Community-Led Group Works on a Solution to Grand Traverse County’s Animal Control Issue

LOOSE DOGS MAINjpeg

It’s been more than three months since the Grand Traverse County Commissioners voted to eliminate the Animal Control Division from the Health Department. That decision eliminated the Animal Control services that had been provided by two full-time Animal Control Officers who are now laid off. These Officers responded to 636 animal-related calls in 2015 and had 35 years of combined experience. Since then, the County Administrator, Commissioners, Deputy Administrator and others have been spinning a tale about how the Animal Control Division was only “moved” or “transferred” to the Sheriff’s Office. That was never an accurate representation of the situation and now the community understands that. The services previously provided by our dedicated and trained Animal Control Officers, including picking up stray dogs and inspecting dog kennels, are not services that have been transferred over to the Sheriff’s Office. Additionally, the Commissioners never changed the Animal Control Ordinance which means the services of Animal Control still fall under the Health Department. This has been confirmed by the Grand Traverse Prosecuting Attorney, Bob Cooney. Well-meaning animal lovers and other media outlets have tried to put the blame on the Sheriff’s Office for the problem not being solved but they are wrong. The Sheriff’s Office is not legally in charge of our County’s Animal Control Services according to the County’s own ordinance and they don’t have the resources to run an Animal Control Division even if they chose to do so.

The photograph above, recently posted to the Grand Traverse County Lost and Found Pets Facebook site, shows three dogs who are running around loose instead of being picked up by trained Animal Control Officers. Will these dogs ever get home? Will they survive the weather conditions? Will they get sick? Will they bite anyone? Will they attack other animals or livestock? Will they cause a car accident? Animal Control is not just an issue about animals – it’s also a safety issue for humans. It’s a much needed service in any community and it’s elimination continues to cause problems and discontent in Grand Traverse County. It’s also causing problems for other counties. Dogs don’t adhere to County boundaries. The dogs shown in the photo were first spotted in Kingsley and have now been spotted in Buckley, which is Wexford County.

What’s been happening lately and what more do we know? Here are some updates on the status of the Grand Traverse County Animal Control elimination issue…

A PROPOSAL AND POSSIBLE MILLAGE IDEA ARE IN THE WORKS BY LOCAL ANIMAL ADVOCATES

Jennifer Isbell of Pet Friends Magazines has been consulting with many experts since the first of the year about how to get Animal Control reinstated. She continues to meet with and discuss all aspects of the problem with animal shelter workers, rescue groups, veterinarians, politicians, past and present County workers, business owners, pet owners and anyone else who has suggestions and ideas on how to move forward. The goal is to present the County with a proposal on what a “new” Animal Control Division would include, how it would be organized and how it would be paid for. Most likely, the financial aspect of the plan would include a millage which would show up on the November ballot if the Commissioners vote to approve the language.

Sheriff Tom Bensley and Undersheriff Nate Alger in the Sheriff’s Office, have made themselves available to answer questions and brainstorm solutions to our County’s Animal Control issues and their input has been invaluable. They are concerned about helping to solve the issue and make the County safe for both animals and people. It is still unknown who would oversee a new Animal Control Division; however, the right resources of staff, time and money will need to be in place for it to operated effectively and legally under any department.

Anyone who wants to offer ideas for the proposal mentioned above, on the record or anonymously, is asked to email info@petfriendsmagazine.com.

NEW INFORMATION FROM THE COUNTY OFFERS A SNAPSHOT OF THE LAST FEW MONTHS

In January, there were nine dogs taken into CHS for the County. Seven of those dogs were dropped off by the public and two were brought in by officers. Four were reclaimed. In February, there were ten dogs brought into CHS for the County, nine were dropped off by the public and one brought in by an officer. Eight of those dogs were reclaimed.

After requesting information from the County from a FOIA (Freedom of Information Act), Pet Friends Magazine has learned that there was a new Animal Control fund set up by the Treasurer on January 1, 2016. There was no money left in the Health Department’s Animal Control Division at the end of 2015. The new fund has collected $17,850 in revenue from dog licenses, dog boarding at Cherryland Humane Society (CHS) and processing fees. The fund has spent $6208.52 for the CHS contract, other contracts (not specified) and telephone-related charges. The County made $78,980 from dog licenses in 2015. They have made $16,930 in the first three months of 2016 which puts them on track to make about $67,720 for the year. This decrease is most likely from people not paying for a license after learning about the loss of the Animal Control Division – a conversation that has been overheard frequently among dog owners.

It has also been learned that no money has ever been transferred to the Sheriff’s Office to enforce Animal Control Services even though the County’s press release on December 21st said, “nearly $100,000 in animal license fee revenue will move to the Sheriff’s Office come January 1, when service is moved under that department.” Neither of those things have happened.

SHERIFF’S OFFICE CONTINUES TO DO WHAT THEY’VE ALWAYS DONE

In addition to dropping off a few animals that Police Officers saw during their patrols, the Grand Traverse Co. Sheriff’s Office has continued to respond to the calls that they have always been responsible for – animal cruelty/neglect, barking dogs, dangerous dogs (to other animals and people) as well as some wildlife calls.

PETITION TO REINSTATE ANIMAL CONTROL SERVICES SHOWS COMMUNITY STILL CONCERNED OVER ELIMINATION OF ANIMAL CONTROL DIVISION

It’s been a little over two weeks since a petition to reinstate Animal Control Services in Grand Traverse County showed up online. Since that time, 1363 supporters have signed the petition, 872 of them from Michigan. Many Traverse City residents have commented on the petition site including Suzanne Weiler who said, “These services have all but been eliminated without plan. Unacceptable! Citizens and police officers are left without options. Let’s get a plan together – now!”

Saralyn MacKinnon explained, “Animal Control is a much needed service. The Sheriff’s Department is not equipped to handle stray animals, nor do they have the necessary training. The Grand Traverse County Commissioners decision has created a void that allows many strays to fall through the cracks, not to mention the threat to public safety this poses. The residents of Grand Traverse County refuse to tolerate this disservice and we petition the Commissioners to reinstate Animal Control for the benefit and welfare of all.”

Mary Coyne of Traverse City pointed out a problem that many have seen in the community. She said, “Since animal control has been cut down I have seen an alarming increase of loose dogs. One got hit by a car in front of my house and got up and ran away. Its still running loose. You can’t walk a dog down the street for fear a stray dog will come running out at you. We seem to be the only county without these services! Says a lot about our leaders.”

Animal Care & Control Appreciation Week is April 10th through 15th. This week of appreciation is designed to give recognition to the hard-working men and women of Animal Care and Control who risk their lives and devote huge amounts of time, training and dedication to our communities for both people and animals. For Grand Traverse County, it’s also a time to reflect on the huge loss of our own Animal Control Division and how the community wants to move forward to fix the problem.

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