AWAR declared on animal abuse, neglect

Published 11:03 am Thursday, April 28, 2022

A new citizen-based organization set up to improve the quality of animal life all began at a birthday party for a couple of pigs.


AWAR began taking shape a few weeks before the Paws Ranch seizure by Rutherford County Animal Control and the Sheriff’s Department, and it is determined to be a catalyst for change. 

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In March, Rutherford County authorities seized 23 horses, 17 goats and other animals at the now-closed Paws Ranch in Bostic. Delores Hanser, 63, was charged with with 11 counts of animal cruelty. Her trial is set for June 7 in Rutherford County District Court.


Two horses had to be euthanized on the scene. At least one other died soon afterward, and three mares were discovered to be pregnant. Most were taken away with visible signs of malnourishment and injuries.


Debbi Stanfield was having a birthday party for Frick and Frack, her pair of Kunekune pigs, at her Cherry Mountain Farm in Rutherfordton in February. Among the party guests was Paola Hayes, also a county resident, and other animal lovers.


“Some of us knew each other previously,” Hayes said. Animal welfare became a topic of discussion, and soon the wheels were in motion.


“We connected through Facebook after that and started sharing ideas,” she said.


At the first informal meeting were other local residents: Debbie McLawhorn, Cathy Watson, Samantha Reinhardt, Nicole Chillemi and Dr. Gretchen Kelly of Foothills Animal Clinic in Forest City. On the phone with them were animal rescue experts Allison Bowling of Winston-Salem and Nicole Ahern of York County, S.C.


Since that first meeting, the group has grown quickly, with people like Tammy Wood, a local canine expert, joining.


Because the founders are high energy, well organized and passionate about their cause, it wasn’t a surprise to see that many of the 40-50 people attending AWAR’s first public meeting this week in Rutherfordton were candidates for sheriff and other elected positions. The sheriff and the district attorney are pivotal for stopping animal abuse and neglect. Animal Control officers’ hands are tied in dealing with the most serious offenses because they do not have felony search warrant power.


Also at AWAR’s town hall meeting this week were representatives from Polk County’s animal control department. They were present for the mass seizure at Paws Ranch and are collaborating with Rutherford County to share their best practices experiences.


None of this should be considered as pointing a finger at Rutherford County alone. All of North Carolina has a shameful history of animal abuse. We rank 42 out of 50 states when it comes to animal protection.


AWAR has a long road ahead. If you would like to join them, visit their new website Changing a culture is tantamount to parking a train at Walmart. Getting people who hold elective office to see the goodness and right in this effort is essential, and there are signs that this is beginning to happen.


The new sheriff in town has to be proactive. The sheriff’s officers have to see animal abuse as a sign of dysfunction and be willing to act. And our residents as well as office holders have to look at needed resources and support that Animal Control officers Kat Hamilton of Rutherford and Patti Lovelace of Polk are given.


A groundswell of public support for them is coming. It needs to be matched by officials.


Larry McDermott is a retired farmer/journalist. Reach him at