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Changes may come to animal control

By BOB HANSEN - bhansen@newsexaminer.com

Changes that may be coming to Fayette County animal control are designed to put more teeth into enforcing animal welfare laws. 

Two plans are under consideration. One would give enforcement powers to animal shelter employees. The other would add animal control to the duties of the county sheriff’s department with the animal shelter serving as temporary housing for animals and trying to find them homes.

The animal shelter is located on a quiet, isolated hill at 1703 Michigan Ave. It includes 16 kennels for dogs, including one that is open after hours as a holding pen for animals brought in by police. They are full nearly all the time. The shelter also gets a large number of cats every year. It is staffed by a director and an assistant warden. The director resigned about three months ago and the shelter has been operated since by Mike Berger, on call 24 hours a day.

There are two main functions, enforcement and return or adoption.

One is responding to calls about violations of laws on loose and vicious animals or animal welfare laws such as individual owners starving or mistreating their animals. Without police powers, the animal shelter’s staff has to call police when enforcement is required.

The shelter exists to house animals and try to reunite them with their owners or find new homes for animals that are abandoned in the care of the shelter. The shelter is considered a no-kill operation where the only animals put down are those that are vicious or so ill that they cannot be saved, Berger said. 

The Fayette County Humane Society wants to be part of the animal shelter’s operations. Berger said he would welcome volunteer help from the Humane Society. It is the first time in many years that the Humane Society and animal shelter appear to be cooperating, according to Debbie Werner, the Humane Society president.

One problem, Werner said, is that the local Humane Society has only two active members, Werner and her husband, Ralph Werner. She would like to have more members so that volunteers could help staff the animal shelter. She believes the Humane Society could also bring better policies and processes to animal adoptions through the shelter.

Berger said he has proposed giving the animal control office an enforcement officer. His proposal, presented last week to the Fayette County Council during a budget meeting, would be similar to how animal control operates in New Castle, but on a smaller scale.

There, the Henry County Humane Society operates the animal control and the animal shelter. That Humane Society has contracts with the county and each city or town in the county and has uniformed employees who have special deputy powers to enforce animal laws, according to Linda Bir-Conn, director. Henry County passed a local law creating the special animal control deputy positions, which are under Bir-Conn’s direction. There, when police are called to an animal situation, they call in the special deputies.

However, some Fayette County officials would rather see animal control come under the jurisdiction of the Fayette County sheriff. Gary Naylor, president of the county Board of Commissioners, would rather see one or two regular deputies have special responsibility for enforcement of animal control laws. Saying that he is speaking only for himself, he said that the animal control deputy or deputies would be the first responder to reports of animal law violations but then would also be available for other police duties.

That’s also how Sheriff Joey Laughlin would like to see it run. He said that rather than have special deputies enforcing only animal control laws, having officers who have been trained at the Indiana Law Enforcement Academy would give his department more flexibility.

Laughlin and Beckman both see the same problem in the present system. If Beckman is called to an animal control situation, he does not have law enforcement powers and has to call on either the county sheriff or, in Connersville, the police department, to send an officer. The other problem for Beckman is that when he is called out, there is no one at the animal shelter to speak with people wanting to claim their pets or look for animals to adopt.

Initially, Laughlin envisions adding one deputy to the sheriff’s department. “We don’t have the manpower” to add responsibility for animal control. Laughlin said. “I think it would work best. If there wasn’t something going on (in animal control), they could assist in other things.”

In New Castle, Bir-Conn said the Henry County Humane Society is able to do much more than in Fayette County. They provide vaccinations for all the animals; operate a spay-neuter clinic and where all animals are neutered before adoption; and microchip all animals brought to the shelter.