Humane Society asks county to fund officer

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, August 18, 2004

Robert Beasley says protecting the welfare of the county's four-legged residents is worth more than $25 per month.

Beasley, president of the Lawrence County Humane Society took that message to the Lawrence County Commissioners last week in hopes the county would increase funding for the position of humane officer.

Unfortunately, he left feeling he was barking up the wrong tree.

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"They said they didn't have the funds to pay for it," Beasley explained after meeting with the commissioners.

Beasley said the county has operated without a humane officer for more than three years.

The problem, Beasley said, began when the county reduced the amount allocated to pay the humane officer to the lowest amount state law allows - $25 per month.

Prior to that change, which he said occurred about four years ago the part-time position earned approximately $6,000 per year.

"When (the county) came into a budget crunch they dropped it to $25 per month," Beasley said. "Try to find someone to do that work for $25 per month."

The position is responsible for investigating animal abuse complaints that include everything from poorly operated kennels or "puppy mills" to mistreatment of animals, which could include everything from simple neglect to dog and chicken fighting.

Commissioners said even though $6,000 is not a lot of money, it's money not currently in the county budget.

"It's a little late in the year to revisit the budget for this year, but we said we might be able to revisit it next year," Commission President Doug Malone said. "We said we can't assure anything for next year, but we would see what we can do.

Commissioner Jason Stephens echoed Malone's sentiments.

"We're almost two-thirds of the way through the budget for this year," he said.

Such excuses are common, Beasley said.

"I've heard this for 10 years," he said. "The position of the humane agent, they want to make political."

Currently, animal abuse complaints are referred to the sheriff's office.

While the sheriff's office is certainly capable of handling the calls, Beasley said, animals obviously come second to human calls.

"What happens is they're on their way to an animal abuse case, somebody on the other end of the county starts a domestic abuse case and they have to go," he said. "(Sometimes) they don't get back to it. It's not their fault."

Beasley said he has also suggested to commissioners a way to help fund the position.

Beasley said he has asked commissioners to raise dog tag fees from $8 to $15. In addition, he suggested tying a discount to pet owners who could prove their animals were spayed or neutered.

"That would encourage people to be responsible pet owners," he said.

Beasley said despite the county's lack of immediate help, the Humane Society is going to attempt to fill the position and fund it themselves - at least temporarily.

"We'll fund it until we run out of money," he said.