COLUMN: Animal control plans miss key component

Published 6:22 pm Monday, March 2, 2015

In the last six months, dogs in Crenshaw County have attacked no less than four children. While we have two volunteer organizations dedicated to the safety of stray animals, we have none dedicated to the safety of our children from these strays.

It should be noted that the attacks were not all from strays. And admittedly, it is unfair to lay the blame for these attacks solely at the foot of any animal group.

However, since a member of one of the organizations cited the two most recent attacks during Monday night’s commission meeting in order to urge commissioners to act quickly on the group’s plans for a new shelter, it is only fair to say that neither organization has included adequate plans for public safety in their proposals.

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Members will tell you it is not their responsibility. Their ultimate goal is to rid the county of stray animals by spaying and neutering and by promoting adoptions.

Similar sentiments on animal control responsibilities have been echoed throughout townships in Crenshaw County. There is no law that says cities and towns must employ a dogcatcher, operate an animal shelter or even have a leash law.

Animal control is the state-mandated responsibility of county commissioners. And commissioners will be quick to tell you that their legal obligations have been met. The commission pays to spay and neuter every stray animal caught in Crenshaw County. But, the county does not pay to catch a single animal.

The county has law enforcement available to kill any animal deemed dangerous, but no one available to handle an animal that shows no sign it is vicious. Most people are not going to call on law enforcement if their only solution is to kill the stray.

People are also not necessarily going to take the risks involved in trying to catch a stray animal and bring it to a shelter. Volunteers are doing what they can, when called upon. But, this county needs more than a volunteer with a big heart and a pen in his or her back yard.

Luverne and other townships have leash laws, but no dedicated animal control officers to enforce them.

The problem with the rhetoric we are hearing from lawmakers, commissioners, councilmen and animal organizations is none appear to have the safety of this county’s children as the ultimate goal. If any did, we might be closer to an animal control system that truly keeps unleashed dogs off the streets and children out of the emergency room.

Commission Chairman Charlie Sankey Jr. said it best when he said, at the core of all of this is money. The county does not have the funds to have a deputy dedicated to catching stray animals. There is no budget for a vehicle or equipment to pen an animal or a place to bring the animal once it is caught.

If the county and animal groups do ever open an animal shelter, there still will not be a budget for a deputy, a vehicle, training or equipment for animal control.

This county does not need two animal organizations fighting to build an animal shelter. Let’s let one group continue that noble cause while the other raises money and awareness for the training, equipment and law enforcement needed.

As Sankey has also said, when it comes to animal control, Crenshaw County is leaps and bounds ahead of other counties. Officials and volunteers are doing wonderful work here. They are open to change and actively seeking ways to make it happen.

But, to complete the work at hand, these plans must include a dogcatcher and all equipment needed for animal control.