Grand Traverse County Commissioners Dan Lathrop, Cheryl Gore Follett and Bob Johnson held their first animal control ad hoc meeting tonight in front of an interesting mix of citizens and government employees concerned with the animal control issue. The ad hoc committee was formed during a commissioner’s study session on animal control on Wednesday, June 28th.
Attendees at the meeting included Sheriff Tom Bensley, Animal Control Officer Deb Zerafa, Animal Control Specialist Jaime Croel, Cherryland Humane Society Director Heidi Yates & Shelter Operations Manager Liz Williams, Treasurer Heidi Scheppe, Chief of Police Jeffrey O’Brien, Grand Traverse Police Officer Captain Clark, Environmental Health Coordinator Dan Thorell, Silver Muzzle Cottage founder Kim Skarritt and former County Commissioner Christine Maxbauer.
The ad hoc committee took a refreshing approach to the issue by allowing questions from those in attendance and a back-and-forth discussion between the crowd and the commissioners. Commissioner Cheryl Gore Follett said that she wanted to use the time to gather input from the people who showed up for the meeting.
Goals for the ad hoc committee were discussed and included deciding what level of animal control services need to be provided; how and by whom; and funding for those services. The committee is looking into protocol between animal control, the Sheriff’s Office and the City of Traverse City on how calls are treated and what kind of individual or combined response should be taken. Better communication by all three divisions will go a long way to serve the county and a meeting between them next week was mentioned. Although animal control is not a mandated service, Commissioner Follett told the audience that they are taking the issue seriously and is looking for solutions instead of discussing what services are mandated and which are not.
A high priority on the Commission’s mind is the safety of the Animal Control Officer when that person is out in the field. Sheriff Bensley said there was no law stopping ACO Deb Zerafa from carrying a gun or other device for her safety but said that it was an issue with the health department that their policy on that would need to be changed. Animal Control Specialist Jaime Croel spoke to the commissioners about what is involved in becoming a certified animal control officer and the hours involved in the training which includes learning dog behavior, the animal laws of Michigan and much more.
Clarification was made by the Treasurer’s office to let the commissioners know that they estimate about 50% of the dog owners in Grand Traverse are compliant with their dog licensing, a higher number than previously being talked about at the study session. The discrepancy was related to the fact that some licenses are purchased for more than one year so that license wouldn’t be counted every year. Currently, approximately 10,000 dogs in Grand Traverse County are licensed.
The ad hoc committee had previously suggested a citizens advisory committee be formed to offer information to the ad hoc committee by concerned citizens. A loose group was formed by Animal Control Officer Deb Zerafa, Silver Muzzle Cottage founder Kim Skarritt, Silver Muzzle volunteer Koren Klumpp and Pet Friends editor/publisher Jen Isbell. Skarritt asked the committee what they expected of this small animal control “task force.” Follett requested that the group look into how to expand dog licensing in the county to help fund animal control services.
At the end of the meeting, Environmental Health Coordinator Dan Thorell reminded everyone that by the end of November, the “extra” funds that the county had accumulated due to the elimination of animal control division would be depleted. Those funds were used to expand Zerafa’s hours and to hire Croel. After November 30th, there will once again be only 25 hours of animal control services offered to a county of more than 92,000 people. Just about everyone involved has said that 25 hours is far short of what is needed to run a fully functional animal control division.