LUMBERTON — Jeff Bass, the director of the Robeson County Animal Shelter who has been targeted by animal rights advocates who claim he abuses animals, has resigned that position and will begin a new job with the county on Monday.
Bill Smith, the director of the county Health Department, said in a voice mail left with The Robesonian that Bass asked for a transfer in April, saying that he worried about his and his family’s safety because of frequent death threats. Bass will transfer to a clinic to work with the Health Department’s tuberculosis control program.
“The first of April, when the wanted posters and threats were at their highest point, Jeff Bass asked to be transferred for his and his family’s safety,’’ Smith said in a statement. “Unfortunately, the Health Department nor the county had any vacancies to allow us to accommodate this request. The Board of Health on two occasions has expressed concern for his safety.”
Smith said the clinic job became available June 1.
“One of our main obligations is employee safety. While the threats have not been followed up on, that may be more a matter of not having the opportunity to do so rather than not intending to do so,’’ Smith said. “I view the threats to still be credible.”
Albert Locklear, director of Environmental Services for the Health Department, will manage the pound on an interim basis, according to Smith.
“We will proceed to hire a shelter manager; it may be in two stages: an interim or emergency person and then a permanent placement,’’ Smith said.
Then he added: “If Mr. Locklear receives similar treatment as Mr. Bass did, we may move to just do what is required — rabies control and dog bites and look at closing the shelter.”
Susan Barrett, an animal rights advocate who has a lawsuit pending against the county, was careful in her comments about Bass’ exit.
"I wish him no ill will or harm, my focus is on the animals," Barrett said. "I don't want to be the bad person, because it’s about the care of the animals in the shelter."
A district court judge recently ruled that the shelter did not have to use foster homes to reduce the number of euthanizations, and it did not have to abandon its practice of only using half the kennels, which county officials say expedited the cleaning of the pound. In both those instances, district court judge Stanley Carmical said no laws were being broken. But Carmical did forward to trial the lawsuit’s claim of specific examples of animals being abused.
The pound has been under attack for months by critics, most of whom live outside of Robeson County. They claim that animals are routinely abused and tortured, that the heartstick method of euthanization was inhumane, that Bass and other workers at the pound actually made adoptions more difficult, and that animals targeted for adoption were often put down before rescue groups could arrive.
In a column on tomorrow’s Health page, Smith points to a recent rise in adoptions, saying 37.6 percent of the animals were adopted in March, 39.6 percent in April and 24.2 percent in May. The county at one time routinely euthanized as many as 5,000 cats and dogs a year, but in recent years, that number has declined by about 20 percent as the county was targeted by rescue groups.
The county has made concessions in recent months, including switching from the heartstick method of euthanization to an IV method, and that all female cats and dogs be spayed before they can be adopted beginning Oct. 1.
Barrett said that animal rights advocates will meet with the county Board of Health on June 24. She also cited as good news the recent donation of $4,000 worth of beds to the pound.
— Staff writer Stefanie Valcin contributed to this report.
Read more:The Robesonian - Bass out at county pound