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The Daily Tar Heel

Orange County animal shelter's small cages cause some concern

Photo: Orange County animal shelter's small cages cause some concern  (Elizabeth Mendoza)
Animals at Orange County's Animal Services Center.

The online photo caption on a previous version of this story incorrectly state that the standars were Board of Orange County Commissioners’. The Daily Tar Heel apologizes for the error.

Robin Cutson went to the Orange County Animal Services Center determined to offer a home to a cat in need. But when she arrived she was shocked at how small the cages were.

“It appears that the shelter was built more for the people that work there than for the animals,” she said.

On Aug. 21, Cutson, along with Margaret Heath and Chapel Hill Town Councilwoman Laurin Easthom, presented a report to the Orange County Board of Commissioners outlining the main issues at the shelter.

According to the report, the cages at the shelter did not meet the standards for humane housing for cats, as outlined by the Association of Shelter Veterinarians.

“You want to enlarge the cages but not reduce the number of animals that you are holding, because then you would have to euthanize them,” Cutson said.

The Guidelines for Standards of Care in Animal Shelters state cats should have a minimum of 30 cubic feet of space and there should be no less than two feet between the cat’s resting area, food area and litter box.

But these standards might not always be in line with the shelter’s resources and animal population, said Robert Marotto, animal services director.

“To my knowledge, there is not a cat enclosure on the market that meets the Association for Shelter Veterinarian’s standards,” Marotto said.

The Animal Services Advisory Board, believes the standards are unrealistic and unfitting for a county shelter, said Kristine Bergstrand, the chairwoman of the board.

She said the report made suggestions based on the practices of a local rescue organization, but those ideas wouldn’t be workable in a shelter.

Rescue organizations don’t have to take every animal that comes to the door, but can choose animals that are healthy and readily adoptable, Bergstrand said.

But Marotto said county shelters have an open admission policy that makes them take in all animals brought to them.

And rescue shelters usually run on more flexible private budgets and donations, while the shelter relies on county funding.

The Animal Services Department runs on a budget of a little more than $1.6 million and about half of the money is allocated to fund the shelter and its operations, Marotto said.

Animal services has not seen a significant increase in funding since the 2007-2008 approved budget.

He said when funding won’t allow for both comfort and animal safety, the well being of the animals takes priority.

Marotto said the shelter provides medical care for animals that come in with infectious diseases.

The shelter aspires to meet the expectations of the Association of Shelter Veterinarians with the staff and funding available, but it will be a gradual change, Bergstrand said.

“We have been working very hard in this issue and we’ve been taking it very seriously,” Marotto said. “We are responsible and we are very much committed to proceeding with these efforts.”

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