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I had only been working at The News-Democrat about six months when news broke about the incomprehensible treatment of dogs at the previous Henry County shelter by then-shelter manager Ted Chisolm.
I didn’t realize then that his actions had affected citizens in Trimble and Gallatin counties, who had contracted with the Henry facility to handle its stray and homeless animals.
I just remember being sickened by the abuse that had been videotaped by a concerned citizen; that tape was turned over to the media and People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals – PETA. It led to state ban of using bullets at shelters to destroy shelter animals.
The 2002 debacle no doubt has had lasting effects on Trimble Judge-Executive Randy Stevens and Henry Judge-Executive John Logan Brent, both of whom were elected to their current offices later that same year. Soon after the news broke, both counties entered into an agreement with the Kentucky Humane Society in Louisville, in which KHS provided a shelter facility and an animal-control officer.
I’m sure both men thought they wouldn’t have to worry about the problem again.
However, KHS recently has “narrowed our mission,” according to public relations manager Cara Hicks, and will no longer manage animal-control services for the two counties. Instead, they are turning their focus to “proactive” means to reduce pet overpopulation through spay-neuter programs, adoptions and educational programs.
While that’s commendable, it does leave the two counties in a lurch. Both are working to figure out a plan that can provide humane services for stray and unwanted animals in the county.
The problem is that animal-control does not come cheap. While the counties may be able to get grants to build a shelter – Carroll County’s shelter built in 2007 cost $250,000 – it requires paying for a trained animal-control officer to answer complaints, issue citations and handle dangerous or aggressive dogs.
I know that in this area, many people don’t see the need to care for these animals. After all, they are just dogs, right? But, state law does mandate that each county provide the service, and there are laws to ensure all of it is done humanely.
God knows the laws could be stronger and carry stiffer penalties against those who breed dogs in puppy mills, use them for fighting operations or otherwise abuse them for personal gain. But that’s a column for another week.
Eight years ago, I teamed up with Tammie Crawford, a Carrollton resident, to form Carroll County Animal Support. With a shoestring budget and help from volunteers and other animal-rescue organizations, CCAS has helped to save hundreds (most likely a couple of thousand) dogs from euthanasia in the county shelter. Like Rita Davis in Bedford, Tammie has been operating a monthly SNIP Clinic – offering reduced-cost spay-neuter services for cats and dogs – that has helped reduce the number of strays in the county.
But Stevens and Brent are absolutely correct when they acknowledge that this mandate won’t come cheap. That’s mostly due to the ignorance or indifference of people who take in or breed animals, those with no regard as to whether they have the means to care for animals they take in and those who think animals are “disposable.”
But, this could be an opportunity for our two counties to show the rest of the state that even small counties can do this right. I truly believe humane and responsible animal-control is possible – even in rural areas, if we work together.
I believe this is our moment to shine – and redeem the sins of the past – by caring for today’s animals and reducing their numbers in the future.
Phyllis McLaughlin is editor of The Trimble Banner and a Milton resident.