Gone to the Dogs

untitledI can take a picture and show you what an abandoned dog looks like. I have trouble, however, with the smell. How can I convey to you through the printed page the odor of filth, ignorance and neglect?

I hoped more time would pass before I would smell something like the Dixie Humane Society storage buildings with their feces-covered floors and freezers of dead dogs. The scene at the Island View community on Lake O’ The Pines lacked dog carcasses in black bags, but the air was rank enough with dog waste.

Rescuers removed more than 80 dogs that had roamed loose around the community, living in and under and around mobile homes, campers and sheds. People around the area would feed the dogs, which I am told are friendly, but not accept ownership.

The dogs kept breeding and the canine population growing. “It’s like the dogs were members of a commune,” said Patti Dawson, president of Dallas DogRRR, the shelter that received the dogs.

April Ratcliff, who headed the rescue effort, said meth heads squatting in a mobile home were evicted, abandoning the dogs and turning a bad situation into a crisis. At some point, we must ask ourselves whether we more outraged about dogs or people living in these conditions, but today the subject is dogs.

For many, the Island View dog emergency on the heels of the collapse of the local animal shelter adds another black eye to the humanitarian reputation of Marion County. “This is the second time in four months that Marion County has been faced with an atrocious animal welfare situation and has had to rely on other communities for help,” Kimberly Parsons, president of Jefferson Friends of Animals posted on Facebook.

“We have no animal control officers,” Parsons wrote. “We have no city or county animal shelter. The sheriff’s office response was silence.” When I asked Sheriff David McKnight about the situation, he answered with a question. “What do they expect me to do?” McKnight asked.

MCSO has no animal control officers. There is no animal shelter to receive the dogs. I suppose McKnight could send his deputies in like it was Omaha Beach and shoot anything on four legs, but I don’t think anyone wants that.

The solution lies more in the political and budget realm than in the kingdom of law enforcement. The Texas Association of Counties’ handbook on county animal control states, “A county’s authority to regulate animals is extensive.

Within its unincorporated areas, a county may operate an animal shelter, enforce laws against cruelty toward animals, require the registration of certain domestic animals, prohibit certain dogs from running at large, seize dangerous dogs, and regulate or prohibit the keeping of wild animals.”

The manual goes on to point out that the animal control officer should not be a law enforcement officer, but the department could be housed within the sheriff’s office. Admittedly, smaller counties in Texas tend not to have county-funded animal control.

It is the larger counties like Harris, Travis and Bexar with such programs. Marion County Judge Leward LaFleur told me the subject is on the minds of those in charge. “That we need to do something in Marion County about animal control is beyond debate,” LaFleur said.

“Just what we should do and how we should go about it is debatable.” In the spirit of advancing the debate, I would suggest city and county share the cost of an animal control officer who would be administratively under the sheriff ’s authority.

I also think we should not attempt to operate an animal shelter, yet. Stray animals could be taken to existing facilities within the region with the expense shared by city and county.

This new burden for both Jefferson and Marion County comes at a bad time, with the Courthouse restoration and other capital projects, but don’t let us fool ourselves that the dog problem will solve itself. Parsons put it this way, “Have you had enough, yet?”


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