animal shelter’s surrenders come from the Hickory area, and by housing shelter animals in Hickory, more residents could adopt the animals.

“The balance would even out if we moved that shelter to Hickory,” she said.