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Confusion is on the agenda at the Animal Welfare Advisory Committee meeting

The website for the Animal Welfare Advisory Committee says meetings are held “bi-monthly on the fourth Tuesday at 7 p.m.” at the Animal Protection Society of Durham. Willie Darby, the senior assistant county attorney, is listed as the contact. Um, except the meetings aren’t held there, and emails sent to Darby come back as “recipient address rejected: access denied.”

Under the impression that a government website would be accurate, I arrived at the Animal Protection Society (the county animal shelter) shortly before 7 p.m. on Tuesday, Jan. 24. I had confirmed the time with Marianne Bond, a committee member I actually had success in contacting. But the parking lot was deserted and dark. The nearest light was from the Durham Fire Department across the street — just enough so I could decipher the APS logo on the door.  

After circling the building in the dark and triple-checking it was in fact the fourth Tuesday of the month, I tried calling and texting Bond. She eventually responded, texting, “I’m so sorry, it is virtual. I don’t know who posts the link.”  

The committee doesn’t have regulatory powers, it just advises the County Board of Commissioners how to improve care and control for cats, dogs, and other animals. However, last month’s meeting was primarily filled with accusations of micro-managing, a discussion about the possibility that the current board chair technically didn’t earn her position, and a decision to hold new elections. 

By the time I got the video link and joined the meeting about 30 minutes late, members were debating if the committee “micro-manages the sheriff’s office.” 

The meeting was held on Microsoft Teams, a program like Zoom that enabled members and others attending to turn off their cameras and be shown as pastel circles with their initials. Nineteen people attended, more than half concealed behind the tiny icons.  

Among those with cameras on, various backgrounds showed their adoration of animals. A blue butterfly curtain provided the backdrop for one member, while others had framed prints of dogs decorating their walls. A (live) snow-white feline perched itself on an attendee’s armchair with a posture that suggested great attentiveness at the mention of “community cat” regulations (the phrase “feral cat” is now politically incorrect). Another participant angled her camera so that two massive taxidermy mounts of deer heads were seen protruding from her wall. I assumed she was more passionate about “animal control matters” than “animal welfare.”

Lt. Wendy Pinner of the sheriff’s office raised a concern. “I just don’t agree with (the committee) making recommendations on the policies that the sheriff’s office has,” she said. 

Committee member Jan Paul replied by referencing Article V, which outlines the committee’s responsibility to “make recommendations regarding animal welfare and animal control matters.” She reminded the lieutenant that an advisory committee tends to advise policymakers and law enforcement when it comes to animal welfare matters. (Her point: this is an advisory committee, after all.)

Also present for his first meeting was the committee’s new county liaison, attorney Nathan McKinney. (His blurred background did not reveal if there was taxidermy or a pet photo behind him.) 

Then came some confusion. After reviewing previous minutes and prioritizing the committee’s to-do list, McKinney had a question about AWAC’s leadership saying, “I didn’t understand… who is the current chair? And how did that come to be?”

“I think I am the current chair, elected last November, although I wasn’t at the meeting,” said Bond. 

That was problematic because, according to the committee bylaws, elections occur in January. Paul said, “If that’s the case, Nathan, then Shannon McCabe is still the chair because… there have been no elections since (2019).” 

There was no sign of McCabe, though. Perhaps McCabe thought the meeting was at the shelter, too, because the apparent chair was not in the virtual meeting.

More confusion. Recognizing the committee should probably have new elections, McKinney urged Bond to schedule them for March. She made a motion to hold them at the next meeting. There were no objections. 

The next AWAC meeting will be March 28, at 7 p.m. The location? The website still says it will be at the Animal Protection Society. 

(At top, a look at the meeting on Microsoft Teams.)