Polk majority kicks off two animal cruelty investigators

Published 10:00 pm Tuesday, September 1, 2015

The Polk County Animal Cruelty Investigator team had two members not re-appointed last week by a majority of Polk County Commissioners and the vote has sparked an online petition with more than 1,000 signatures.

The reason for not reappointing two of the investigators, according to commissioner chair Tom Pack was that the two signed an advertisement last year that supported the three democratic candidates running for commissioner.

Polk County Commissioners met Aug. 24 and voted not to re-appoint animal cruelty investigators Patti Lovelace and Nancy Hasselbring. There are seven animal cruelty investigators and only five were reappointed. No other applications were made except the seven to fill the seven vacancies.

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Pack, Keith Holbert and commissioner Michael Gage did not vote to reinstate Lovelace and Hasselbring. Commissioners Shane Bradley and Ray Gasperson voted to reinstate all seven investigators.

Pack said he does not feel obligated to appoint members who publicly try to sway people to vote against him and other republicans.

“I don’t feel obligated to vote for those that come out and publicly (ad in Tryon Daily Bulletin) try to sway others not to vote for us,” Pack said.

Pack was presumably referring to an advertisement in the Bulletin that was published on Oct. 31, 2014 during the last commissioner election. The ad was placed by “A Better Polk County,” and listed almost 200 names of people who supported the democrats running for election last year.

“The following individuals have signed this petition: Because I am interested in electing commissioners who are ethical, transparent, and conservative with the use of my tax dollars, I hereby support Ray Gasperson, Bill Ingham and Lee Mink for county commissioner,” stated the advertisement.

The list of names in the advertisement included Hasselbring and Lovelace.

In response to why he didn’t vote to reinstate Hasselbring and Lovelace, Gage said, “We needed to have some fresh blood on some of the boards.”

Lovelace, who headed the animal cruelty investigator team the past two years, said it’s a volunteer board that is not easy.

“You’ve got to go through training, have to know the laws and have to knock on people’s doors,” said Lovelace. Lovelace also said Hasselbring is the only investigator who has the equipment, including a large animal trailer to haul animals to safety.

Animal cruelty investigators work with the county sheriff’s office’s animal control to investigate cases of cruelty to animals and neglect. Lovelace said investigators don’t just handle animal cruelty investigations but also take food and hay to animal owners in need.

“One lady had 13 dogs and I took them to the vet to get them fixed,” said Lovelace. “If we see people in trouble (financially) we take them hay and seed. If we see people who are hungry, we take them groceries.”

The team is funded through FERA (Foothills Equine Rescue Assistance) through the Foothills Humane Society as well as donations. Lovelace said many times funding comes from the pockets of investigators. She said once investigators pitched in to purchase an abused horse so it didn’t have to go back to its owner.

Investigators have had several public cases over the years, some involving starving or abused horses and more recently a case of starving alpacas and llamas. Investigators are also involved in the court process of their cases, working with Polk County Animal Control. Lovelace said training is required, with the current team recently receiving a required six hours worth of continuing education. Investigators serve one-year terms and are sworn in after they are appointed by commissioners.

“It makes me sick to think if someone calls me I have to say I can’t help you right now,” said Lovelace. “For it to be squashed for a political vendetta makes me sick.”

The animal cruelty investigator organization was started by Margo Savage several years ago. Savage received a reappointment last week. Lovelace said a couple of years ago the organization began to falter and she was the one who stepped up and pulled it back together. Lovelace was reapplying for her fourth term.

“We have a jam up organization,” said Lovelace. “Investigators step up to the plate and do what needs to be done. I stop what I’m doing and go do what needs to be done. I’ve sat in court for a whole week for a case.”

The petition to reinstate Hasselbring and Lovelace had 1,050 signatures as of Tuesday afternoon.

“On August 24, the Polk County, N.C. Board of Commissioners unexpectedly declined to renew the appointments of animal cruelty investigators Nancy Hasselbring and Patti Lovelace,” states the petition. “These two investigators have worked relentlessly and unselfishly to expose animal cruelty in our community getting care for the animals in question, bringing cases to court, and winning the majority of them. To not make the best use of their education, experience and love for the animals is senseless. We respectfully ask the Polk County Board of Commissioners to renew the appointments of these highly-regarded investigators immediately.”

The petition was created through change.org and is circulating Facebook. Dana Mayer created the petition following the vote last week. Comments from Mayer on the petition include that there are five other investigators but they are on strike until Hasselbring and Lovelace are reinstated.

Investigators appointed last week are Savage, Stephen King, Brandon Knox, Anne Lane-Maunder and Ashley Probanz.

Commissioners have not yet discussed whether or not they will re-advertise for additional animal cruelty investigators. Pack said as one commissioner he would like to fill the remaining two slots.

Anyone needing to report a potential animal cruelty case should call the Polk County Sheriff’s Office Animal Control at 828-894-3001.