The Davidson County Animal Shelter in Lexington has received an award from the Humane Society of the United States and the N.C. Voters for Animal Welfare, despite last year's controversy surrounding the use of its gas chamber to euthanize animals.

The shelter was one of four in North Carolina to receive a "Shelter We Love" award from the two groups in a ceremony in front the Legislative Building in Raleigh on June 13.

Davidson County residents nominated the shelter to receive the award, said Kim Alboum, the state director of Humane Society of the United States.

The residents worked with the shelter employees to set up a fund to help sick and injured animals, increase the number of volunteers, place more dogs and cats into homes, and reduce the shelter's euthanasia rate, Alboum said.

"They have made strides, and the community wanted to recognize that," Alboum said.

Judy Lanier, the shelter's director, couldn't be reached for comment.

Alboum and Caleb Scott, the president of N.C. Voters for Animal Welfare, said they were aware of the controversy surrounding the use of the shelter's gas chamber.

In February, a state inspector investigated a complaint that accused the city of Thomasville and Davidson County of animal cruelty after a pair of Thomasville police officers euthanized a wounded dog at the shelter in late November 2011.

The officers are not certified euthanasia technicians and shouldn't have used the shelter's gas chamber to put down the wounded dog, a state official said at the time.

Brian Long, a spokesman for the N.C. Veterinary Division, said Friday that the state inspector couldn't verify the accusations in the complaint. Long said he was uncertain whether the investigation into the shelter's activities has been closed.

Susan Barrett of Winston-Salem is one of three animal-rights advocates who filed the complaint against the Davidson shelter.

"I'm thrilled to see the positive changes (at the shelter) now," Barrett said. "But I will not forget the events that got us here today — the illegal gassing of that dog."

Barrett said she is happy that more of the shelter's animals are being adopted, "but that animal should not have destroyed in the improper fashion that it was."

The euthanizing of animals has been a persistent issue in Davidson County. In August 2011, state officials investigated complaints filed by a Lexington animal advocate over how the shelter was using its gas chamber.

The complaints were based on shelter records that indicated improper holding times for some animals, and the use of the gas chamber on older, sick animals and on kittens and puppies younger than 16 weeks, which is against state code.

A group of animal advocates and Davidson residents also tried to get the shelter's gas chamber shut down. The majority of state county animal shelters euthanize animals by injection.

But the Davidson County Board of Commissioners didn't vote on a motion on Aug. 10, 2011, to end the use of the gas chamber, allowing the euthanasia of animals there to continue using gas.

Scott, of the N.C. Voters for Animal Welfare, which lobbies state legislators on behalf of animals, said his group gave the Davidson shelter the award because of the positive changes that shelter employees are making.

"We don't dwell on the negative consequences of the past," Scott said. "We are focusing on the future."

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