County remains unsure about city's shelter plan

Published on Tuesday, 20 May 2014 22:40 - Written by ADAM RUSSELL


Smith County commissioners remained reticent regarding the future of rural animal control services after receiving a presentation from the city of Tyler Tuesday.

The city of Tyler presented its plans to commissioners, who continue discussions about contracting animal collection, impound, adoption and euthanization of stray dogs around the county.

The Tyler Police Department oversees the city’s animal control program. Lean Sigma Lt. David Long made the presentation and said the city expects to begin construction on its multiphase facility project, including a 10,000-square-foot building to house up to 72 dogs and 48 cats, adoption services and offer basic veterinary care to animals.

Long said the city’s analysis was done to determine its options to control escalating costs, to ensure oversight of impounded animals and to improve Tyler residents’ access to sheltered animals (animals taken within the city limits are taken to Jacksonville).

The analysis was done to ensure quality services for residents and more than 3,000 dogs and cats expected to enter the facility annually.

The city estimates basic operational costs of the facility to be around $450,000, with the $201 per-animal-collected cost estimate, which would be offset by fees, including impoundment, adoption and vaccination.

But the county’s needs would likely mean expansion of the city’s planned project to accommodate at least as many dogs, possibly double city estimates. The city and county collected 10,453 dogs combined the last time collection statistics were recorded in 2007.

The city’s “final build out” of the project would increase capacity to 216 animals total.

County commissioners squirmed in their seats and shook their heads at the $201 per-animal operation cost estimate. The county spends around $200,000 for animal control officers and operation of its facility, a former precinct Road and Bridge barn, which has fans, a roll-up door and kennels on its concrete floor.

Long said potential partnerships between nonprofit organizations, the county and other cities within Smith County could cut costs for everyone. Police Chief Gary Swindle said one possibility was a partnership with Tyler Junior College to allow vet technician students hands-on experience caring for animals.

County Judge Joel Baker said the presentation is part of an ongoing dialogue with the city and other private groups seeking workable solutions to countywide animal service questions. He said the county’s needs are different than Tyler’s and that court members are determined to find a solution that “makes the most practical sense” for Smith County.

“We’ll continue to study and remain open to dialogue,” he said. “Everything is on the table.”

But animal activists are ready for action.

SPCA of East Texas President Deborah Tittle-Dobbs said calls to her office tripled in the past 60 days. Rural residents are growing increasingly frustrated by two scenarios: Animals being dumped on their properties and pets being poisoned or shot as a result of vigilante animal control, she said.

“We’re reaching a flash point,” she said. “It’s an antiquated approach to animal control when citizens are getting their guns out.”

Mrs. Dobbs said court members need to take action before an animal control problem becomes a neighbor versus neighbor problem.

But cost continues to be the driving factor on the court.

“We have to evaluate the cost and it’s got to be a win for us before we jump into something,” Commissioner Cary Nix, who has focused on animal control over the past several months.

Nix called the Tyler plans “nice” and hopes the county and city can work together but that the county is seeking the most cost-effective solution.