Taylor Heeden, Chatham News + Record
The county’s Animal Resource Center — a target of critics of Sheriff Mike Roberson during his successful re-election campaign this year — has demonstrated measurable successes over the last few years.
That’s according to Roberson and ARC supporters, despite what they say is a lack of funding and staffing from the county.
“The Sheriff’s Office Animal Resource Center (ARC) is making a positive impact for animals and families across the county,” Roberson told the News + Record during his campaign.
Before the Sheriff’s Office annexed the ARC in 2019, euthanasia rates for the animals in the shelter were more than 50% (579 animals) in 2017 and 43% (613 animals) in 2018. Adoption rates in 2017 were also low, with fewer than 40% (447 animals) of animals entering the shelter being adopted out.
Chatham County resident and animal activist Rev. Terry Dorsey was one of the community members who advocated for the formation of the ARC. He helped found “Guardians of Angels” in 2011 — a former 501(c)3 formed to advocate for the construction of the adoption center to county commissioners.
The organization worked to mobilize and rally commissioners to set aside funding to build a state-of-the-art facility to house the ARC. Dorsey said he and the organization worked with former Chatham Commissioner Brian Bock to help gain board members’ support for the adoption center proposal, which cost $5.5 million.
“He and I, we had a lot of breakfasts together, and he was an animal advocate,” Dorsey said. “He got the Republicans (on the board) to spend that money.”
While the Guardians got the adoption center they advocated for, it was hard to predict what the ARC would look like years later.
Roberson had been asked for his department to take over the ARC for several years, but it wasn’t annexed into the Sheriff’s Office’s jurisdiction until 2019 — kicking off an internal review of how previous directors operated the shelter, according to Sheriff’s Department Communications Officer Lt. Sara Pack.
“A thorough evaluation of the existing facility, standards and procedures revealed cause for concern,” she said. “Multiple directors had unsuccessfully requested additional staffing, funding and other resources, leading to an ongoing struggle to meet the growing demand for services. It was clear the issue would take time, dedication, and a clear vision to address going forward.”
Roberson asked for nine new positions to add to his 12-person staff — for a total of 21 — in the 2020-21 fiscal year budget; commissioners gave him two.
The current budget for operating the ARC is below what Roberson requested. For 2022-23 fiscal year, the ARC was allotted about $1.7 million, which includes capital expenses, salaries for ARC attendants and enforcement staff (AROs). The operating budget from that $1.7 million is just more than $480,000, making resources tight for the county animal shelter.
The county’s budget process goes through various phases of design, including department presentations, workshopping sessions and more. The past couple of years’ budgets have focused on incoming growth, specifically in regards to VinFast’s proposed plant at the Triangle Innovation Point megasite in Moncure.
“We continue to experience rapid development, including the recent announcement that electric vehicle manufacturer VinFast will be locating its U.S. production facility at the Triangle Innovation Point (TIP) East megasite in Moncure,” Chatham County Manager Dan LaMontagne said in a previous statement in June.
The funding Roberson requested may not have been fulfilled to his liking, but there were some positive trends at the shelter. The euthanasia rate was cut in half to 29% (270 animals) in 2020 and then fell to 21% (204 animals) in 2021. In addition, the adoption rate went from just below 40% in 2017 to more than 60% (615 animals) in 2021. Roberson and his staff believes those trends are because of a combination of various factors, including the new ARC facility, which is located on 725 County Landfill Rd.
The ARC opened its new facility in Pittsboro back in October 2021, but the organization has relied heavily on other partnering organizations to help with the growing demand for animal-centric services.
“We are currently in the process of expanding our programs and services and have partnered with a number of animal experts, medical professionals, businesses, rescue groups, non-profits, educators and volunteers to take our vision for the ARC to the next level,” Roberson told the News + Record during his re-election campaign. “Thanks to such partnerships, we have been able to provide unprecedented outreach to the community, including free or low-cost vaccinations, microchipping/tagging services, training, and pet supply distribution to those in need.”
Dorsey said he is proud of the direction Roberson and his department have taken the ARC. He said, however, he wants to see county officials be more engaged and willing to help find the solution the staffing issues at the ARC.
“When they (county commissioners) when they built the shelter, they didn’t anticipate the staff needs,” Dorsey said. “Commissioners need to allocate more funding for more staffing.”
ARC Lieutenant Brandon Jones said as an organization, the ARC is working with other organizations, as well as local businesses, to help provide low-cost or cost-free vaccinations, spay/neuter operations and more.
“We also hold pet adoption ‘Eat & Greet’ events at local restaurants and promote responsible pet ownership at community events across the county,” Jones said. “But we have much bigger plans we are eager to implement once our team is fully staffed. Whether it is a question or concern or call for service, every need is important.”
According to ARC data provided to the News + Record, one in four of the dog-related calls the organization receives originate from low-income, densely populated areas. According to Roberson and ARC staff, this may be a result of pet owners in low-income areas struggling to keep pets adequately secured, spayed and/or neutered, as well as up-to-date on vaccinations — all of which incur sometimes unwanted costs.
To address this issue, Roberson said he wants to start an “Education and Prevention” program in his upcoming term as sheriff, which would focus on low-income communities within Chatham to help pet owners stay up to date on their pets’ medical and physical needs.
Jones said programs like the proposed Education and Prevention initiative would open a realm of possibilities for the ARC, including the addition of more staff and services. For that to happen, however, Jones said pet owners and the community need to be attentive to the needs of their pets.
“Every ARC pet must be spayed/neutered prior to adoption — this is vital to our mission … However, the spay/neuter process consumes substantial time and resources and often requires us to hold animals for extended periods as we wait for an available veterinary doctor,” he said. “So we encourage pet owners to do their part to spay/neuter their pets as soon as medically possible to avoid overpopulation and unintentional flooding of animal care facilities down the road. Accidents happen, but we should all do our part to help prevent them.”
Dorsey said educating the public about the importance of neutering or spaying animals is crucial to alleviating the load on ARC’s staff. He said if commissioners were to establish a county-wide approach to educating Chathamites on these issues, the ARC would be in a much better place.
“They need to not only fund Animal Services, but both the county and towns need to start taking much more seriously. animal issues such as breeding, tethering, stray abandonment, and providing funding for spay and neuter clinic right there at the shelter,” Dorsey said. “They’re just going to have to get more serious at several levels.”
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