LUMBERTON — A woman whose fight on behalf of animals helped lead to the construction of a new Robeson County pound has died.
Faith Walker, a longtime animal rights activist, was found dead in her home on Albion Street earlier this week. The Robesonian has not received an obituary on Walker.
Walker is being remembered as someone who was relentless in her fight, and who made both friends and enemies while advocating for discarded cats and dogs during a time when thousands were being euthanized each year at the pound.
“She probably more than anyone else caused there to be a new, modern animal shelter built in St. Pauls,” said Bill Smith, director of the Robeson County Health Department, which oversees the pound.
Smith said that Walker, who had been in declining health, was found dead in her home Wednesday afternoon. Two dogs, one of whom was found chained and suffering from malnutrition, and five cats were also found in the house, Smith said.
Lt. Vernon Johnson, with the Lumberton Police Department, said Friday that there appears to be nothing unusual surrounding Walker’s death and that his department is conducting a routine death investigation.
Walker was part of a lawsuit against the county in 2001 over how animals were housed and euthanized at the pound, which used to be in cramped quarters at a veterinary office on Elizabethtown Road. At that time, it was not unusal for as many as 5,000 cats and dogs to be euthanized in a year.
A new, larger pound was built in St. Pauls, and euthanizations have dropped since then. There is also a longer waiting period before an animal is euthanized.
Smith said that he and Walker agreed on basic animal rights issues. Where they often differed, he said, was on the “process” of how to bring about the desired results.
“She didn’t always understand that we couldn’t do some things because of our budget and space,” he said. “For example, it is impossible for us to have a no-kill shelter with so many animals coming through our area.”
Walker said what she thought — and that often alienated people who otherwise would have been her ally. She clashed often with the leadership of The Robesonian’s newsroom over what she believed was too little or unbalanced coverage of the county pound.
“She was hard to please,” said Editor Donnie Douglas, “but there was no doubt about her passion for animals. In more recent years she seemed to have softened, and saw us as a friend.”
Douglas said he remembers a former reporter, Geoff Fox, mumbling about Walker and how difficult she was to please when the lawsuit was filed and he was covering that story.
“The phone would ring, and he would answer,” Douglas said, “and you knew immediately it was her from his expression. But she was not going to deterred. This county owes her a debt.”
Frances Stayton was a longtime friend of Walker’s who formed and now oversees the animal care and pet adoption group Franny’s Friend.
“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.’
“This was a person who cared,” Stayton said. “She loved animals, she spoke for the animals and she fought for the animals.”
Stayton said that Walker was responsible for getting animal care and protection laws changed at both the state and local levels. She constantly lobbied for animal rights and got people to donate to programs that were aimed at animal care and protection, said Stayton.
“She wouldn’t back down … . She would drop a dime in a heartbeat and without hesitation accuse someone if she thought they were abusing an animal.”