Leavenworth County panel tackling rural stray-animal problem
More complaints related to animals poured into the Leavenworth County Sheriff's Office than calls about any other topic in 2011.
And yet the department doesn't have the resources to provide animal-control services for the county's unincorporated areas, at least not when it comes to picking up stray animals, undersheriff Ron Cranor said.
That distance between needs and services offered is the problem facing a new county animal-control committee headed by Leavenworth County Administrator Patrick Hurley. The group consists of county officials and county residents, tasked with recommending a way for the county — perhaps along with other entities — to provide animal-control services that are currently unavailable to its rural residents.
Without some sort of solution, a stray-pet problem in unincorporated Leavenworth County will only get worse, said Crystal Swann Blackdeer, president of the Leavenworth County Humane Society.
“The unincorporated areas of the county are growing in population, the calls for service are only going to increase, and it would be best before the problem really gets out of hand for the county commission to address that need,” Blackdeer said.
Though the new animal-control group had an introductory meeting earlier this month, Hurley said he expects the members to get down to business at a meeting set for Feb. 17 at the Leavenworth County Courthouse. He said he'd like the group to come up with a recommendation by the time county commissioners begin work on their 2013 budget in the summer.
During talks on the county's 2012 budget in summer 2011, commissioners denied a request from the Sheriff's Office to add two part-time animal-control officers at the cost of about $70,000, as part of an effort to keep a mill-levy increase to a minimum. At that time, Commissioner John Flower recommended the formation of a “blue-ribbon panel” to study the county's animal-control problem and brainstorm possible solutions, including possible cooperation between the county and its cities.
Sheriff's officials said then that the department frequently received calls from residents who expected it to pick up stray animals, but it did not have the staff numbers, training or equipment to handle strays.
In 2011, the department received 576 calls for service that were animal-related, Cranor said. It was the top call category for the year, he said, with traffic complaints and home alarm calls coming in second and third. Not all of those calls involved stray animals, he said, but enough of those calls poured in that it took time away from deputies' other tasks.
“Instead of investigating crime or whatever, we're looking at animal calls,” Cranor said.
Cranor added that the office will always respond if an animal is posing a safety issue or if someone is bitten.
County residents who live outside of its cities simply don't have anyone to call if they come across a stray dog or cat, Blackdeer said, and it's a service they expect to be available.
“I think there's a public demand for someone to be responsible, to be on-call, who can pick up and get stray animals to safety,” Blackdeer said.
Hurley said one possible solution could be cooperation with the city of Leavenworth, which operates the county's only animal shelter and employs a handful of animal-control officers.
Whether in conjunction with Leavenworth or not, Blackdeer said she hoped the county group would at least produce a plan that would begin chipping away at the problem slowly.
“I realize we're probably not going to get everything fixed initially,” Blackdeer said.
This story has been updated to reflect that the animal control committee's next meeting has been rescheduled to Feb. 17. The change was announced Tuesday afternoon.