Rats Overrun Animal Shelter, Force Closure

Posted June 28, 2007 5:37 p.m. EDT
Updated June 28, 2007 6:22 p.m. EDT

— Filthy conditions forced the Hoke-Raeford Animal Shelter to close this week, but the director said she expects the shelter to reopen next week.

Shelter Director Michelle Queja said she returned from a two-week vacation on Wednesday and was overwhelmed by the stench of rodent droppings inside.

"When I smelled that, my eyes were tearing, and I thought, 'Oh my gosh, this is the day,'" Queja said. "I just couldn't let anybody else come in. I said, 'This is it. The door is closed.'"

Hoke County installed insulation in the shelter a few years ago, but Queja said the insulation, which was supposed to be temporary, had become a permanent home for rats.

"We did have mice, like, falling down on us through the insulation -- dead and alive," she said. “I would go home with rat feces in my hair."

The rats also attacked the dogs and cats held at the shelter, she said. The facility houses about 70 animals on an average day.

“Dogs that are in pens all by themselves, they have wounds on their (leg) and face, and we know that was from the rats,” she said.

Queja said she has lobbied county officials to build a new shelter for most of her seven-plus years in charge of the facility. Hoke County Manager Mike Wood said the county has the money for a new shelter but hasn't been able to acquire land for it.

Because of the delays caused by the land issue, the county has decided to start building a new shelter next to the current one.

"Our public works people believe we can go on site now, and we've spoken to the director, and it is our recommendation to the board to go on site and move immediately to build a new shelter," Wood said. "It is a priority to build a new shelter."

The new $250,000 shelter could be open in six months, he said.

Shelter staff will spend the next several days cleaning the building and exterminating the rats, Queja said. She said she hopes to have the shelter safe enough for the animals by Monday.

The shelter's animals are staying outside during the day, but regulations require them to be inside at night.