Catherine W. Idzerda" />

Towns grapple with stray animal control

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Catherine W. Idzerda
Sunday, March 18, 2012
— Big numbers and fluffy kittens scare Turtle Town Board member Tim Kopp.

La Prairie Town Board President Allan Arndt is afraid of them, too. He’s wary of dogs, as well.

It’s a fear that infects half the town boards in Rock County and is creating anxiety among the rest.

It’s not the kittens or dogs themselves that are making towns nervous. It’s the prospect of paying for—or providing—stray animal control.

Half of the towns have a contract with the Rock County Humane Society to take stray animals. The other half don’t, fearing the potential expense.

When a stray dog with no tags is found in Milton Township, it has no place to go.

“I have to tell people, ‘We don’t have the resources,’” said Bryan Meyer, town chairman.

Town of La Prairie Chairman Allan Arndt is in the same situation.

Both towns used to have contracts with the humane society to pick up of stray dogs, but they didn’t want to renew their contracts if it meant caring for cats, too.

In its contracts with towns and municipalities, the humane society charges $130 per animal if the animal is there for seven days or more, said Angela Rhodes, humane society executive director.

Rural officials worry that a barn cat and a litter of kittens could cost thousands of dollars.

So, they’ve not signed contracts with the humane society and are trying to figure out how to handle stray animals on their own.

“When people tell me they have a stray dog in their garage, I tell them, ‘Well, if you feed him, he’ll probably stay around,’” Arndt said.

He’s joking—but only a little.

“We’re fortunate enough that we have about 840 people and about 300 homes,” Arndt said.

That means Arndt can make a few calls and find out where a dog belongs.

Once, when there was an issue with a dog, Arndt asked a vet to care for the dog as a favor to him.

“When I asked him if he would do it again in a pinch, he said, ‘Absolutely not,’” Arndt said. “There’s a tremendous liability for vets in that situation.”

A stray dog cannot be placed in a kennel with other animals. Even if the vet has segregated facilities, there’s still a risk to his regular customers.

Arndt put it best: “You can’t have Fifi who’s in there to get her nails done and spayed next to some Cujo you picked up along side the road.”

Both Meyer and Arndt are looking for answers. Arndt said the La Prairie Town Board might join with another town to provide stray animal care.

A group of officials from Rock County, including Janesville Deputy Police Chief Dan Davis, veterinarian Dean Peterson and town leaders have held several meeting to discuss a countywide solution to the animal control problem.

All or nothing

Previously, all Rock County towns and municipalities had animal control contracts with the Rock County Humane Society. The contracts varied, but many towns contracted for the pick-up of dogs but not cats or other animals.

Now, the humane society’s contracts are all or nothing.

Rhodes said valuing one animal over another would be contrary to the to the humane society’s mission—and isn’t what donors expect.

“We are not going to be forced to make those decisions,” Rhodes said. “There is no way I could look at one of these cats (in the shelter) and say, ‘You’re not worthy of the same humane care and control as dogs.’”

Rhodes said not picking up stray cats creates a self-perpetuating problem: Letting cats run means their population grows. The size of the population means townships are reluctant to pay for their control. Not paying for control means the problem gets worse.

Kopp said he and others on the Turtle Town Board are concerned about the price of contracting with the humane society.

The town board can’t budget for the unknown, he said. They don’t know how many animals from Turtle Township would end up at the shelter, and they don’t know how many would be taken to the humane society by people saying the animals came from the township but didn’t.

The humane society’s policy of picking up stray cats was particularly problematic.

A mother cat with a big litter of kittens could cost the town more than a $1,200 dollars, Kopp said.

“Those kind of numbers scare me,” Kopp said. “You could crack-fill a quarter mile of road for that kind of money.”

Meyer said the town would have to raise taxes or reduce services to cover the cost of a humane society contract for all animals.

“I’m not saying that those costs are unreasonable, but it’s a burden to the taxpayers,” he said.

For that reason, he hoped the town board could negotiate a contract for dogs alone.

‘Day of reckoning’

When a stray dog is found in Turtle Township, town Chairman Roger Anclam gets a call. If the dog is restrained and the dog’s owner can’t immediately be located, the dog ends up in the kennels at the town’s public works garage.

Public works staff and volunteers feed and care for the animal for at least seven days. If an owner cannot be found and if no one wants to adopt the animal, a vet will be called and the dog will get a fatal injection.

They haven’t had to resort to that yet, but they might soon.

About two weeks ago, public works staff and police were dispatched to a home where two pit bull-type dogs were dumped off. The dogs were on a 90-year-old woman’s porch. When her caregiver arrived, the dogs wouldn’t let her anywhere near the door.

Using gloves and a snare, town employees and police got the animals into a vehicle and hauled them to the public works garage.

They’ve been there for more than seven days.

“Last Thursday was their day of reckoning,” Kopp said Monday. “We pleaded his case, and the old governor gave him a stay of execution.”

The “governor” in this case is Anclam.

Officer Jeff DuCharme, a retired Rock County sheriff’s deputy now working for the town, volunteers his time to walk and feed the dogs and has been frantically trying to find them homes.

“Those dogs, they’re like pets to him,” Kopp said. “They cry when they see him.”

Each day, the animals grow more personable. Each day, it grows closer to the day when the animals will have to be killed.

DuCharme said he’s never been so frustrated in his 27 years of law enforcement.

“They’re good dogs,” Ducharme said. “I’m just trying to save them from getting the needle.”

He’s called 12 rescue organizations, including one in Madison that offered to take the dogs if the humane society would hold them for four weeks. A representative from the rescue organization said he would be willing to pay the humane society up to $400 for the stay.

He was turned down because the town of Turtle doesn’t have a contract with the human society.

“It’s very common when people have their back up against the wall that they call us,” Rhodes said.

Taking those animals wouldn’t be fair to the other towns that have contracts, she said.

“Either you value what we do—and we’re partners and we work in this together—or you don’t,” Rhodes said.

If towns called only when they had a problem, it would be difficult for the humane society to staff and budget properly.

Yes, the fees for animal pick-up were increased, but they still don’t cover all of the expenses, she said.

In addition, “no reputable rescue organization would ask a shelter to hold animals for four weeks,” Rhodes said.

Rhodes expressed frustration about the lack of communication among the towns, the municipalities and all the other parties involved.

“I’m aware that the towns would like to throw us under the bus for this,” she said. “It has never been our desire to walk away from any of this. We want to care for the animals.

‘Frustrating situation’

The towns say the law does not require them to provide stray animal control.

When told that, Rock County Sheriff Bob Spoden said, “Our corporation counsel has a different opinion.”

The sheriff’s office does not have “any constitutional authority” to deal with strays—unless they pose an imminent threat, Spoden said.

What happens if a sheriff’s deputy is called for a stray dog in a town that doesn’t have a contract with the humane society?

The town chairman would be contacted. If the dog didn’t have tags and no one knew who it belonged to, it’s possible the deputy would just let the animal go, Spoden said.

In other cases, the town and the sheriff’s office might try to work with the humane society to find a compromise. Despite the contract issue, it has happened, Spoden said.

Each incident is different.

“It’s a frustrating situation,” Spoden said. “The real victims of all of this are the animals; that’s the real tragedy. It’s indicative of a system that is broken and that needs to be addressed.

Rhodes couldn’t agree more.

“This is not just our issue,” she said. “This is a community issues—how the community looks after and cares for animals.”

People interested in adopting two dogs being held by the Town of Turtle can go to the town’s website,, for information and photos or call the town clerk at (608) 362-0655.

Both dogs are female pit bull-type dogs.

Last updated: 7:55 pm Thursday, December 13, 2012

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