A couple days back, myself and a few others in Stanly County government were tagged in a Facebook post seeking our help or maybe just our clarification with who people were supposed to call about large animal issues in the county. In reality, the question really always turns out more like “Who do we hold accountable for not doing what we think they should be doing?”
Regardless, both questions have the same answer, but it’s probably not an answer that will satisfy everyone. However, I urge readers to remember that we all have to operate within the confines of what IS rather than what we want the world to be. With that in mind, I want to spend a few minutes clarifying this issue.
There have actually been more than one incident like the one this past week in recent years. For those that don’t know the story, I’ll propose a couple hypotheticals and we’ll address the reality of them in turn.
Let’s clarify “large animal” first. Horses, cattle, alpacas, even pigs and sheep can be considered large animal for our purposes, but let’s settle on horses as an example for this story just to maintain consistency throughout.
Example 1: A horse is discovered loose in the parking lot of the local Walmart in Albemarle. You don’t know who it belongs to and it obviously doesn’t belong there.
Example 2: A horse somehow broke out of his fenced property (you assume), maybe is injured judging by the bleeding on his front leg, and seems hostile, and he’s on your property and you want him removed.
Example 3: You somehow find out a horse owner is treating his animals in a manner you find qualifies for neglect. The animal looks to be in poor physical condition and has what you consider to be obvious signs of distress. You think someone should handle this immediately.
Who is responsible?
Are those instances the same with regards to who you call and who is responsible for removing the animal? You might be surprised to know they’re not.
One of the things people are upset about is they call whomever they think responsible for this horse and demand they come remove it and get informed that the department they called can’t do anything about it. In today’s world of instant access to the masses, the immediate response of many is to take to Facebook or a similar platform. One or two comments later, we have an all out cry for blood and dozens of self-proclaimed experts touting exactly what they know to be fact. Within an hour, phones across the county are blowing up and yet nothing is actually able to be done amidst all that chaos.
I’m writing this article to help explain some of confusion as to why you can’t get an answer immediately and why the answer might vary when you call different departments depending on who answers the phone.
In example 1 above, what are the facts?
- It involved a horse.
- Someone needs to remove it immediately.
- It happened in Albemarle, NC city limits.
So, who is responsible?
Answer: The Albemarle Police Dept is the party responsible for handling the situation. That is who the call needs to go to.
Why is the local PD responsible? Doesn’t animal control handle that?
Answer: Well, that’s up to Albemarle PD to decide, but there is a police action to a 10-68 (livestock in the highway) and the incident occurred within their city limits.
In example 2 above, what are the facts?
- A horse is on your property. You don’t own horses. Its not your horse.
- You want the horse off your property.
- The horse is injured. You can see that.
So, who is responsible?
Well, it depends. You could reasonably assume Animal Control is responsible. You could reasonably assume the Sheriff’s Office is responsible. Both could be right, but your phone call needs to go to the Sheriff’s office, not Animal Control. It’s not on the highway, so that law enforcement aspect doesn’t come into play, but there may be other mitigating factors you don’t know that could. Trust me, you’re not half the lawyer you think you are… Even law enforcement doesn’t always know all the answers without consulting their statutes and attorneys, so it’s a safe bet that unless you are both a retired Sheriff AND a retired county attorney, you don’t actually have any quantifiable reason to be considered the final word either.
In example 3 above, what are the facts?
- The animal is on someone else’s property.
- The owner might or might not be home but you can’t go onto that property without breaking the law.
- You think the animal needs treatment (and you’re probably right).
So, who is responsible?
Most of us probably automatically assumed Animal Control would be the ones to call. That’s sensible, right? But did you think that Animal Control is just going to barge onto someone’s property and demand they turn over their horse because someone in a pickup truck with an Animal Control badge tells them to? They’re not. And there’s a perfectly reasonable reason why they’re not – because they’re not about to face having to duke it out with some angry horse owner that may or may not be armed and ticked off that somebody is tresspassing on their property. (If you own a horse or cows, there’s almost a 100% chance you’ve got firearms. Let’s be real here. And they’re usually the “get off my lawn” types, right?)
Animal Control is not a sworn-officer position in Stanly County and they have no powers of arrest and they don’t carry guns or handcuffs. They’re simply NOT going to want to get into that situation. (And then there’s the whole fact that they have no way to transport a horse anyhow.)
Guess who they’re going to call? The Sheriff’s Office…. every single time.
So who’s responsible?
It most often comes down to yelling at people so the question really IS ” who do I hold accountable for this injustice because I’m damned sure going to yell at somebody!”
Then it’s simple. Start with law enforcement.
If it happens within city limits, call the local PD that has jurisdiction.
If it happens outside city limits, call the Sheriff’s office.
What happens next?
In reality, that’s not your concern in two of the three above scenarios. What’s going to happen next is going to be a flurry of phone calls between offices, the attempt at a logistical solution to move the animal, and you really have no involvement in any of that. Continuing to call and make yourself involved serves no purpose whatsoever beyond notifying law enforcement and letting them handle it.
Reality Check – We have no solution…
So here’s the reality check. Stanly County has no solution for this. We really don’t. It’s just like someone dropped off a random elephant in the middle of main street. We don’t have a solution for that either. We just have to trust our law enforcement people to do the best they can with the resources they’ve got. We also don’t have a solution to a dozen crocodiles roaming through downtown, or a murderous clown loose in city sewers. We simply can’t be expected to have a reaction plan for everything. Everything has limits as long as the department’s funding has limits. That’s just reality.
Let me explain a few reasons WHY that is.
Animal Control should be just that, right? If it’s an animal, you guys come control it. Guess what?
- Animal Control doesn’t own a horse trailer. (They literally have NO way to move that animal anywhere.)
- Animal Control officers didn’t take advanced classes on how to handle angry injured horses – or cattle – or angry bulls – or alpacas – or alligators – or elephants, etc.
- Animal Control officers are not law enforcement. They are not sworn officers. They don’t carry guns. They are NOT going to go onto a horse owner’s property and try to take that horse and risk a confrontation without a police presence backing them up.
So what if I call Albemarle, PD?
Well, that IS what you should do if it’s in city limits, but guess what?
- Albemarle PD is probably going to call the Sheriff’s Office because our Sheriff’s Office has made it plain they’ll assist with that kind of situation however they can help.
- The Sheriff’s office is going to help because that’s the kind of people they are.
- So go on down to the next item….
So I should call the Sheriff’s Office then?
Sure. That works too. Either the PD or the Sheriff’s office is the place for you to start, but here’s what’s going to happen:
- The Sheriff’s Office is going to call Animal Control anyway and dispatch them.
- Animal Control WON’T refuse to go if the Sheriff’s Department calls them like they might if YOU call them. (Yes, I know animal control often doesn’t show up if you call them. I have no control over that. Neither does the Sheriff. Neither does the Police Chief. That’s why you should let THEM call them to the scene instead of trying to do it yourself.)
- Regardless which of the three situations above this is, you will have animal control there to advise AND law enforcement on-scene to handle any unruly peoples.
- They collectively still won’t have a horse trailer.
- Even if they had a horse trailer, they don’t have anywhere to transport the horse to?
- If the animal has been mistreated or is injured, there will be a veterinarian involved and a whole other mess of paperwork and phone calls will ensue and I’m not even going into that because I’m married to the veterinarian they’re going to call and I know better than to stick my nose into my wife’s job!
- At the end of the day – no “official” solution will be provided, yet the animal will eventually be removed and taken wherever.. depending on the scenario above.
That’s not right. We should have a solution for this.
Well, if that’s what you believe then you’re in luck. Many of us believe the same thing. That’s actually part of why I wanted to be on the Board of Health anyway, but that’s a story for another day. Right now, let’s just go over a few realities.
We really don’t own a horse trailer.
The government of Stanly County, in its official capacity, doesn’t have the means to transport horses or cattle or alpacas, yet they manage to eventually get it done when it needs to be done.
Do you want us to get one? Ok. That’s going to come out of your taxes, just so we’re clear on that. We’d have to vote to buy one – not that I’m against it at all. I just wanted to be clear on that. We’d probably have to purchase a horse trailer, setup a maintenance plan on it like we do any other county assets, be sure it’s kept in good shape, store it somewhere etc. We the citizens would have to pay for that. Personally, I’m OK with that. Maybe some of you are and maybe some of you aren’t. I don’t know.
Have any of you ever stopped by the Stanly County Large Animal Rescue?
Yeah, that’s because we don’t have one. Did you know that? Even if we had a horse trailer, we’d have nowhere to carry the animal. Dogs and cats can go to animal control, the shelter, etc. There are options for small animals. Snakes… get killed. Skunks, or whatever other pests you report, probably wind up killed and disposed of I’d imagine if they’re found to be a nuisance. Dogs and cats go to a facility to get fed, cleaned, and cared for. Where exactly do you think we would put a horse?
Now I KNOW we don’t want to opt to pay for that as taxpayers. That’s not ever going to happen. So, you just have to trust law enforcement to do their jobs and figure it out. After all, that’s basically what they do and they’ll get it done in a manner that works out as best as they can manage. Maybe the horse will get temporarily rehomed at someone’s pasture. Maybe the local horse rescue will take it for a couple days until its owner can be found. Regardless, the animal will eventually get cared for. Just know that we don’t have a playbook set in stone in Stanly County for how to handle this every time because we don’t have the assets to either transport or house large animals.
I’m not intending this to be snarky or overly blunt.. just truthful.
Let us volunteers do it for you!
That’s a great idea… if this were 1980. Today, unfortunately, we live in a world where people just LOVE any chance to sue anyone they can get their hands on and the government is always perceived as a great target. We have a county attorney… she has one job… to tell us how not to get sued. (That’s not really true.. she has a LOT of responsibilities, but that IS one of them.)
There is a little-known statute you might not be aware of. It states that if you, as a civilian, do anything at the direction of law enforcement, then the county is directly liable for any damages. You don’t even have to sue. It’s a law already on the books. We’re liable. End of story. THAT is why they don’t pick up the phone and call the nearest neighbor with a horse trailer right off the bat.
You might look at the horse and think “Why doesn’t that cop just my cousin Billy come get it for him and keep it at his house for a day or two? He’s offered and said he wouldn’t mind.”
What the county has to think about is:
- What’s the risk to Billy from this animal?
- What if this horse breaks this guy’s barn? Is he going to bill the county for it?
- What if this horse breaks out of his fence and lets all his other horses out. Is Billy going to send the county a bill for all that?
- What if this horse hurts someone, maybe breaks someone’s leg because he’s injured, scared, or the person isn’t as knowledgeable about horses as they think they are and do something stupid? Will he sue the county? Will I get fired for allowing it or causing it to happen?
That is one of the reasons we don’t have an official civilian response team for large animal rescue situations that works with law enforcement.
People think it’s as simple as letting someone show up with a horse trailer and cart the animal off. There are over a dozen considerations that law enforcement, animal control, and other entities have to take into account that you probably aren’t aware of.
When I was just a voter myself, I had a lot of the same thoughts. Why can’t this just be easy? I mean it’s SOOO easy to just solve this problem, right?
I’ve been in government just long enough to pick up a few things. One of those thing is that we are tasked with trying to do the most good for the most people with the least amount of money. Another thing is that every action we take and want to think about taking has to be examined from the other end of the microscope with the thought of “Who would try to sue us for this using what confounded basis for a suit?” It’s a shame that’s the reality we live in, but it is.
There was recently a court case where a horse sued for $100,000. You read that right… not the owner, not a person… a HORSE filed a lawsuit for $100,000 founded and funded by animal rights lawyers.
There was another case where a woman was kicked by a horse. The lawsuit was to cover her medical and hospital bills. You want to guess what that lawsuit was for? It was for almost one million dollars – for getting kicked by a horse.
What’s happening now?
I mentioned previously that this wasn’t the first time something like this has cropped up in Stanly County. We have a new Sheriff, a mostly new Board of Commissioners, and a bunch of dedicated people in the right places to come up with solutions.
After reading the post on Facebook, it brought the topic back to mind. It had been over a year since I’d thought about the previous incident involving Stanly County and large animal issues.
I made some calls to people and I’ve got some more calls to make. We have a few informal meetings set to talk about the scenario and how we can address it in the future. Sheriff Crisco and myself and a few others probably are going to try to have a meeting here in a few weeks. (We’re both out of town the next two weeks off and on.) It’s not an official meeting, and it’s not something to get excited about. We’re just talking to some other law enforcement officials from other rural counties to see how they do it, what works and doesn’t work, and what might possibly be best to propose to others in government for Stanly County.
From my perspective – and I admit my perspective is liable to change as I get new information from which to inform my opinions – we are a fairly rural area with a significant percentage of large animals of all varieties. So I think it might benefit us to have a solution we can implement when things like this come up.
It’s going to involve the county attorney probably, Animal Control, probably the Commissioners, assuredly the County Manager, the Health Dept, the Board of Health… yeah… it takes all those people to make a decision that some people think so very simple, but it affects a lot of departments and all of those departments have to work within the boundaries of their respective jurisdictions and their strengths.
Is it going to happen tomorrow? Nope.
It is going to get traction next month? I don’t know.
Maybe we’ll vote to buy a horse trailer. Maybe someone can decide to use civilian volunteers if they register and agree to meet certain standards and agree to sign a waiver for blah blah blah… I have no idea where the discussion will go. I’m just saying that there are people in county government and law enforcement that realize this is an issue that some people in this county want to address.
But I’m also urging readers to be realistic. As a person, I’d also like to have a fall out shelter that could protect everyone in the county from fallout in the event of a nuclear disaster, but that’ll never happen either. I also think it would be a great idea to convert the commissioners meeting room into a bouncy house… the meetings would be way more fun! That too sadly, will not happen… sigh.
It’s also statistically possible that we won’t be able to come up with a solution that will pass muster. That happens a lot in government. Sometimes you don’t have an answer that will make people happy or that answer will anger many and make only a few happy so it’s better not to have any answer at all.
When you talk about spending county money, inevitably at least ONE person is going to vote against anything no matter what it is with the argument of “we need to give teachers raises before we save horses” or “we need to solve the homeless problem and cure the opiod problems before we spend x-thousands of dollars on two stupid horses a year.” (Mark my words… BOTH those arguments will be made, and they will be valid points to be considered.)
Honestly, there are other conversations being had that I’m simply not going to put on here. They’re not bad, or good. They’re just ideas related to solving this issue but I can’t state anything without throwing someone under the bus and I’m not willing to do that unless a diplomatic solution can’t be worked out. We have enough people that want to blame someone. Since I’m on the other side the fence now, and the people of Stanly County elected me to be in that position, I’m trying to solve more and blame less. That’s why you voted to hire all of us that serve you now.
I DO want to say that bringing up the issue was a good idea and I personally thank all of you that notified me on Facebook about it. If something can be done, I’m going to try to work on it and try to be part of that process. Many other people are doing the same. Give them the time to work and we’ll see what we come up with.
I realize that as an elected official, I’m writing you as your commissioner. Please don’t confuse my personal point of view with my office or my capacity to affect change. My views here are my own. Even “as a commissioner” they aren’t and can’t reflect the “Board of Commissioners.” They aren’t necessarily the views of anyone in the county besides myself, and they don’t reflect the opinions of any particular body I may be a member of. I’m only one voice and I’m trying to use this platform to communicate on an issue with the general public – as a person – and to assist with this issue as best I can. Feel free to help me do that by commenting and sharing your thoughts, but please do so constructively.