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Animal Control stresses safety, spaying/neutering

Jennifer Sprouse • Jul 7, 2012 at 9:45 PM

People have been known to show love for their animals by giving toys, playing with them outside and in some instances by dressing them up. But, one thing they need to remember is that beyond the fun and games is a pet that needs attention and care like a newborn baby.

Basic care for animals, like dogs and cats, is not limited to just water, food and exercise, but also constant supervision, keeping them medically up to date as well as not harming or putting the animal in harm’s way.

For all things considered, just one slip-up as a pet parent could mean a visit from Animal Control.

“We work on complaints here,” said Debbie Dobbs, director of the Washington County-Johnson City Animal Control Center and Shelter. “So if someone doesn’t call us we don’t know about it. So, people have to call. We stress that to our citizens in our city and county, that we can’t be everywhere. We have three animal control officers.”

Animal Control officers are given an incoming call sheet that lists things such as the name of the caller, their address, the nature of the complaint and a description of the animal. Officers take the sheet with them on calls and then at the bottom of the form they mark what kind of action was taken — verbal warning, written warning, picked up animal, citation issued with court date — and turn it back in to the center.

Dobbs said the control officers and the public are constantly bringing in stray animals, and their overflow of pets could’ve been easily prevented by people spaying and neutering their animals.

“We get in over 8,000 animals a year here in the shelter and you wouldn’t think our city and county could have that many unwanted overflows,” she said. “Since there’s no law or ordinance stating that someone has to have their animal spayed or neutered, it’s a continuous flow from June until September of cats and kittens.”

Upon entering the shelter there is a large dry erase board displayed with the date, as well as how many stray cats and dogs were brought into the shelter during the day. Dobbs said they keep daily sheets documenting what kind of animal came into the shelter, how it came to be in the shelter and then its final disposition, including either adoption, returned or reclaimed by their owners, euthanized or picked up by a rescue group.

Animal Control Officer Wayne Thomas said when he goes on a call involving someone’s animal and learns they have not been spayed or neutered, he asks if they would like to have that procedure for their animal.

“It’s so bad in this area,” Thomas said. “By spaying or neutering your pet, it would really help to keep animals from being brought in that you don’t necessarily want. The Humane Society of Johnson City will help you to spay or neuter your animal. All you’ve got to do is call.”

Dobbs said they do receive barking dog complaints and many feel that rules in the city should not apply in the county.

“In the city we have a barking dog ordinance. In the county, we have a barking dog resolution,” she said.

Both rules are rated on barks being untimely, continuous and disturbing the peace and health of the neighbor.

Thomas said the largest amount of complaints he gets includes barking dogs, but also roaming animals.

“The biggest complaint, I guess, is probably dogs running at large or cats getting in flower beds or defecating in someone’s yard,” he said.

Dobbs said during the summer season animals are more likely to roam around and pet owners need to keep an eye on their animals.

“During the holidays and during the summer months people go on vacation, they have cookouts and … they should always think of their animals too,” she said. “They’ve got kids running all over the place and if they’ve got dogs running with them, something will distract them (the animal) and they’ll run off. Of course, naturally, animals are going to roam more during the warm and nice months, than they are during the winter months.”

When an animal is brought into the facility, Dobbs said the animal is analyzed by its temperament, its health and how much space they have at the time. She said while she doesn’t like doing it, some animals must be euthanized.

“Between the adoptions and rescue groups, that’s what we want all of them to go to,” Dobbs said.

While citizen complaints can vary in level of importance, one thing Dobbs and Thomas agree on is how necessary it is to have someone call in to report animal neglect or an abuse.

“We have to have those good citizens that call us on especially the cruelties. I mean, the cruelties we need to know about and be reacted on immediately,” she said. “Now, the vicious animals, the bite cases, run-at-large, those are priorities too, because our mission statement here is protect animals against people and people against animals.”

Thomas said right now, in the intense heat our area has seen the last couple of days, he has no air-conditioning in his animal control vehicle. While the air-conditioning can be easily fixed, he said he hasn’t done it because he wants to be able to show people who leave their animals in the car to go shopping, or run various errands, just how hot a car can get.

This past week, he said he recorded the temperature in his car as being as high as 130 degrees.

“Right now, probably the worst thing we’re seeing is people who do not think to keep their animals … at home when they go out shopping at a mall,” he said. “Stupidity doesn’t make neglect right. Nor ignorance,” Thomas said. “If you’re going to let your animal die or abuse your animal, and I can prove that, then you’re probably going to be sitting down in the courthouse.”

Dobbs said she recognizes there is a lot of negative connotation that goes with animal control officers, but she supports what they have to do and how they must approach each individual situation.

“They carry the load very well for (the area) being as big as what they have to cover,” she said. “I’d like people to understand that animal control officers are kind of like police officers, but in the animal world. When they come up to a situation we dispatch a call, (and) they don’t know what they’re walking into. Sometimes our officers come off as being apprehensive or abrupt. A lot of it is mediating between people and getting people to be nice neighbors to each other.”

Thomas, who has been working as an animal control officer for eight years, said he doesn’t view what he does as a job, but rather as his career.

“What our job is, as far as animal control, is to protect the animals in Washington County. That’s our jurisdiction,” he said. “We try to educate people that do not know that they’re doing something wrong, which is what I try to do. I’m just trying to help people in this county to make it better for them and their pets.”

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