Johnston residents debate allegations of animal abuse at shelter

rputterman@newsobserver.comMarch 6, 2012 

Beth Waley testifies Monday at the Clayton Town Council public hearing regarding animal treatment at the Johnston County SPCA, sharing concerns about a personal negative experience with the shelter's lost/found efforts and its acceptance of willing volunteers.

REBECCA PUTTERMAN -- RPUTTERMAN@NEWSOBSERVER.COM

— Residents filled nearly every seat in the town council chamber Monday in support of area residents voicing concerns over allegations of animal abuse at the Johnston County SPCA in Clayton.

The SPCA board of directors voted at its monthly meeting last week to close the shelter by June 1, after director Melinda Barefoot gave notice of her retirement.

The shelter is no longer taking in rescues, and is currently focusing on adopting out those animals that are currently there, Barefoot said in an email March 2. She did not comment on her decision to retire.

The town, expecting what turned out to be a huge show of support for the group which utilized Facebook to organize a public hearing at town hall for this week's council meeting, went through other business in less than 30 minutes to give those wishing to speak a chance in front of the microphone.

Six people stood to talk, two questioning the legitimacy of the claims of animal abuse and possible illegal actions at the shelter. Those two speakers expressed their beliefs that Barefoot did all she could with a shoe-string budget which board members have indicated is less than $50,000 a year.

One woman was asked to sit down after joining the line for public comment once the public hearing was over.

Four spoke citing personal evidence of neglect at the shelter, including a lack of water and food, kennel space, animal socialization, veterinary care, cleanliness, adoption efforts and lost/found efforts, as well as the shelter's alleged failure to act in its legal capacity as a rescue shelter for the town of Clayton.

The group effort to bring light to the SPCA began after its director, Melinda Barefoot, won the Clayton Chamber of Commerce Citizen of the Year award for 2011 in January of this year. She has been running the shelter since the mid 1980s.

In early February, an anonymous Facebook group, "Clayton SPCA Discussion Group" popped up, and ultimately gave way to a group with the intent of going to town hall for tonight's hearing.

Holly Nielsen stated at the hearing that the shelter recently ignored attempts by neutral parties and veterinarians to come and identify lost animals, and bring food and cleaning supplies. She also raised questions about violations of state laws regarding cleanliness and animal treatment.

Beth Wilson Whaley spoke about her previously ignored attempts to assist with the shelter's efforts and the failure of the shelter to provide a status update on a lost cat. Vickie Vonn and Susan Dunaway spoke with the perspective of former Johnston County SPCA volunteers/employees who claim to have witnessed neglect and irresponsible management.

Donna Eatman of Selma, and Bill Hall of Clayton, spoke in question of the allegations, offering the possibility that Barefoot, her husband, and the shelter's one, paid volunteer might have been doing all they could. Hall's wife is a 20-year volunteer and part-time, paid employee at the shelter.

At the end of the public hearing, Mayor Jody McLeod asked those in the chamber who were there in support of the shelter or concerned about its operations to stand. Nearly everyone got to their feet.

The town spends roughly $12,000 annually on the shelter through a contract for animal control operations. McLeod said that it is a per-dog dollar figure.

The Johnston County SPCA, sometimes called the Clayton SPCA, is on Durham Street off of U.S. 70 Business East in Clayton. It is not associated with the ASPCA or the Johnston County animal shelter, although it contracts with the town.

"I'm sure the town council is going to take all of the information that's been given, take it under advisement, and figure out some kind of consideration or pathway they're gonna want to take on this issue," McLeod said at the end of the public hearing.

"On behalf of the town council and myself, thank you for coming out here tonight and expressing your concerns, because I can tell you're very passionate about what's going on. And I assure you that we up here want to make sure those animals are cared for as best they can be."

Barefoot and her husband were not present at the meeting.

Read more in the Sunday, March 11, Clayton News-Star.

Putterman: 919-553-7234

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