There are dozens of cats and dogs today at the Robeson County Animal Shelter that have a chance to get out alive because of the work of Faith Walker — and thousands more during the last decade or so that already have because of that determined lady.
Walker died just before Christmas at her Lumberton home, where two dogs, including one that was malnourished, and five cats were rescued. It is a testament to Walker’s love of animals that she cared for so many herself, because we know she was of modest means, and feeding and giving shelter to them stretched a limited budget.
Walker’s might have been the loudest in a chorus of people who in the late 1990s and early this century were screaming for better treatment of discarded dogs and cats at the county pound, which at that time was essentially a cramped space in the back of a local veterinarian’s office. At that time, there were very few dogs and cats escaping the pound as there wasn’t space to accommodate long stays and more were always on the way. Walker was among the group that sued to provoke change.
Walker made enemies easily, and we are sure she counted this newspaper and its editorial leadership as part of the problem because we didn’t nod at every word she said. But her sharpest daggers were for the Health Department and its director, Bill Smith, whom she painted — incorrectly, we will add — as uncaring villains.
We always pointed out that Smith and his staff who managed the pound were doing the best they could with a sorry hand, and the villains were the folks in Robeson County who allowed their dogs and cats to roam free and do what dogs and cats do when given that freedom — produce more dogs and cats.
It was Smith who made this newspaper aware of Walker’s death, and appeared to be lobbying for a story that would highlight Walker’s contributions to animal rights on the local scene. That was done — and this is another part of that effort.
Smith surprised us when he said this: “She probably more than anyone else caused there to be a new, modern animal shelter built in St. Pauls.”
And this: “She didn’t always understand that we couldn’t do some things because of our budget and space. For example, it is impossible for us to have a no-kill shelter with so many animals coming through our area.”
Frances Stayton is a longtime friend of Walker’s who oversees the pet adoption group Franny’s Friends.
“She didn’t have tact and patience, and most people only knew her harsh side,” Stayton said. “But she had passion for animals. She detested it when someone would say ‘it’s just a dog.’
“She wouldn’t back down. She would … without hesitation accuse someone if she thought they were abusing an animal.”
At that time, it was standard for as many as 100 animals a week to be euthanized — and in excess of 5,000 a year. Those numbers are still too high, but not what they once were. The county build a new county pound, and there are genuine efforts there to find the dogs and cats a loving home, the period before euthanization has been extended, and the conditions while they are there are much more humane.
Those were all necessary changes, and there is no guarantee they would have happened absent Walker’s love of animals and her sometimes shrill voice on their behalf.