Commissioners: Veterinarian forces choice between people and animals

Published 7:38 pm Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Commissioners have 19 days to form a new plan for Crenshaw County’s animal control.
Up to this point, local veterinarian Alethea Gammage handled animal control. Residents called a commissioner to obtain permission to bring stray animals to the Crenshaw Animal Clinic.
The vet would then charge the county a discounted rate to provide medical care, room and board for the animals until they were adopted or euthanized.
In a letter to county commissioners dated Aug. 29, Gammage ended the longstanding arrangement effective Sept. 30.
Gammage listed three reasons for ending the arrangement. She said the number of strays has increased and her clinic can no longer accommodate all of them. She also said animal control had become a burden. The care, visits from prospective families and constant phone calls take more and more time away from daily operations.
“These calls are more than we can handle,” she said. “Time spent dealing with the strays means time is taken from my business…”
Her final reason given was the newly formed Crenshaw County Animal Society. “The core individuals have explored and learned about the creation and operation of an animal shelter. Some in the group have experience in dealing with a shelter situation.” She encouraged commissioners to work with and support the group of “thoughtful, mature, energetic, very concerned citizens.”
Commissioner Charlie Sankey said Gammage had never complained about the arrangement and commissioners were unaware there was a problem until they received the letter.
Because Gammage had not exhausted her annual $4,000 budget, Sankey questioned the veterinarian’s claims of being overwhelmed by an increase in strays.
“If there’s been an increase, who’s paying for it? Because we sure haven’t in 12 years’ time,” he said during Monday’s commission meeting.
Sankey also took issue with the CCAS. He said the commission had not seen a membership list or any proof that the society extended beyond the three women who had attended commission meetings.
Sankey and Commissioner Michelle Stephens suspected the women of pressuring Gammage into forcing the commission’s hand. Because of that, Sankey said he was not interested in working with the animal society, but would support the commission’s decision should it choose to do so.
“This situation, in my opinion, was planned out and it’s going to cost the citizens in this county. We had a system that was not broken,” Sankey said. “I’m certainly not going to vote to involve a society that has cost this county money.”
According to Alabama Law (Section 3-7A-7), it is the duty of each and every county in the state to provide “a suitable county pound and impounding officer for the impoundment of dogs, cats, and ferrets found running at large…” Crenshaw does not have an impounding officer or a county pound.
Sankey said the county had not broken any laws. County Attorney Levi Nichols agreed.
“We’ve looked at this code section before. Our system’s always worked until now,” he said.
Nichols reminded commissioners he had asked them to appoint a deputy as impound officer. The one appointed no longer works for the sheriff’s office. He said, “technically” Gammage’s clinic was a county pound. Strays were taken into custody and euthanized if they were not claimed. That was all that the state required.
Sankey suggested commissioners return to the next meeting with a list of suggestions on how to handle the county’s animal control. He said the county could not afford a different animal control system. He cited last year’s budget, which was balanced by using reserve funds.
“We’re going to be forced to choose if we continue to provide services to the county,” he said. “Now we have to choose between people and animals.”

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