Junior Simmons of Thurmond, Wilkes County’s animal control (now animal services) director for nearly 25 years, retired at the end of 2020.
It was a pivotal time for animal control in Wilkes when Simmons was hired as director and he did much to modernize this important county government service and reduce animal control problems.
The current Wilkes Animal Services building opened just after Simmons became director in 1996. It replaced a large tent at the county landfill used as the animal shelter for several months after the forced closure of the old shelter. In addition, Wilkes County’s first rabies case since the 1950s was reported in the summer of 1997.
Before becoming Wilkes animal control director in 1996, Simmons was a Wake County animal control officer for five years and held this position in Surry County for a year. His professional experience, plus what he learned and his influences growing up in Wilkes, impacted his work as director. Simmons said animal control is challenging and he often sought strength and guidance from God.
He emphasized using good judgment and weighing variables in each case to come up with workable solutions while still enforcing rules and laws. Simmons had officers carry bags of woods shavings in their trucks to help people struggling economically keep their dogs warm in the winter.
Simmons implemented policies to improve services, lobbied for more animal control officer positions and worked with county officials on county animal control ordinance revisions.
There were six fulltime staff when he started and now there are 10 fulltime and two part-time. The ordinance was revised to account for different size dogs and other variables in nuisance dog and animal cruelty cases. It also now gives owners greater flexibility in keeping dogs ruled potentially dangerous. Another revision defined and banned exotic animals after a fatal tiger attack.
Simmons worked with the Humane Society of Wilkes to make spaying and neutering of dogs and cats available at reduced prices. Donations are raised to pay part of a vet’s bill for this work. This helped reduce the number of dogs and cats impounded at the shelter from 6,000-6,500 to 4,000-4,500 now.
Adoptable dogs and cats impounded at the shelter are seldom euthanized now due to relationships developed with animal rescue groups and animal foster home providers who find people to adopt them.
Simmons’ department benefitted from donations of dog houses, towels, pet food and other supplies. He found that with Wilkes people, good by far outweighed bad. He benefitted from good working relationships with county managers, County Attorney Tony Triplett and county commissioners, but said the county animal shelter needs to be expanded to continue meeting state standards and address other needs.
The new animal control director is Steve Rhoades, former animal shelter manager and Wilkes Animal Services Department employee for 15 years. Simmons said Rhoades will do a good job.