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Forsyth County animal shelter fails inspection, receives civil penalty

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WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. -- The Forsyth County Department of Animal Control is facing a $5,200 civil penalty after failing a state inspection.

The notice posted by the N.C. Department of Agriculture Animal Welfare Division describes concerns of delayed veterinary care, euthanizing animals too quickly and not keeping proper records.

State law requires a shelter to keep an animal for at least 72 hours before euthanizing it to give potential owners time to claim it. Exceptions are allowed with manager approval if there is an emergency, such as an animal being in pain or too injured to treat. But such exceptions must be documented.

Tim Jennings, Director of the Forsyth County Department of Animal Control, said they did have documentation for many of the examples cited in the violation, but they are in their computer system, not hard copies.

“We’re talking about emergency euthanasia, proper documentation. We track a lot of it in our computer system and do approvals in our computer system. But they want a signed by a manager document. And in a couple cases we didn’t have that, so that’s our responsibility,” Jennings said.

In total, the state violations report said in March there were “53 animal records that were missing origination, animal description, location of the animal, disposition information, euthanasia information, and/or record of veterinary care.” The state’s review of February records showed 27 animal records with similar missing information.

“The requirements are clear, and we in the shelter have the requirement to follow those procedures and document properly. So there’s a lot of work for us to do,” Jennings added. “We were assuming that based on past inspections that the computer system was enough. But now they say it’s not and we have to take it and work on our filings.”

Jennings said their computer records system is industry standard and in line with Forsyth County’s move to a paperless system, but it’s evidently not in line with the state’s requirement for physical paperwork.

Unfortunately, some of the examples of early euthanasia were actually accurate, Jennings said. “We euthanized some cats that, due to a data entry error, the holding time wasn’t spread out to at least 72 hours. That’s our error. No excuse for it. It should have been caught at a couple different follow-up levels, too, before they were euthanized. We have to accept that responsibility. It should not have happened.”

Jennings says they plan to improve their internal audit process to help prevent future violations.

He plans to add training for the staff about documenting the seriousness of a case and how to judge an animal’s pain. He wants staff to improve communication and shorthand on paperwork so it’s understandable to anyone in the industry and not just workers within their facility.

Jennings concluded, “I don’t feel that we have been negligent in our attempts to care for the animals. There’s serious issues of documentation that are required and that’s what we will do- we’re the government- so we have to take ownership of that.”

The Forsyth County facility has 200 animals on any given day and handles 7,000-8,000 animals annually.