KENNETH DEAN email@example.com
Animal rights groups’ claims that the Smith County Sheriff’s Office is mass killing stray dogs this week are false, Sheriff Larry Smith said Tuesday.
The claims began circulating this week that the scheduled dog euthanasia was due to the sheriff’s office needing to sterilize and seal the concrete floor in the county facility where the dogs are held.
“We will be moving the dogs that are not adopted by Wednesday because we have to seal the floor in the barn,” Smith told the Tyler Morning Telegraph Tuesday.
However, various groups in Tyler were posting on their Facebook pages that Wednesday was the last day to save their lives.
Pawsitively Texas posted, “Their only crime was to end up in an awful taxpayer-funded animal holding facility that would rather kill than implement basic life-saving programs ... “
The page stated that the reason was the facility was closing to seal the floors in the holding facility.
Representatives of that group could not be reached for comment Tuesday.
Smith said the facility had issues with a cracked floor, where the deadly parvo virus could seep into the ground and live for years, thus causing any dogs in the barn to be possibly exposed.
“All of this stuff out there on Facebook and in the community is false,” the sheriff said. “We are not planning to euthanize a large number of animals this week but are working to make sure the facility is safe for the animals.
Smith said the remaining dogs would be housed in kennels on county-owned property, but he declined to divulge the location. Once the cleaning and sealing is done, then the dogs would be brought back. He added the county has stopped picking up dogs until the project is completed.
SPCA of East Texas President Deborah Tittle-Dobbs said the sheriff’s office on Thursdays does typically euthanize dogs that have not been claimed or taken by a rescue organization and have been in the facility for a certain amount of time.
“Sometimes if a dog is thought to be highly adoptable it will get another week, but dogs are euthanized,” she said.
Smith said the number of dogs being euthanized has decreased significantly over the past year, and his agency is working with area non-profit rescue operations to adopt out as many dogs as possible.
According to the county documents, there were 1,493 dogs in 2013 picked up in the county, with 86 returned to owners, 45 died in the facility for various reasons, 587 euthanized and 792 released to rescue/adoption groups.
Smith said his agency only implemented the program to rescue/adoption groups in June.
Smith said the stray animal issue has become a major problem and is overtaxing his agency.
Born of necessity, the Smith County Sheriff’s Office Animal Control Unit was supposed to have been a temporary solution when the Humane Society of East Texas became a no-kill shelter and quit taking in the county’s strays back in 2007.
Then-Sheriff J.B. Smith developed a unit and began taking in the county strays, but it quickly grew larger, and County Judge Joel Baker said the budget soon escalated to more than $150,000 and growing.
While city and county officials debated on what to do to solve the problem of stray animals, animal rights groups proposed new ideas.
Each idea met obstacles, which tabled the problem for years.
Tyler officials decided to send the city’s animals to a Jacksonville shelter until another solution could be ironed out, and in 2013 the city developed a plan.
Recently, the city announced a new facility is under way and scheduled to be open by next fall.
But without a “viable solution” the sheriff’s office continued dealing with strays, and for six years the strays of Smith County were taken to Winona.
Those that were claimed were saved, but others many were not.
Sheriff Larry Smith said his agency this year likely will spend too much time and personnel on the dog issue.
“We have a budget of $50,000 and three people and three vehicles assigned to this, but it is taking my deputies, a secretary that is assigned to narcotics, a lieutenant and a chief deputy in addition to handle this problem,” he said. “Unfortunately, it is causing a great deal of work for personnel who are supposed to be on the law enforcement side of this agency.”
Mrs. Tittle-Dobbs agreed, saying the Smith County commissioners have not been realistic in their approach to the problem.
“Our county commissioners have not prioritized this animal shelter and animal problem. Our sheriff is battling and struggling with this weekly, and the commissioners are just not listening,” she said.
Smith said he is gathering data to present to the commissioners court on how the dog issue is draining his resources, both budgetary and on personnel.
County Judge Joel Baker said the problem is there have been no viable solutions presented to him or the court, but instead grandiose plans that would cost taxpayers millions of dollars and would take away from more important needs such as public safety, courts, roads and basic government services.
Baker said he agrees the animal problem needs to be addressed, but it is not a top priority.
The judge said public safety through law enforcement, the judicial system and the jail, fire management take most of the budget followed by road and bridge, and finally governmental services that keep the county running
“There is only a limited amount of money, and we do not have the finances or manpower to fund and operate a multi-million shelter,” he said.
Baker said the current dog budget by the county is $170,000, and this does not include what the sheriff’s office is spending.
Baker said commissioners have listened to various groups on the subject in the court, but usually the message is not one of how to solve the problem, but instead a message demonizing the court and sheriff’s office.
“Come sit down with us and talk about solutions and don’t focus on the negative and how bad the court or sheriff’s office is and how bad of a job they are doing. That typically does not get you anywhere,” he said.
Baker said he and Commissioner Cary Nix have discussed a possible facility that would be run by the county and another group that would handle the adoptions, but added conversation is all that has taken place.
“I will sit down with anyone who has a good viable solution that we could possibly implement,” he said.
Baker said the majority of responsibility falls on pet owners who fail to spay and neuter their animals.
Leash laws in subdivisions were enacted several years ago as was the dangerous dog law, but Baker said that additional laws would only cause more of a problem.
“We have to have some personal responsibility for our pets, and we should adhere to those,” he said. “Some believe there should be a no-kill shelter, while others don’t want taxpayer money spent on a shelter. It is a balancing act to find middle ground where everyone will be happy.”
Baker said he takes the sheriff at his word when he says the animal problem is taxing his department.
“The county would love nothing more than to be out of this business. That is for sure,” he said.