Haven Faces State's Deadline
The state attorney general's office gave The Haven animal shelter owner Linden Spear two deadlines in May - July 9 to reduce the number of dogs or Sept. 1 to complete a full remodeling of the facility.
The shelter chose the latter, attempting to improve the conditions of the facility so it will meet state regulations from a 2005 state law, missing the Friday deadline to reduce the number of dogs.
If The Haven misses the Sept. 1 deadline to bring its facility into compliance, it will face either being shut down or taken over by the state.
On Monday, inspectors from the N.C. Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services went to the shelter in Hoke County to check up on the progress. Brian Long, public affairs director of the agriculture department, said the feeling from Monday's check was that the shelter still has many improvements to make, though a formal report has not been filed.
"What we've heard from (the inspectors), at least initially, is that The Haven has not taken the steps they need to take," Long said. "September 1 is going to come up very quickly."
Long said the process started about four years ago when the state agency first started having conversations with the shelter on how to bring it up to state standards.
"What we've received from them is a sort of steady stream of 'we're going to make improvements,'" he said. "Here we are four years later, and they've not made improvements."
The Haven, one of the largest animal shelters in the state, houses about 1,000 animals, Spear estimated. The shelter is no-kill, so it won't practice euthanasia, and it won't turn away animals left on the property.
"We're taking care of animals that people throw away - that are discarded," Spear said. "Typically, they come in with no previous medical records. This is way beyond what an animal shelter typically does."
The shelter takes a number of dogs from the Moore County Animal Center, some that might otherwise be euthanized.
Spear said she has had a difficult time meeting the standards of the law, the North Carolina Animal Welfare Act (NCAWA), because it requires her to pay for a lot of facility changes she can't afford. She estimated the total cost of the changes needed to meet the deadline is about $60,000.
"Those regulatory changes (from the NCAWA) made it very expensive to run a no-kill shelter in North Carolina," she said.
Many of the things that need to be improved are to the facility itself, she said. Previously, animals had been housed in an old horse barn, until she moved them to new buildings Monday. Construction on the buildings, she said, had just been completed.
Other rules she's trying to meet include one that requires a certain amount of gravel on the ground where dogs are kept, and they can't be kept near wood.
As a nonprofit organization, the shelter relies on donations, and Spear said the shelter isn't taking in enough money to pay for all the changes it needs to make.
"There aren't any grants out there for this," she said. "And grant turnarounds - they said you have 90 days to complete your remodeling - you don't get grants in 90 days."
One anonymous donor in Washington state offered her $10,000 if she could match that in local fundraising. She did that, and received the money. But Spear said she still doesn't have enough money to make the changes necessary to meet the state deadline.
Long said Spear has had the same issue with the law for the last five years since it was passed.
"She's been aware of those (financial) requirements for years now," he said. "That hasn't changed."
To Spear, though, everything the shelter has done has been to improve the living quality of the animals at The Haven.
"Generally speaking, we have always worked to exceed state standards," she said. "Everything good we were doing to protect the animals."
But to the state, the ultimatum given to The Haven in May came after years of not making any improvements, according to Long.
"We went to them and said, 'We're willing to give you time,'" Long said. "But here we are four years later, and the only evidence we're seeing is that more animals were being taken in during that time. It is well past time for them to move beyond words."
If The Haven doesn't meet its deadline, it faces being shut down, which would mean that all the 1,000 animals would become Spear's property. As an alternative, the state could decide to take over the facility, removing Spear from her position as owner and would put together a board to run the shelter and bring it into compliance with state law.
"I think the bottom line is we have given them a Sept. 1 deadline, and we would very much like to see them meet that," Long said.
Spear said it's not just a hope that the deadline is met - it's a necessity.
"We have to meet it," she said. "These animals depend on us, and we're not going to fail."
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