NEW BERN, N.C. (WNCT) – Craven County residents addressed their concerns at Monday night’s county commissioners meeting after it was learned a puppy rescued by Sheriff Chip Hughes back in January was euthanized.

The puppy, named Fred, was one of the many animals in the care of the animal shelter. In a statement from Sheriff Chip Hughes, he said he was falsely informed that Fred had found a happy home.

Just a day later, it was revealed he was actually euthanized.

Craven County Sheriff Chip Hughes with Fred (WNCT photo)

“It was easier just to euthanize him and put it past them and move on,” said one advocate involved with the Friends of Craven County Sheriff’s Office, Chris Barta.

At Monday’s meeting, Craven County Health Director Scott Harrelson said Fred was at the Craven Pamlico Animal Services Center for about a month. With a large influx of animals coming in, they had to make room somehow.

“I do wish that our staff had contacted the sheriff, because of his relationship with the animal and just given him a heads up or an opportunity to come get him. I regret that that did not occur,” Harrelson said.

Now, residents are skeptical he’s not the only dog they’re being misinformed about. The president of the Friends of Craven County Sheriff’s Office, Tyker Gonzalez, said she’s been looking into the euthanasia records reported to the state over the years and believes some aren’t adding up.

(WNCT photo)

In the commissioner meeting, Gonzalez brought up that the state euthanasia report for 2018 leaves over 1,600 animals unaccounted for. Now, she wants answers.

“I have kept doing it year after year hoping that we could get some kind of balance and the numbers change,” she said.

Barta suggested an audit of the Craven Pamlico Animal Services Center to try and get an explanation. The health department argues their numbers are orderly.

In response, Harrelson said in 2018, their reporting software switched from one system to another and that they are doing better at it now.

“The accusations we have, I think, improved our reporting. So now we have every animal accounted for, every dollar accounted for, and our euthanasia rate this past year was at 38%,” he said.

The Colonial Capital Humane Society also has reservations about the number of animals being turned away due to space. President Amy Burdulis said this increases the number of stray animals and gives them more opportunities to reproduce. She added they feel this is a strategy to reduce the euthanasia rates.

“Over the past several years, owner surrenders have been turned away time and time again,” said Burdulis in the meeting.

“I would say that does occur, sometimes we just do not have room,” said Harrelson in response. “A lot of the issue is we have these case animals that are, some of them, are 500 days plus in the shelter.”

He added they hope to do better about processing animals left in the shelter for extended periods of time.

Now in the hopes for change, a petition has been created for the responsibilities of the shelter to be handed over to the sheriff’s office, which Hughes states he would happily manage. Harrelson said that if the sheriff would want to take over the shelter, he was sure he would do a great job.

The final decision would have to be made by the county commissioners.

Hughes issued a statement to WNCT on Tuesday regarding the issue. 

“It is with the utmost sadness and disappointment that, while I was falsely informed that Fred was adopted and sent up north to a new home and family by the Craven Pamlico Animal Shelter director, he was in fact euthanized. I am hopeful Fred’s story will not go unnoticed – that his euthanasia will bring forth much-needed positive outcomes for the animals remaining at Craven Pamlico Animal Shelter and overall positive changes at our county shelter.

“I know that my office will improve the efficiency, accountability and transparency of that shelter. We would also leverage our already great working partnerships with rescues and volunteers to assist with adoptions and events. I would definitely take the shelter.”