Sitting inside Catawba County Animal Services manager Jay Blatche's office is a sign that says the greatness of a person can be judged by the way he treats animals.
More people in Catawba County appear to be acting on that principal judging from an increase in the number of calls reporting animal cruelty.
Blatche said the county's animal shelter has received more calls recently regarding allegations of possible animal abuse or neglect.
"People are being a lot more proactive, for whatever reason that may be," Blatche said.
But not all the calls for animal cruelty are substantiated. While the calls for service have increased, Blatche said animal cruelty hasn't increased in Catawba County.
The shelter has seen an increasing trend of people who want to save their animals before the creatures are subjected to inhumane situations, such as lack of food or shelter.
Blatche said about 70 percent of animals who come into the shelter are owner-surrenders, meaning the pets' owners can no longer afford to care for them.
Animal cruelty laws
State law outlines misdemeanor cruelty to animals as offenses that "overdrive, overload, would injure, torment, kill or deprive of necessary sustenance."
A felony animal cruelty conviction means the offenders, "shall maliciously kill, or cause or procure to be killed, any animal by intentional deprivation of necessary sustenance."
Blatche said animal cruelty charges vary depending on the scale and severity of the situation.
"If you know you have food for the animal, and you left it to starve on the chain, that's one thing," he said. "But if you came to us and said you didn't have food to feed it, that's another."
Catawba County also has animal cruelty ordinances, and people found in violation of those laws are guilty of misdemeanors. Any animal found to be suffering mistreatment can be taken by the county's animal control officer and impounded, according to the Catawba County Animal Services website. The animal can be returned to its owner when the offending conditions are rectified, but animal control officers can impose other restrictions on the owner.
Other violations of Catawba County's animal cruelty ordinance include:
-Failure to provide adequate food and/or water;
-Providing an animal with inadequate shelter, which includes underneath houses or outside steps, inside or underneath motor vehicles, inside cardboard boxes, and inside shelters surrounded by waste.
Catawba County's animal cruelty ordinance includes several examples of animal cruelty, including but not limited to:
-Allowing a rope, collar or chain to become embedded in an animal's neck;
-Intentionally allowing animals to engage in a fight;
-Failure or refusal to obtain medical treatment for an animal when such treatment is needed;
-Leaving an animal in an enclosed vehicle where continued exposure to temperatures inside the vehicle are dangerous for the animal.
Animal cruelty in the news
More people are becoming aware of animal cruelty, in light of several highly publicized cases in Catawba County.
In February 2010, Newton Police Department responded to reports of horse carcasses on a farm off N.C. 10. The woman leasing the land, Annie Stein, was arrested and charged with three counts of animal cruelty.
Stein was found guilty of animal cruelty in May 2010 and was sentenced to two days in jail and two years probation. During her probationary period, she isn't allowed to own a pet and was ordered to do community service at the Humane Society.
Another ongoing animal cruelty case involves allegations that the remains of 100 beagles were found on the property of a trainer in Maiden.
The O-N-E first reported in March that county animal control officers discovered dead and starving dogs on 68-year-old Billy Hewitt's property.
Catawba County Animal Control compiled a report of its findings and submitted that information to the District Attorney's Office. Blatche told The O-N-E on Tuesday that he expected to speak with an assistant district attorney for more information about whether charges will be filed in the case.
Meanwhile, beagles rescued from the property are growing stronger at the county's animal shelter. One beagle in particular has bounced back from his injuries after receiving treatment at a veterinarian's office.
"He's eating and playing with his kennel mates," Blatche said.