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Reality Check: Who's keeping you and your pets safe?

Most mountain counties have some sort of animal control or enforcement officer, but four do not. Henderson and Buncombe counties each have six full-time animal enforcement officers, while Swain has none. (Photo credit: WLOS staff)

North Carolina has laws regulating animals, but, county by county, the people enforcing those laws varies.

Most mountain counties have some sort of animal control or enforcement officer, but four do not. Henderson and Buncombe counties each have six full-time animal enforcement officers, while Swain has none.

Cpl. Vince Griggs supervises Henderson County's animal enforcement unit. His nickname is "The Monkey."

"We had a call for a primate running at large," Griggs recalled. "We asked the guy, 'Man, you alright?' He's like, 'Ahh, I got my monkey drunk.' And that monkey beat him up. It whooped him bad."

The Henderson County unit has six officers. In 2016, the unit averaged 16 calls a day.

"I don't want to say it's the hardest job I've ever done, but it's the most, well, I guess, it's about the hardest job I've ever done," Griggs said.

Animal enforcement officers are law enforcement officers.

There's a difference between animal control and animal enforcement. Animal control officers are civilians. Griggs said having an animal enforcement unit makes it easier on people who call for help.

"Now it's a one-stop shop," he said. "We do all the picking up of the animals, we do all of our own investigations."

State law forbids pets roaming around at night. Henderson County does not allow animals to roam around during the day, either, which Griggs said is the most common call.

"When you go to take somebody's dog, or something like that, they don't like that," he said.

In some cases, the dog may be roaming because it has been abandoned.

"It just sucks to see the dog like this," Griggs said as he approached a dog that had likely been abandoned.

"I don't know what's going on. I don't know what's going on," he said to the animal as he approached it.

"They abandoned him, yeah," Griggs said as he caught the dog.

Griggs thinks catching the dog and taking it to the shelter keeps it and the community safe.

"Dogs can turn in an instant if they feel threatened," he explained.

Animal control is handled differently in Swain County, which doesn't have animal enforcement or control officers.

Swain has one animal shelter, PAWS, which doesn't get county funding.

PAWS executive director Beth Cline found Andy the dog tied to a business on July 4. People also saw him roaming around with a big chain around his neck.

"His neck's getting better, but he had a really bad injury to his neck there," Cline said. "He still don't like people messing with his neck too much."

Cline picked him up on her own time.

"And he's ready for a home," she said.

Swain County deputies enforce state animal laws, but the county doesn't have additional animal ordinances.

"I would love to see some, because I think it's a financial burden with us not having it. We take in the sick and the injured, and a lot of these have had irresponsible owners," Cline said.

The shelter only has room for 15 dogs and 16 cats.

"It's physically hard, it's emotionally hard," she said. "We are the only shelter. When we are full. It's a toll on all of us."

Cline said she works well with deputies, but they can only do so much.

Swain County officials said there are discussions about adding an animal ordinance. While the commissioners don't want to put a burden on taxpayers, they admit adding animal control is a pressing issue.

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