Updated with names of four former employees.
Four employees have left or been fired from Columbus County Animal Control, forcing the shelter to temporarily cease intakes except for emergencies.
The empty positions were posted on the county’s website earlier this week. One animal control officer and three part-time shelter attendant positions are open.
Shelter employees Alexandria Young Chase and Brandon Robinson were fired from the shelter Feb. 3, Linda Norris resigned Dec. 30, and Animal Control Officer Antonio Powell resigned Jan. 14.
Three of the positions were part-time hourly attendants. Young Chase was paid $12.68 per hour; Robinson, $10.50; and Norris, $10.50. Powell, a full-time permanent employee was paid $28,115 per year.
Currently, the shelter has three employees still on the payroll – Animal Control Director Loretta Shipman and two Animal Control officers. Two weekday shelter attendants and one weekend/holiday position are open, along with one Animal Control Officer.
County Attorney Amanda Prince said she could not explain why the positions are open. She did not say if the vacancies are related to the January break-in at the shelter. She did not provide the names of the employees, when they were hired or when they left the county’s employment.
The break-in was discovered when employees came to work on the morning of Jan. 28, and saw dogs in the window of the shelter.
The suspects had gained entry through a back door of the shelter, investigators said, then kicked in interior doors to access veterinary medicines and cash.
Three dogs – including two that belong to Shipman – were missing. Shipman’s dogs were turned over to the sheriff’s office Jan. 29 by a Clarkton man who said he bought them online. The third dog was caught by volunteers as it wandered the neighborhood near the shelter.
A previous break-in at the shelter in 2017 netted the thieves a laptop computer, account books and other items. It was after that break-in when then-Director Joey Prince asked for an alarm system at the shelter. County Manager Bill Clark refused the request.
When the county refused to purchase a system, Prince said, a donor reached out to the shelter. He was willing to provide and install the alarm system at the time, but county officials refused to provide the proper permit. The donor backed out of the offer when he could not obtain permission of the county building inspections office or maintenance department to install the system.
While county employees do not need permits to perform work such as installing alarm systems, private individuals doing the work for the county generally do. No explanation was offered about why the county refused to grant the permit.
Sheriff Jody Greene noted that after the Jan. 27 break-in, cameras that were installed in the building were not operational, and did not have power.
In last year’s budget, the county commissioners designated $3,000 for alarm installation, Attorney Prince said. The money was placed in the Maintenance Department’s budget, rather than Animal Control.
Prince said in an email that the pandemic prevented the system from being installed sooner.
“The camera system was budgeted for the current fiscal year,” she said. “It is now installed. The primary concern and responsibility of the Maintenance Department has been and continues to be dealing with COVID-19 matters.”
Shipman was on medical leave when the break-in occurred in January, and her dogs were being kept at the shelter, Prince said. Volunteer Candice Gary was supposed to pick up the two dogs on the morning that the break-in was discovered.
The animals were kept at the shelter as a courtesy, Prince explained.
“The Animal Shelter does not board employees’ animals on a regular basis,” she wrote in an email. “We have boarded Columbus County residents’ animals in the same situation. If someone has an emergency and our animal shelter is not full, the shelter helps them in the same way.
“If any Columbus County Animal Shelter employee has an emergency situation the employee has the option to use the Animal Shelter for boarding if the shelter is not full until pick up arrangements can be made for the animal.“
In the past, shelter staff have emphasized that pets may not be boarded at the shelter during hurricanes or other disasters. No written policy regarding boarding was made available.
Initial reports said that Gary was supposed to pick up Shipman’s dogs after hours. Prince said in the most recent email that Gary planned to get the dogs after the shelter opened on Jan. 28.
Non-employees must be accompanied by shelter staff if they enter the facility afterhours, Prince said. Only employees of the shelter and the Maintenance Department have keys to the building, Prince said.
More than $200 in cash was reported missing from the shelter after the most recent break-in, according to the sheriff’s office report. Prince said it is not unusual for cash to be kept in county offices overnight.
Adoptive petowners reported that when they attempted to use a credit card or check, they were instructed that cash was preferred. The shelter has a credit card machine for accepting digital payments at the shelter.
County policy allows up to $250 to be kept in departments overnight, and all funds must be deposited at the end of the month. Prince said paper receipts, as opposed to digital payments, are not unusual throughout county departments.
Shipman did not return requests for comment. An automated response from her email address said she was out of the office.