Officials, shelter reps talk about animal control issues
As the Humane Society of Putnam County looks toward reopening in the near future, the issue of animal control is on the minds of shelter representatives and local officials.
A group of concerned parties from both sides met Tuesday to discuss ways to deal with animal control and make sure the shelter can stay open once it resumes operation.
Greencastle Police Chief Tom Sutherlin said in 2007 there were 558 dog complaints countywide. There were 63 animal bites reported and 388 loose animal or livestock complaints.
"It's a problem," he said. "At this point, with the shelter closed, we can only deal with it if the animal is deemed vicious. If we catch an animal, we have nowhere to take it."
Sutherlin said in cases of vicious animals, police sometimes have to resort to destroying the animal for safety's sake.
Putnam County Sheriff Steve Fenwick said he is looking into training some part-time officers who would deal with animal control issues.
"I'd like to have a trained officer with the right equipment for when we get those calls," he said. "I think we can do that. The person would have other duties as well as animal control."
Fenwick said he would also be willing to send non-violent offenders from the Putnam County Jail to the shelter to volunteer.
"I could send two or three out a day, and they would have a supervisor," he said.
Bainbridge Town Clerk Jason Hartman said a spay-neuter ordinance was in the works for Bainbridge, as well as a spay-neuter-release program for feral cats. Bainbridge has also hired a part-time animal control officer, he said, and will be having an animal inoculation clinic in the near future.
"If the county wants to do something, we'd love to be involved," he said. "I would love to see the county come up with some kind of pay-neuter ordinance."
Not having the shelter open has been a problem for law enforcement and the public alike.
"Taking care of animals out there has always been a financial burden," said Lynn Bohmer, an HSPC board member, who noted that this past closure is not the first for the shelter. "It's always been nearly impossible to do with just donations and volunteers."
Currently, the HSPC receives no funding from the county or from city governments within the county.
Bohmer said when the shelter is open, an average of 85 animals are housed there. That doesn't include the many animals that are in foster care.
"Taking care of those animals involves a lot of things," she said. "Yes, Wal-Mart donates our food. But to make animals adoptable, a lot needs to be done to them. They need to be inoculated and tested."
County Councilwoman Nancy Fogle said she felt more information was needed before the county should consider funding the shelter. She asked how long the average animal stayed at the shelter.
"I can't see the county funding it if you're not getting rid of the animals," she said.
Animals are still dropped over the fence at the shelter, which is running with one staff member. HSPC Board President Jane Irk said she has had to turn away 150 to 200 animals since the shelter closed in August.
"It sounds like all roads lead back to the Humane Society," said Putnam County Prosecutor Tim Bookwalter.
Bohmer said she felt it would be best if the shelter continued to operate as a not-for-profit organization.
"We really do provide a community service," she said. "What we need is some consistent funding."
Greencastle resident Bette Bertram said she was impressed with the shelter.
"I can't see not having this organization supported by the county," she said. "These people are very sincere, very dedicated and they love animals. They are just great people."
City and county support could make it easier for the shelter to procure grant funds, Bohmer said.
Bohmer said people have been quick to blame the county for the shelter's plight, pointing out that money from the dog license tax should be going to the HSPC. But she said state statute limits the tax to $5, and that after fees very little of that money would actually come back to the shelter.
Tom Rogers is working with the HSPC to develop an accurate operating budget and strategic plan for finances at the shelter. He estimated the shelter would need $160,000 annually, but said he didn't have a solid number.
"It needs to be refined further," he said. ""We're working with a whole new board of directors and we're putting new policies and procedures in place. I just looked at the budget four days ago -- there's work to be done before we could come back with specifics."
Bohmer stressed the importance of spaying and neutering, one of the shelter's biggest expenses.
"No animal is adopted out without being spayed or neutered," she said. "By having a strong spay-neuter program in a community, animals coming into the shelter and animal control complaints will diminish."
Rogers said stray animals are also a public safety hazard.
"My wife and I were out walking at the nature park, and we saw three dogs that were obviously running in a pack," he said. "This is a public safety issue I care very deeply about."
HSPC volunteer Anne Provine said stray dogs could pose threats people didn't always think about.
"Stray dogs will start mating with coyotes, and that's extremely dangerous," she said.
A follow-up meeting will be held after the first of the year, after the HSPC comes up with a solid budget and plan of action.
"It sounds like we've got the pieces here to come up with a program that will have a lasting effect," Greencastle Mayor Sue Murray said.