The N.C. Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services’ Animal Welfare Section has come a long way in the six years since it was established. The section is responsible for inspecting and regulating animal shelters, boarding facilities and pet shops across the state. Five inspectors cover all 100 counties, and each facility is inspected at least once a year. Inspectors respond quickly to complaints from the public, but their job is to make sure that animals are housed according to the rules set forth in the N.C. Animal Welfare Act.
In her five years as an animal welfare inspector, Shelley Swaim has seen the good and bad when it comes to animal facilities. In May, she was the first person called to testify in a Rockingham County trial that involved animal cruelty charges at a facility that was operating without a license. Her testimony and photo evidence led to a guilty plea and the trial ended immediately. In 2008, she was involved in helping NCDA&CS shut down the All Creatures Great and Small animal shelter in Hendersonville, which also operated without a license and had numerous Animal Welfare Act violations. As a volunteer, Shelley has been involved in countless rescue efforts where dogs have been seized from suspected puppy mills. (Note: Breeding facilities are not regulated under current state law.) Shelley has also completed animal disaster training with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and is a member of the N.C. Veterinary Response Corps.
We asked Shelley a few questions about being an animal welfare inspector:
Q: As an animal welfare inspector, you must see a little bit of everything. What is your favorite part of the job?
Knowing that every day we are making a difference, not only for the animals in North Carolina, but also for the residents of this state. Every time a new animal facility is opened in the state, the Animal Welfare Section was involved in some way. Seeing the improvements in animal holding facilities and the progress of animal welfare, we have come a long way in a relatively short time.
Q: What is the hardest part of being an animal welfare inspector?
The hardest and most complicated aspect of being an inspector is dealing with the unlicensed facilities that provide substandard care for the animals. There are so many layers to some of these facilities it can be overwhelming trying to get your mind around the whole scenario. Many times these situations involve aspects that are out of our jurisdiction and other state and county departments need to be involved. The drain on resources can be tremendous and the suffering of the animals is heartbreaking.
Q: How many animals do you have at home?
That’s a loaded question. At present I have a Pembroke Corgi named Riverviews Semper Fi, aka “Grunt,” a Rottweiler named Recon, aka “Big Head Dog,” and I am also fostering a Dachshund named Lenoir, and her four pups — Bravo, Charlie, Delta, and Romeo — from a Caldwell County seizure a few weeks ago. They will soon be available for adoption through Saving Grace, a rescue group in Wake County. I lost my most precious dog, Chloe Gator Poo, in April. I have to count her because she will always be in my heart. In addition to my dogs, I also have four mules, two horses, 11 chickens and one cat.
Q: What would you like people to know about the Animal Welfare Section?
I would like for people to know how much we care about what we do, and how devoted we are to improving conditions for animals in this state. Several of us volunteer during disasters (weather, natural and man-made) using vacation time or community service leave.
Q: In addition to being an animal lover, as the proud mom of a U.S. Marine, you’re equally as passionate about supporting our troops, aren’t you?
Half of my heart is in Afghanistan. My son, Lance Cpl. John Benton Stewart, is an infantryman who is deployed and serving in Afghanistan with the 1st Battalion 9th Marines, aka “The Walking Dead.” I also have several adopted Marine sons that come to the farm on the weekends and holidays because they live too far away to go home. There are times when every surface of my house is occupied by a Marine body and my kitchen becomes a chow hall. I have seen our young Marines suffering from post traumatic stress disorder and brain injuries, and I am reminded every day that freedom isn’t free and we should all be supporting our troops regardless of our opinions about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Ooorah!! Semper Fi!! God bless our troops.