There’s no doubt that Liberty County’s residents are passionate about their pets, both wanted and unwanted. Recent calls for ordinances on spaying, neutering and microchipping have brought forth heated debate among pet owners and pet rescuers. Lately this conversation has evolved into discussions about the county’s current animal control and rescue policies, which some residents view as inefficient in light of the number of groups who seek to find homes for abandoned pets.
One key issue in this debate is a contract that rescue organizations must sign in order to take animals from the Liberty County Animal Control Facility. According to Bob Sprinkel, assistant county administrator, any for-profit or nonprofit company that wants to do business with the county must sign a contract. That contract includes a clause stating the company will carry $1 million in liability insurance, in addition to worker’s compensation coverage for paid employees.
Currently, the Liberty Humane Shelter and New Beginnings Animal Rescue hold the required insurance and as a result are able to take animals directly from the animal control facility. LHS houses the animals it selects in its portion of the building it shares with animal control, said LHS president Sandra Frye. The shelter has worked closely with animal control for several years to select and place unclaimed animals with new homes.
“We’ve been working with the county since 1982. I became involved in 2006 but everything in our paperwork dates back to 1982,” Frye said. “[The insurance] is a hindrance for us, but if that’s what’s required of us to do, it’s what we do to work with the county.”
Frye said the shelter’s process for selecting animals to be adopted includes reviewing pets in the animal control facility on a daily or near-daily basis. Animal control must hold animals in its facility for a certain number of days to determine ownership. Humane shelter staff evaluate animals for health and temperament.
“Usually we’ll make a decision within 48 hours of an animal’s arrival,” Frye said. When animals have been at the facility for the allotted time, they are given shots, wormed, tested and bathed during the humane shelter’s clinical days — usually Mondays. “Once they’re on our side, they stay until they’re altered and microchipped,” she said.
New Beginnings Animal Rescue is another local rescue organization that takes animals from the Liberty County facility, though it operates in a slightly different fashion.
“As far as how we operate and conduct our adoptions, there are several procedures and it is sometimes a long process,” NBAR president Danny Griffin said. “First we discuss with the president of LHS to see if they have any intention, or room, to pull the new animals that have come in. After discussing what animals will still need placing, we run the dogs through a series of temperament tests. We also see how they interact with other dogs and cats [and] base our decision on adoptability from these findings.”
Griffin said the group then posts photos with as much information on the pets as possible, and requires potential adopters to fill out applications. Animals who garner interest are placed on a 48-hour hold, though many go home with new owners in as little as 24 hours “as long as all the information is correct on the application.”
Potential owners are vetted by NBAR, including finding out whether the homes or apartments they rent allow pets and whether their references are current and reliable. After completing a final application, pets can go to their new homes. Pets are also microchipped before leaving NBAR and owners receive spay/neuter vouchers for discounted services from participating veterinary clinics.
Jean Ann Lingle, president of Animal Haven of Hope Society, said her group wants to be part of the rescue process in Liberty County, but said she feels that the contract and its $1 million insurance policy are too much of a hindrance for the young group. She’d like to see a simpler procedure enacted that would allow all interested rescues to participate in the adoption process — something AHHS did in its early days last summer, until the county presented her with the contract.
Lingle said AHHS approached the county initially about providing education to pet owners and pet lovers, as well as providing pet food to seniors who own animals and assisting with low-cost alteration options. “Our initial intent was to be educational,” she said.
AHHS focuses on placing cats in adoptive homes, Lingle said, and its approach is to not take ownership of strays until a new owner is found. “The way it used to work, people could take pictures and post them, and anyone who saw them could work with any organization they chose,” she said. But soon after launching as a rescue group, Lingle said the county told her that the humane shelter had priority in choosing pets to adopt out, and “we didn’t feel that was fair.”
Around the same time, several rescue groups approached county administrator Joseph Brown about being able to pull animals directly from the animal control facility, Lingle said. “The next thing I knew, all the organizations were told to sign the contract, and we read it and decided we couldn’t because of the insurance.”
The contract came as a surprise for Lingle, because in the meeting where the shelter’s priority was explained, she felt Brown had given the impression an alternate solution would be created to allow more rescues the ability to assist with placing animals.
For Lingle, the county’s policy in its current form isn’t flexible enough to allow interested groups to save as many animals as possible from euthanasia. “I think that’s the hangup. One blanket policy is not going to fit,” she said.
Griffin understands the urgency that all rescue groups feel when it comes to keeping animals from being put down, but he said he doesn’t think the county can do much more to streamline the process of adoption. “We, as a rescue, decide how long it takes to get an animal out, from the time an adopter is found to the time the animal reaches its new home,” he said. “The only time restraints that are imposed by the county are the five-day hold for animals without a collar and seven- to 10-day hold for those that come in with a collar. The county and the animal control officers give the animals as much time as they can.”
Lingle thinks allowing representatives from all interested rescue groups to meet throughout the year would be an ideal alternative, as long as the meetings are held regularly. “The only way you’re going to be organized is to be consistent. That’s the only way you’re going to make it work,” she said. “Our goal is to get us all working hand-in-hand. It’s very difficult and it will take a long time to make it happen.”
Frye agreed that all rescue groups want the same thing — to find homes for as many unclaimed animals as possible — and she feels it can be done under the current circumstances. “I think we’re all here for the same reason so there’s no reason we shouldn’t be able to work together,” she said.
“The fact that all of us in rescues have to realize is that we cannot save every one, and sometimes even the best animals must be euthanized to make room for new ones,” Griffin said. “This is not the fault of any county official, shelter or rescue, but the [fault] of a community that does not take care of their animals, and allows them to run free and even dump them when they no longer want them.”
Editor’s note: This is part I in a two-part series that examines requirements animal rescue groups must meet to work with the county on adopting out animals.