Shelter may separate from Sheriff’s Office

By Kristen Tribe | Published Wednesday, November 20, 2013
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The Wise County Animal Shelter could become its own county department.

Currently, it operates as part of the Sheriff’s Office, but Sheriff David Walker asked commissioners Nov. 12 to form a committee to consider the change.

“Last budget we discussed making it a division of its own that would report to the court,” he said. “They’re doing a great job, and it’s not that we’re wanting to get away from it, it’s just managing our time and trying to get everything done.”

Captain Kevin Benton and Lt. John Thompson have oversight of the shelter now, and Linda Bryan, animal services administrator, handles the day-to-day operation. Walker suggested the animal shelter be its own department, and Bryan could report directly to Commissioner Glenn Hughes, who would report to the other commissioners at their regular meetings.

“Linda is running a good show,” Walker said. “She’s got a good group of volunteers, and they’re doing a stand-up job.”

Walker had previously discussed the issue with Hughes, who was for the change.

“The (sheriff’s department) is getting so big, and this animal control would take a tremendous load off,” he said.

Walker gathered statistics prior to the county’s summer budget workshops, and he noted that in May of 2013, the shelter fielded 1,048 phone calls and had 490 walk-ins, people dropping off animals, adopting animals or looking for lost pets.

In January through May of 2013, employees went on 2,450 field calls for service, which includes picking up stray animals or responding to dog bite calls and loose livestock. This was 250 more calls than the same period in 2012.

As of Tuesday, the shelter has taken in 1,749 dogs and 924 cats since Jan. 1.

Walker said the time Benton and Thompson spend working on shelter issues fluctuates, but the bulk of what they do involves handling complaints or problem-solving when serious issues arise.

Hughes and Precinct 3 Commissioner Harry Lamance agreed the time of Benton and Thompson would be better spent working on criminal issues.

“Although the dog and cat issues are important, there’s a problem when we’re setting aside criminal cases,” Walker told the Messenger. “If somebody breaks into your home and steals all your belongings, I’m having to juggle. I have my people overloaded basically.”

The sheriff’s department first took on the animal shelter 20 years ago, under former Sheriff Phil Ryan. It had previously been part of the public works department and was housed in a small building tucked into a corner of the local fairgrounds.

The operation focused mainly on rabies control and picking up strays as necessary, but there were very few adoptions.

The number of stray animals continued to grow until the old shelter became overcrowded with two, three and four dogs per pen, Walker said. The state closed the shelter in July of 2007, and the county built a new shelter and opened it July 22, 2009.

In the four years it has been open, adoption numbers have skyrocketed. Bryan said there was a 286-day period beginning Nov. 2, 2012, in which no adoptable dogs were euthanized. Tuesday marked the 100th day of not euthanizing any adoptable cats.

Walker said this has never happened before.

“Obviously, our shelter will never be a no-kill shelter, but the truth is it can’t be,” he said. “We’re not bringing in dogs in the best health, and some are flat not adoptable.” But he appreciates the staff’s efforts to find good homes for as many animals as possible.

Bryan was hired in March 2011, and Walker said she “hit the ground running.”

“Linda and her shelter crew have done an amazing job working with rescues and volunteers,” he said. “We’ve shipped dogs all over the country, and we have people sending money to the shelter from all over the world.

“She doesn’t need me, my captain or my lieutenant.”

Walker said even if the shelter becomes its own department, animal control officers Sherri Hartfield and Fred Redder would remain under the S.O. umbrella because the department is required by the state to handle strays and rabies control.

The change would not affect the county’s interlocal agreements with cities for animal control.

Commissioners did not form a committee to study the issue at the Nov. 12 meeting, but they agreed to discuss making the change at their next regular meeting Monday, Dec. 16.

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