Animal control faces conflicting mandates
December 17, 2005
The wide spectrum of reactions to this week’s shooting of a dog by a sheriff’s deputy are an accurate reflection of how divided our community is when it comes to animal control. The only commonality is the intensity of emotion that the incident and its aftermath aroused.
Dec. 9, sheriff’s deputies were dispatched to the Trailside neighborhood because two dogs were harassing a deer. An officer shot and killed one of the dogs, the other escaped. The officer reportedly took the dog’s body to the county animal shelter where it was placed in a Dumpster and a member of the dog owner’s family later had to retrieve the pet from the trash.
It is a worst-case scenario from every perspective. It is a dog owner’s worst nightmare every time the family dog slips under the fence or suddenly ditches his human companions on a walk.
It is a wildlife officer’s constant frustration. With subdivisions encroaching farther and farther into the area’s shrinking natural habitat, the wildlife he is charged with protecting seems to be fighting a losing battle. Most area homeowners consider moose, elk, deer and fox to be part of their neighborhood’s ambiance. But thanks to poachers, domestic animals and highway traffic, that may soon be a thing of the past.
Wildlife/dog encounters are also among the toughest calls Animal Control must handle. More than most, Summit County’s Animal Control officers know how passionate dog owners are about their pets. In fact, they spend much of their time trying to reunite them. But they are also charged with protecting other people, property and wildlife from uncontrolled dogs.
Without a doubt, if any of the players in this sad scenario could replay the incident, they would have acted differently. The dog owners would have taken the extra time to leash or tie up their dogs, the deputy would have tried a different tactic before taking aim and, if the fatal outcome still could not have been avoided, the county’s animal control officers would have been more sensitive in their treatment of the body. This week, Sheriff Dave Edmunds assured the community that he will review the way the incident was handled at the animal shelter but he has also said that he supports the officer who shot the dog.
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In our view, both the shelter employees’ and the deputy’s actions should be evaluated, if only to devise a better outcome for future inevitably similar incidents. Nevertheless, it is important to recognize that Summit County’s Animal Control Department has greatly improved over the years. Overall, it has become vastly more humane and proactive on issues of animal welfare than it once was. Unfortunately, as the boundaries between neighborhoods and wildlands blur and there are fewer places to let pets romp unleashed, animal control’s job will only become more difficult.