Locals hope to cope with dog, cat problems

Published 12:00 am Thursday, August 3, 2006

Almost every community in Lawrence County has its share of stray dogs and cats roaming in the streets, around creeks, on private property, down hollows and through woods.

But, what most people don’t know is that many times local officials’ hands are tied when it comes to dealing with animal issues. This does not mean some are not willing to go above and beyond their job duties to help out, but limited time and money, as well as higher priorities, strain what they can and will do to help the community’s unwanted animals.

The county dog warden

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Bill Click has served as the county’s dog warden for the past 18 years. His main function is to ensure all dogs are licensed. Under Ohio law, if he sees a stray, he is required to pick it up and take it to the shelter.

Most days he and his two deputies are traveling the winding, rural roads answering animal complaints. There are about 200 to 300 people waiting to have unwanted animals picked up, Click said.

They are taken in order of priority — the ones deemed dangerous or with serious health problems are picked up first.

“It’s a sad situation. We do what we can with the amount of funding we get. People don’t understand that it’s not us who gets money to pick up dogs, it’s the cops, the deputies and the township trustees,” Click said. “But, we do it when someone calls us. We go out and take care of it.”

The Ironton dog warden

George Wilson, city dog warden, answers about 30 calls every two weeks within the city limits of Ironton. But, as a part time officer with no help, that keeps him on his toes.

He works mostly stray dog complaints, but is also called out to dog bites and vicious animals running loose, calls that he is required to answer with a police officer.

“It’s a never ending nightmare,” Wilson said. “People let their dogs run loose and that is a jailable offense. Don’t let them run around or I’ll get them.”

In addition to being called out all hours of the night, Wilson said many times people will come to his house, or simply put dogs on his truck when they see it parked at his house.

Limited resources, limited lives

Click said talking about euthanizing animals at the shelter is one of the worst parts of his job. But, unfortunately, with about 30 new animals being brought in daily, it is a fact of life at the shelter.

With an annual operating budget of about $104,000, finding the money to take care of the animals is not possible, which means putting them down is the only way the shelter can make ends meet.

“Right now, we can take care of them is through donations from places like the (Briggs Lawrence County Public) library, Wal-Mart and Dollar General,” Click said. “They have been providing us food and other items that we cannot buy ourselves because we just don’t have the money.”

The dog warden said he wants every dog at the shelter adopted and many times keeps the animals past the state-required three days before putting them down. Right now, he said, there is high-dollar bird dog that has been living at the shelter for nearly three weeks waiting for a new owner. There are more than 40 dogs and puppies of all sizes and breeds living in the shelter that currently need homes.

“People will call us killers, but we are not the bad guys.” Click said. “The bad guys are the ones who aren’t getting their dogs licensed, letting them run loose and having unwanted pups.”

The Lawrence County Humane Society

Although its shelter is no longer in existence, the Lawrence County Humane Society is still doing what it can to help animals.

Alberta Wise, treasurer of the Society, said the group is still in existence and is as committed as ever to animals of all types and sizes in the county.

The group’s major project is a low-cost

mobile spay and neuter clinic that it brings in to the county several times a year. Over the past year, more than 452 animals have had outpatient surgery through the clinics, a feat that Wise claims is a testament to its worthiness in the county.

The humane society shelter closed in 2001 due to dwindling donations after the terrorist attacks of 9/11, Wise said, The individuals and charitable groups that had been generous to the shelter, chose to give to the nationwide effort, and left the group with no money to pay their bills, she explained.

The humane society still operates a foster care program for animals in need — a home where they can stay until they are adopted. And, Wise said, they are always willing to rescue animals that have been abandoned, abused or neglected.

Animal abuse issues

Hazel Carter of Rome Township has cared for the dogs in her neighborhood for years. She has filled their bellies with food, tended to their wounds, helped them give birth and offered them shelter in the worst of weather conditions. But, Carter said, she is tired to taking care of what she deems another person’s responsibility.

“They are not my dogs. I know many people who live down the road from me who own pets but let them roam free hoping someone else with feel sorry for them and feed them. Well, I’ve done that because I’m not going to let a dog die for their owner’s laziness or lack of compassion,” Carter said.

She said some of the animals have mange, other serious health problems or are so malnourished that she has found them dead near her home.

“It’s unfortunate, but no one is held accountable. This goes on all the time, especially out here in the country,” said 68-year-old Carter.

The only people in the county that can write citations for animal abuse or cruelty are law enforcement officers. Other agencies, such as the dog wardens and humane society, can remove animals from suspected abuse situations, but will have to call in officers to file charges. Many times this is frustrating for people like Carter who say they don’t want to burden the police with additional paperwork and stress.

“They have drugs and rapes to worry about. They don’t need to worry about some animal with a broken leg or one that is not getting enough water,” she said. “I’m not going to call them. I will not waste my tax dollars or other people’s. Maybe I’m wrong not reporting it, but I know that police can’t handle all of the animal complaints in the county.”

Click said, “If I had the authority, I’d be the meanest guy you ever saw, but I don’t and I can’t do that.”

Those wanting to report abuse should call their local law enforcement agency first.

What about the cats?

The state of Ohio has a plethora of laws concerning dogs. But, there are none that relate to cats. This means local governments are left to their own devices when it comes to dealing with the furry felines.

The county shelter takes in cats and kittens for a fee and when the space is available. Kittens up to six months will be housed for a fee of $6 each; cats over six months will be housed for $11.

Cortni Grant, of South Point, knows firsthand about the issue of unwanted and abused cats. She and her family have been taking care of a cat family after the mother cat was hit by a car, suffered serious injuries and was left to die in a neighbor’s yard. Although all the cats are doing fine now, Grant said she is still frustrated by the lack of laws regarding the welfare of cats.

“There is no protection at all. They have dog laws, but no cat laws. I’ve talked to many people who say they have gone through the same things we are and have not been able to get anything done,” she said.

The sheriff’s office was called, she said, but could not file charges because there were no laws spelling out what could be done in such a case.

“There are not many things that I will speak up about, but I will fight until the death for this,” said Grant, a member of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals.

Both Click and Wilson say the number of cats and kittens they are seeing and picking up is skyrocketing. But, because there are no laws, it is not a requirement to answer any calls concerning cats, unless there is an emergency situation.