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COVID forces Cumberland County Animal Services to temporarily close

Officials hope the shelter can reopen Monday


Cumberland County Animal Services closed its shelter Monday because of staff shortages from COVID-19 exposures and position vacancies.

The facility has allowed pet owners to make appointments to reclaim lost animals that have been picked up, county officials said.

The temporary closure has affected animal adoptions and some non-urgent field services, officials said.

Animal Services Director Elaine Smith said that at its peak, the department had 15 people out for COVID or other medical  reasons. That is on top of 12 vacancies, she said.

“That’s why things were urgent,’’ Smith said. The two combined amount to half of the department’s 54 positions.

She said she is hopeful that Animal Services can reopen Monday by appointment. She said they hope to be able to make that call by today (Sunday).

It’s been a “rolling situation’’ over the week as some people return to work and others go home not feeling well, Smith said. That puts them in a wait-and-see situation to see if that person may test positive for COVID, she said.

Animal Services has relied on teamwork and help from volunteers to care for the animals, she said.

As of Saturday, there were 160 animals at the shelter.

“One thing that has helped is that we have very good volunteers,’’ Smith said. One volunteer who has helped for more than five years came in every day last week to walk dogs, she said.

“We’re blessed to have folks in the community help us,’’ she said.

For the staff who are able to work, it’s been all hands on deck.

“Everybody was doing everything,’’ she said, helping with cleaning and basic animal needs.

Smith said last weekend, for example, she and her husband were cleaning cages and kennels and walking dogs.

“If nothing else, it will have been a team building experience because everybody had to pitch in,’’ she said.

She said the national standard is 15 minutes per animal for what she called the basics, cleaning and feeding.

“We should have eight people a day,’’ she said.

There were a few days when the department was down to three shelter attendants, she said. “That is why everyone else had to switch out and pitch in.’’

Smith said Cumberland is not the only shelter in this situation in the state.

“This is a nationwide crisis in animal sheltering because it is unprecedented the number of vacancies people have,’’ she said.

When her staff started being out because of COVID, Smith said she called Wake, Orange and a few other counties to see if they could take some of the animals.

“Everybody else was kind of in the same boat’’ being short-staffed and having employees out with COVID, she said.

“This is everywhere, not just here,’’ Smith said.

Twelve vacancies is higher than usual, she said. Normally it may be two or three scattered throughout the entire department. The vacancies include animal services officers, shelter attendants and customer service employees.

“The thing is, we all love animals. And at the heart of it, these animals need care,’’ she said.

Many of the rescue groups that work with the department have been able to come in and get animals, she said. 

“The animals are safe,’’ Smith said. “We’ve been finding other pathways to try to get animals out. The staff is working very hard to try to maintain the level of care for these animals. This is a temporary situation and we are just buckling down to make sure every animal is cared for until we can get back and reopen.’’

Lorry Williams is editor of CityView TODAY. She can be reached at lwilliams@cityviewnc.com.

COVID-19, Cumberland County Animal Services, Elaine Smith, pet adoptions