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Officer responsible for Trimble, Henry animal control

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By Phyllis McLaughlin

As the animal control officer for two counties – Henry and Trimble – Dan Flinkfelt spends a lot of his time on the road.

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Flinkfelt arrives daily at Henry County’s shelter in Eminence, where he works on paperwork, checks on the dogs in the kennels and prioritizes which calls require him to go talk to complainants in person.

Flinkfelt said his office receives about 100 calls a day. Most, he said, are for problems that can be solved over the phone. The rest are prioritized, with the most severe reports being injury to or abuse of an animal, or bite complaint. Those, in fact, are considered emergency calls and are the only ones he’ll respond to after hours, Flinkfelt said.

But mostly, the calls have to do with roaming dogs and strays, or owners who want to surrender their animals. Owner-surrender calls usually are handled the next day, he said, to give people time in case they change their minds.

On Thursday, Flinkfelt’s first call was to a house on Main Street in Pleasureville. Arriving about 9:30 a.m., there was no response at the door. Flinkfelt walked around back to see if anyone was there and found the complainants two little dogs barking at him from their fenced-in yard.

He said the woman who called had complained of a stray golden retriever-type dog that was being aggressive to her and her dogs, to the degree that the dog wasn’t allowing her to enter her own home.

Walking back to his truck, Flinkfelt notices a yellow Labrador retriever on the neighbor’s porch. The dog stands quietly wagging its tail next to a large doghouse that also is on the porch.

“That’s probably the dog she’s calling about,” he said. But, with the complainant not there to talk to, there was no way to be sure. Further complicating the situation, he pointed to a street sign indicating that the home with the yellow Lab was just over the Shelby County line.

“She’s going to have to call their humane society, anyway,” he said. “I can’t go on that property.”
He gets back into his truck, emblazoned with the Henry County Animal Control, logo and heads to the next call – an owner-surrender allegedly in Trimble County, about 35 miles away.

While driving, he notes that the caller had assured him several times on the phone that she lived in Milton, though checking her Hunters Heights address on a map, he had his doubts that she was, actually, in his jurisdiction. Hunters Heights appeared to be in Carroll County.

When he arrived, his suspicions were confirmed. Standing in the woman’s driveway, he asked, “Is this Carroll County?”

The woman, who was wanting to surrender a female chihuahua with four puppies, nodded. “But, it’s a Milton address,” she said.

Flinkfelt explained to the woman that even with a Milton address, her home was physically not in Trimble County and, therefore, he couldn’t take the dogs. He instructed her to call Carroll County’s shelter.

Part of his frustration are cases like this, when a caller won’t be honest. It’s not the first time he’s been called out of his jurisdiction, he said, adding that he’s also gone to collect a reported stray only to find that the complainant actually knows who owns the dog in question and may be angry that the owner allowed the dog to roam.

Neither Henry nor Trimble county ordinances require dogs be on a leash or contained in the owner’s yard. For instance, in Trimble, he said dogs may run loose from sunup to sundown, as long as they are wearing tags.

“That’s the hardest part of doing animal control for two counties,” Flinkfelt said. Not only does each county have different laws, “all the cities have different [animal or nuisance] ordinances; Sulphur doesn’t have any and Eminence has very strict ordinances.”

At about 10:30 a.m., Flinkfelt responded to the next call, which was in Milton and was equally fruitless. A caller at one address had complained that their next-door neighbors were allowing their dogs to roam, and that the roaming dogs were causing problems for the caller’s own dogs.

On scene, Flinkfelt saw no roaming dogs anywhere in the area. What was worse, there were no street numbers visible on either house, so he could not determine which one belonged to the caller.

Because he saw no dogs in the area, his hands were tied. “It’s considered trespassing if I go onto someone’s property” without probable cause, Flinkfelt said with a sigh. He couldn’t approach either house for more information, nor could he let anyone know that he had stopped by.

Driving through Trimble County on his way back to Eminence, Flinkfelt pointed at homes where he has been called for owner-surrenders. Some were expensive homes, others were trailers. With the nation’s poor economy over the past few years, many people are finding they can no longer keep their pets.

“It’s not just low-income neighborhoods or one area,” he said. “It’s all areas; all economic statuses.”

But Flinkfelt said he will work with anyone “who will work” to keep their pets, which is why he and his staff established a food bank at the shelter. People in need of pet food can come to the shelter to get supplies, particularly if it will help them keep their animals at home. The food bank relies on donations from the community.

In fact, Flinkfelt is counting on the community for helping the shelter obtain supplies that may not be covered by its $148,000 annual budget, which is funded by both counties. Most of that money is spent on medical care for the dogs brought to the shelter, and for food and utilities, as well as his salary and expenses related to the animal control vehicle.

For everything else, such as salaries for his two part-time workers and educational and spay/neuter programs, the shelter relies on revenue from fines and county dog tags. To boost adoption rates, he keeps adoption fees low. He said the $65 fee doesn’t cover the animal’s spay/neuter, shots and any other required medical care, tags and the microchip that identifies the animal’s owners if it becomes lost.

He said he was very excited when Homestead Nursing Home and Assisted Living facility donated $1,300 to pay one month’s rent for the facility, Flinkfelt said. The shelter is still owned by the Kentucky Humane Society in Louisville, which operated the shelter for many years. KHS officials decided last year not to renew the contract with Henry and Trimble counties, ending a nearly decade-long relationship on June 30.
 
Flinkfelt hopes the Eminence facility will be replaced in January by a new shelter to be located on land near Sulphur donated by Valley View Landfill, and eliminate that rent payment. The project is a joint effort between the two counties.