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Animal shelter's challenge is balancing caution, adoption

Johnston SPCA shelter wants best for its animals, but some say its cautious process frustrates adoptions.

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CLAYTON, N.C. — Tim Baucom and his children love life with their new shih tzu puppy, Hero.

Baucom says he bought Hero, though that was not his original plan.

"The first place we looked was the SPCA," Baucom said.

Baucom found a dog he wanted to adopt on the Petfinder listings of the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals of Johnston County, but said he was told that he could not see any of the dogs until his application was approved.

So, he filled out an application, marked the dog he liked and waited.

"They never acknowledged my application at all," Baucom said. He assumes it was denied.

Briony Voorhees says she was also out of luck when her Wake County animal rescue group, A New Leash on Life, tried to adopt back a Saint Bernard that was left with the Johnston SPCA.

"She never did any reference checks. She never did a vet check on us and she wouldn't let us take the dog out of the shelter," Voorhees said.

The nonprofit group in Clayton operates by appointment only, and according to its Web site, has a "strict but fair" adoption policy in which the animals' "health and welfare come first."

Operator Melinda Barefoot said she contacts those whose applications are accepted. She claims Voorhees did not disclose on her application that she represented a rescue group. Dishonesty is one reason Barefoot cited for disapproving some applications.

According to state Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services records, Barefoot reported taking 179 cats and 505 dogs into the shelter in 2007. Of those, she adopted out 70 cats and 255 dogs. She euthanized 75 cats and 115 dogs.

She reported total operating expenses at $41,298.87 and a cost per animal handled of $60.14.

Also, according to the state records, she houses animals for the town of Clayton. The town contracts with the agency for about $16,000 a year to take in some animals.

Barefoot, who has independently operated the shelter for 26 years, says she has received 2,000 e-mails since December regarding animals and has limited help to process applications and requests.

That's part of the reason, she says, that she limits visitations to appointments and only allows visits once applications are approved.

"This is a person with passion to keep dogs alive, and she tries her hardest to keep dogs alive," said Neve Agbayani, a fundraiser for the shelter.

After a break-in and fears that other animal groups were trying to take over her facility, Barefoot says appointments are the only way to control who comes into the shelter.

"She really tries to match the owner with the right fit," said Donna Eastmon, a member of the Johnston SPCA Board of Directors. "She doesn't want them brought back."

Barefoot's colleagues say they plan to help answer more requests and might add public hours for visits.

There are no standard operating procedures or polices for SPCAs because the agency has no national oversight board. Anyone can use the name.

The state oversees animal welfare at the facility and as of December, found it to be in acceptable condition and providing proper care for the animals.

The agency, however, has had some minor issues in the past dealing with odor and vet records. All of those issues, however, have been corrected.


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