A few years ago, a dog died in sweltering car as its out-of-town owner attended a high school graduation.
Durham County Animal Control officials were aware of the dog in the hot car, but they could not save the pet.
That would change under a provisions that the Board of County Commissioners will consider at its Monday meeting.
Last month, commissioners approved transferring oversight of Animal Control from the county’s General Services division to the Sheriff’s Office. The change will be effective July 1.
The change in leadership follows a recent investigation into Durham County Animal Control that found shoddy record-keeping, a lack of standardized training, and written orders to staff that sometimes contradicted state law.
The investigation also found a backlog of about 20,000 rabies certificates that had not been entered into the system. The investigation, which started in early December, followed complaints from representatives of the nonprofit Coalition to Unchain Dogs.
Cindy Bailey, the then director of Animal Control for more than 10 years, abruptly resigned on Dec. 20, 2012, saying she had concerns about the way upper management was handling the investigation.
On Monday commissioners will consider an overhaul of the local Animal Control ordinance. The overhaul seeks to streamline processes, designate the sheriff or his designee to take over various administrative duties, and gives animal control officers recourse when they fear escalating temperature in a vehicle could threaten a pet’s life.Proposed changes
The overhaul includes a section that would criminalize such situations, and ultimately allow an Animal Control officer or deputy to break the window of a vehicle and take the pet to a veterinarian if the temperature appears to be threatening its well-being, said Marie Inserra, an assistant county attorney.
Officers would decide how to move forward by evaluating whether the dog was in distress by documenting the temperature outside and in the interior of the car, along with a visual assessment, Inserra said.
The problem of animals left in hot cars has always been high priority among the Animal Control Advisory Board, Inserra said.
“I have done a lot of research on it, simply because the advisory has really held my feet to the fire,” Inserra said.
Inserra said the advisory board didn’t find comfort in the fact that the owner who left the pet in a vehicle would face a criminal charge if the pet died.
“They didn’t really think it was an adequate remedy, because they wanted to save the dog,” Inserra said.
In general, such situations would be a Class 3 misdemeanor, but could escalate to felony case in certain situations, Inserra said.A ‘more efficient system’
So far the transition from General Services to the Sheriff’s Office has been very smooth, said County Manager Mike Ruffin.
Ruffin attributes the transition’s success to Sgt. Brendan Hartigan’s leadership and oversight. Hartigan, a former Animal Control officer who now works for the Sheriff’s Office took over Animal Control after Bailey stepped down.
Some other changes associated with the Sherriff’s Office taking over animal control enforcement include a digitalized tracking system for calls, expanded response time to complaints, and an overall more efficient program, Ruffin said.
Currently, Animal Control now accepts calls from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. weekdays.
Calls outside those hours go to the Durham Police Department or the Sheriff’s Office. Under the change, Animal Control officers would take calls for about 17 hours per day, Hartigan has said.
Over time and through attrition, Animal Control officers would become deputies.
Commissioners have applauded the changes.
“It’s a much better and more efficient system,” Ruffin said. “It is just an improvement all around.”