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Board discusses animal control

The Buckingham County Board of Supervisors (BOS) has expressed interest in renovating the old Gold Hill Elementary School in order to house its animal control facility as a result of not meeting current state requirements. However, supervisor Morgan Dunnavant believes that state officials are pressing the county to make unnecessary improvements to an already adequate facility.

Morgan Dunnavant

At the Oct. 15 BOS meeting, the board included in its agenda a discussion on renovating the old Gold Hill Elementary School located on U.S. Route 15 as a new animal control building. During the meeting, supervisor Robert C. “Bobby” Jones explained that the county had been waiting anxiously for a courtesy estimation from an architectural engineering firm on the cost of possibly renovating Gold Hill for this purpose. He announced that the firm had come back with an estimation of $135,700, a number that seemed excessively high to Jones and the other board members.

“We got the report that we’ve been anxiously awaiting for,” said Jones, “and after reading that report I don’t see how in the world we can ever go through with what we want to do with that report as it is. We’re talking about money that we just … it’s absolutely ridiculous.”

A conversation ensued at the board meeting about what was to be done in reference to the estimated cost of renovating the school. Both supervisor Jones and Dunnavant expressed their belief that the Gold Hill building was not in need of much construction work. A motion was made by Dunnavant to search for a more reasonable proposal.

“My motion is to advertise for architectural engineering firms to provide us a proposal to provide the renovations necessary to the Gold Hill School to meet the criteria of the State Veterinarian’s Office, and upon receiving that proposal, we will evaluate further,” said Dunnavant. The motion passed unanimously.

Robert C. “Bobby” Jones

At the following Nov. 13 meeting, the board made a motion to clarify their official intent on specifically renovating Gold Hill for the purpose of rehousing the county’s animal control facility. The motion passed unanimously.

In an interview with The Herald on Oct. 31, Dunnavant further elaborated on the board’s situation. According to Dunnavant, the current Buckingham County Animal Control facility is not in compliance with state guidelines, primarily due to issues with animal bedding and climate control. In order to meet these guidelines the board began a search for a new facility for the county’s animal control to move into. The board had expressed particular interest in renovating the old Gold Hill School for this purpose.

“It currently appears to be the most financially viable option to resolve the issues with the animal control facility as far as the state veterinarian’s concerned,” Dunnavant said in reference to Gold Hill during his Oct. 31 interview. “Now, personally myself, I don’t see any problem with the existing facility we have or the way we handle it, but the state veterinarian is doing what the state offices usually do and push their wheel excessively on the rural communities.”

Dunnavant continued, “You know, without being noncompliant with the state rules and regulations, we have to make an effort to come up to their guideline requirements whether we agree to their guidelines or not. Now, the agreement with their guidelines is my personal statement, not necessarily the county’s collective stance. I’m kind of an outsider or a cowboy on those things, because I think the state agencies, most all of them ask too much of us rural counties, because what they’re expecting in this animal control facility is far better living conditions than a great deal of our elderly people have that are on fixed incomes, which is just nuts as far as I’m concerned.”

Dunnavant highlighted that the county has tried on multiple occasions to sell the Gold Hill structure for other purposes, but was ultimately unsuccessful in doing so. He added that Gold Hill meets the square footage requirements that the state has put in place.

Over the last three years, the Virginia Department of Agricultural and Consumer Services (VDACS) along with the Division of Animal and Food Industry Services and the Office of Veterinary Services, has found multiple “significant findings of noncompliance” during their routine inspections of the Buckingham County Animal Control facility.

According to the 2016 inspection report, the facility was cited as having multiple dogs in some “runs” (sectioned off portions of a kennel), which the inspector explained may compromise space for each dog.

A 2017 report cited 11 non-critical violations by the facility. One violation cited “None of the animals were provided access to a resting platform or bedding, as appropriate. A thin senior dog was lying on the concrete floor of its run and had difficulty standing.”

Buckingham County Animal Control facility also received a third consecutive non-critical violation in 2017 for “not providing adequate space for each animal.” During the inspection, four cats were found to be confined in one small cage, which the inspector determined was an inadequate amount of space for each cat. Another violation was made when the primary enclosure in the animal transport vehicle did not have a solid bottom.

In the 2018 inspection, the facility received four violations, all of them repeat non-critical violations, after many of the animals were not provided access to a resting platform or appropriate bedding in their enclosures. The report stated that of the 19 dogs in the facility’s custody, 18 did not have a resting platform or bedding in their enclosures, and one pregnant dog had only a resting platform and no bedding. One cat in custody did not have a resting structure or bedding. A follow-up visit occurred at a later date, where the cat and nursing dog were found to have appropriate bedding.

It was also determined in the 2018 report that the facility did not have adequate ventilation and climate control in its isolation room for housing an ill animal. A pregnant dog was placed in an isolation room as a temporary holding space during the cleaning of her housing area, and the isolation room was damp and cold.

A citation was also given when a pregnant dog that had begun whelping was housed in a stainless steel cage without bedding overnight after delivering one puppy. The report stated that the concrete floor and walls of the room were too cold for a whelping or pregnant dog, and that freezing weather and heavy snow accumulation paired with an insufficient building heat supply caused insufficient protection of the mother dog or any wet puppies delivered overnight. The dog was unable to give birth to any more puppies overnight and was taken to a veterinarian the following morning in order to induce labor. The dog’s bedding was remedied at the following inspection visit.

In reference to why the board wants to move the county’s animal control into a new facility rather than renovate the current building, Dunnavant said, “A stand alone or revised facility is not possible with what the state veterinarian’s office expects … The state veterinarian’s office has informed us that they don’t believe they will find any renovations to the existing facility acceptable to them, I think that’s how it was worded, a close proximity of that.”

Elaine Lidholm, director of communications for VDACS, clarified that the board does not necessarily have to look for a new facility instead of renovating the current one. “They have to do something so the animals in their care can lie down comfortably, but they do not have to move into a new building,” said Lidholm. “They could renovate, expand, take in fewer animals, etc. … He (Dunnavant) may have gotten that impression, but it is not accurate. Again, the inspector would have told them what problems to correct, not how to correct them.”

Dunnavant felt frustrated with the amount of criteria provided by the state in order to meet the facility’s guidelines. “They have given us a little bit of criteria, but they haven’t given us any hard-and-fast details. They’re expecting us to provide them information, then they say if it’s OK or not, rather than an absolute bare minimum that’s acceptable to the state. They won’t put out that information in that fashion,” he stated.

In a previous article by The Herald, the board voted in August to accept a $230,000 grant from The Petco Foundation, $200,000 of which can be used to help renovate Gold Hill for a new animal control site. $30,000 was also granted to the county by The Petco Foundation for animal control staffing and equipment needs over the next two years.

“I just think it’s shameful at the state level that these state bureaucracies, the veterinarian’s office along with many of the other state agencies that come and lean on the localities, can press us this hard for improvements to facilities that are reflective of our ruralness and quite adequate for the service that we provide,” said Dunnavant. “But they expect us to provide the same level of service out here in rural Buckingham that semi-urban Albemarle or rather urban Fairfax and Alexandria and Chesterfield County provide, which we just don’t have the resources to do that.”

Dunnavant continued, “Currently, we feel that we’re providing quite adequate care to the impounded animals, at least I personally feel that the state veterinarian’s demands are excessive, particularly on a rural locality such as our own where it appears to me that they’re trying to demand urban standards on our rural budgets.”

Dunnavant highlighted that an Animal Control Facility Committee has been made in order to address the necessity for an up-to-code facility. Members of the committee include Dunnavant, Jones, Carter, County Commonwealth’s Attorney E.M. Wright, County IT Technician James Shumaker and Buckingham County Animal Control staff.

The Herald reached out to Buckingham County Animal Control for comment, but did not hear back as of press time.