Due to an increase in animal control calls and admissions to the Walker County Animal Shelter, the county commission is considering combining the animal control department with the shelter and adding new positions.
“One of the challenges we have in Walker County with animal control is that our volume is increasing,” Chair Shannon Whitfield said at the county’s monthly meeting Thursday night. “We have more animals coming into the shelter, we have more animal control calls and our increase in our community as it relates to our growth, I’m sure that will only continue.”
Two weeks ago, Whitfield was authorized by the commission to conduct research into how animal services in the county could be reorganized. The commission made no decision on the plan at Thursday’s meeting, with Whitfield saying the plan was “for review and conversation only.”
The proposed plan would have a minimum of two animal control officers on duty eight hours a day, seven days a week, and Whitfield said that would require additional animal control and shelter staff.
(READ MORE: Walker County Animal Shelter reopens with upgrades, new manager)
The county already made a change a few weeks ago, appointing an animal control officer as acting animal control officer, Whitfield said.
The new Animal Control Manager position would report to four full-time Animal Control Officers. The county should hire another animal control officer for that department, Whitfield said. With more admissions to the shelter, the county is also expected to hire a manager and three kennel technicians seven days a week.
After-hours calls for animal control — incidents such as dog bites and aggressive animals — have also increased, Whitfield said. The county currently has three animal control officers Monday through Friday, and they are on call nights, weekends and holidays.
The new plan would more clearly outline why on-call animal control officers would be called, rather than having them deal with the incident the next day. Reasons include: sick or injured animals that do not belong to their owner; animal bites that break the skin of a human victim or if a specific species of wild animal known to be the common carrier of rabies bites and breaks the skin of a dog or cat but is not not contained; and vicious animals creating a public threat.
Under the proposed plan, for new positions and overtime, personnel costs would increase from $520,130 to $785,682. Operating expenses would increase from $120,450 to $126,450, with most being additional fuel costs and increased sterilization and sterilization. The total for the new combined unit would drop from $640,580 to $912,132.
At Thursday’s meeting, Commissioner Mark Askew said he would prefer to work out the department’s organizational chart before the county tackles the new budget, saying he was concerned the program needed a manager. separate for animal control program and animal shelter.
(READ MORE: Two new shelter directors talk animal welfare in Chattanooga)
When there’s a call about dogs, it’s usually a single dog, Whitfield said, but when there’s a cat call, it’s often up to a dozen feral cats. that cause problems. Whitfield wants to introduce a program to neuter and spay feral cats and then reintroduce them to where they used to live.
Duties of the proposed position of Director of Animal Services would be to establish an education program regarding county animal ordinances, humane treatment, animal behavior issues, animal adoption, community involvement through public speaking and information provision – with a focus on school children.
According to the commission’s April monthly statistics report, Whitfield said there were 91 dogs and 48 cats in care. Adoptions and returns to owners for the month were 102 dogs and 50 cats. Two dogs and two cats were euthanized, he said, all due to illness.
Spring is an extremely busy time for the animal shelter, Walker County Public Relations Manager Joe Legge said in an email. Shelter director Emily Sadler, who assumed her role in 2019, was unavailable for comment.
The shelter’s website explains that it is not about animal control and asks people to call 911 to dispatch animal control for dog bites and aggressive animals. On the animal shelter’s webpage, you will find photographs of the many dogs and cats available for adoption.
Lisa Dickerson worked at the shelter and quit her job about a year and a half ago. She said in a phone interview that she hadn’t visited the shelter in a while, but was following its operation through friends who still worked there. A big part of the new management is that it’s become a no-kill shelter, Dickerson said, and the shelter’s management will even help dogs find homes outside the county.
“I love the work they do, I just couldn’t do it personally. I felt too bad for the animals,” Dickerson said. “It’s also physically demanding. It’s a lot of work to keep the shelter clean. We’ve worked hard to keep it disease-free.”
(READ MORE: Report details messy, unsanitary conditions at Walker County animal shelter; Commissioner Whitfield says everything is under control now)
One change Dickerson said she would like to see is allowing volunteers to come into the shelter and walk the dogs. She said she would return to volunteering, but that program was put on hold during the pandemic. The shelter workers are very busy and she says they don’t have time to exercise the animals.
Greater public awareness of sterilization would also be good, and Dickerson said the proposed feral cat plan would be a good idea. She also agreed that educating the public about animal welfare would also help the community.