Additional shelter staff needed

Published 6:16 pm Tuesday, November 20, 2018

By Diana McFarland

Managing editor

Staffing issues continue at the Isle of Wight County Animal Shelter despite multiple requests to the Board of Supervisors and county administration for relief. 

A group of staff and volunteers attended Thursday’s Board meeting to ask for more help, and Major Joseph Willard from the Isle of Wight County Sheriff’s Office filled in the details.

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Willard said the shelter needs five people to make a shift and it does not have that right now. {mprestriction ids=”1,2,3,4,5,6″}

One complication is that two full-time animal control officers have been out on medical leave for an extended amount of time, and while one may return in February, it will be for light duty, said Willard. 

The staff members have been out for eight and five months so far, said Willard.

Isle of Wight County Administrator Randy Keaton said Isle of Wight County Sheriff James Clarke had asked for additional staff during the budget process, but he didn’t recommend the additional personnel because of the two staffers out on medical leave.

It was thought the issue would resolve itself, said Keaton. 

Clarke came to the Board of Supervisors in July to request assistance with staffing needs, along with other concerns. 

At the time, Clarke said the additional staff would allow his department to add a swing shift to relieve the burden on the officers who respond to calls after-hours.

The other problems centered on vehicles, which have since been resolved, despite some delays, but the staffing needs remain, said Willard Thursday. 

The Board did not take action on staffing needs in July, but instead asked for an organizational chart and a record of call volume, the type of calls and how they are handled before proceeding further.  

Willard said Thursday that Animal Services is operating with two full-time animal control officers to cover the entire county seven days a week. Also on staff is a full-time kennel attendant and one part-timer as the second part-timer just quit. 

“They have a true hardship,” said Willard, adding that the department is already at 60 percent of its overtime budget. 

“These folks have given their hearts to this animal shelter,” he said. 

In a phone interview Friday, Clarke said he’s had deputies help out on animal control calls and one School Resource Officer worked at the shelter all summer when school was out to ease the burden on the staff. Clarke said they did advertise for a temporary part-time employee and only received one application. Since the one part-time person is quitting, that applicant will be hired, he said. 

Clarke said that in fiscal 2016-17, former Sheriff Mark Marshall asked for one full-time staffer for Animal Control and was denied. 

In fiscal 2017-18, Marshall asked for vehicles, as those were the most pressing need, Clarke said. 

For this fiscal year, Clarke said he asked for two full-time animal control officers — a request that did not make it to the Board of Supervisors, and that was followed by the trip to the Board in July. 

Clarke said the department needs two more full-time employees regardless of who is on medical leave. 

Shelter volunteer Alexandra Hodges said that volunteers routinely do jobs that are the responsibility of staff because they are out on calls.  

What the volunteers are being asked to do is “not reasonable,” said Hodges. 

Board members told Willard that they had received a flurry of emails from volunteers.

“I guess it’s my fault for this firestorm,” said Willard, adding that Clarke was unable to attend the meeting due to other commitments.  

Willard said that county staff from other departments have offered to help out but were told by Human Resources that it wasn’t in their job description.

The Nike Park bike trail was also pulled into the discussion too, as emails to Board members apparently pointed out that Isle of Wight has invested money in a bike trail but not animal shelter personnel. 

The bike trail has no bearing on how the Board treats Animal Control, said Newport District Supervisor William McCarty. 

Willard said the shelter also uses inmates from Western Tidewater Regional Jail, but those individuals have to be trained, are limited in what they can do and must be constantly supervised. 

A recent seizure of 24 dogs and seven hogs further exposed the need for personnel and the volunteers see what is needed on a day-to-day basis, said Willard.

“We’re in desperate need for some help,” he said. 

The Board asked Willard for the Sheriff’s Office to bring back a plan before taking further action. 

The Board is not against the animal shelter, but it needs to get input from the Sheriff, said McCarty. 

“This is a collective team effort,” said McCarty. 

Overall, Clarke sees this as a team effort, as the Board has supported Animal Services with the vehicles, although it took two years, as well as supporting a full-time chief, but the staffing piece needs to be addressed. {/mprestriction}