Hyde Co. Woman Opens Private Animal Shelter After County Budget Cuts

A woman that moved to Eastern North Carolina about 2 years ago from New Jersey says she never imagined she'd be running an animal rescue.

Kelly Pellegrino says she's found homes for 500 dogs in Hyde county, mostly on her own dime. She feels the county government has turned a blind eye to dealing with stray and abused dogs.

She has hundreds of stories of neglected and abused animals she felt had nowhere to go if she didn't do something because the county cut funding for animal control.

"The dog was left behind and from seven months of being neglected- not being fed properly. She was almost dead when I got here."

Pellegrino went on to talk about another dog she rescued.

"A man called me and said I found this dog in an abandoned garage across from my house and he was in an oil pit."

Pellegrino took in the dog now lovingly named Slick.

Hyde County NC Animal Friends has three kennels complete with fans on top. Pellegrino and her boyfriend built the kennels after Hyde County cut funding a year ago for the animal control from $70,000 a year to $20,000 a year.

John Matthew Eakes Sr. is the county's animal control officer and says he has pushed to get his full time status back so he can offer services beyond rabies and bite cases.

"It's really frustrating because I see animals being abused, dumped out every day, people call me every day about animals- but there's nothing
I can do about it- it's frustrating," said Eakes.

It's the abuse above all else that Pellegrino feels is falling on deaf ears- saying nobody will take a report in alleged cases.

"It doesn't matter who you call in that area. You can call the sheriff's department. I've been laughed at. You know, that's not our job when it is their job. I call the board of health, same thing, and the county commissioners- they don't want to hear it either.

WITN called the sheriff's office and we were directed to the health department. Health director Wesley Smith says that unfortunately because of funding, only the mandatory requirements under state law (rabies and dangerous animals) can be processed.

After speaking with Pellegrino, WITN spoke with the Hyde County Manager who said being the 2nd poorest county in the state on top of hurricane recovery has made funding difficult

"The hurricane, Irene, did about $4 million in damage in Hyde County that we had to cover out of general funds, and we covered that with the idea that we'd be reimbursed by FEMA. We are still short to this day $1.6 million," said Hyde County Manager Bill Rich.

"So the county went into a savings mode so we could survive. They raised the tax rate 6 cents- which was $600,000. They did away with curbside trash pickup which was $200,000. Then they went in and start these little, like animal control, $50,000 and another $50 thousand dollars so we could basically stay open."

Rich says that their financial planning department is looking at grants that could help with animal services, and that he's open to meeting with Pellegrino to talk about a solution for rescuing animals.

"I don't think it's that we don't care. I think she's correct in that we have not allowed a vehicle to deal with that," said Rich.

Pellegrino says she's spent her entire nest egg on caring for abandoned animals and runs on donations as well as discounts from her vet. She says she won't give up.

"I'll never throw my towel in. I will hang my towel high and fly it for these animals. I will never throw in the towel- if it takes the last bit of money I have, it takes the last bit of money I have.

We have left several messages for Sheriff David Mason about his department's stance on animal cruelty. We have not heard back from him, but we'll continue to follow up with the Hyde County Sheriff's Office.

Hyde County Commission Chair Barry Swindell says that state statute only mandates animal control to provide services for rabies or dangerous animals which is all the county can fund. Swindell says that if residents would like to see an increase in animal services they should contact their commissioners directly.

Pellgrino's Hyde County NC Friends Group has a Facebook page where you can find information on animals which need to be adopted and how to make donations. Just click on the link below to be directed to the group's Facebook page.