Aug. 25—Boone County has no dedicated animal control officer at the same time there's a marked uptick in animals being surrendered or abandoned here.
The Boone County Sheriff's Office and Humane Society for Boone County kennels are full. Humane Society foster homes are also full.
"Our kennels are almost always full, and the humane society's are the same way," Boone County Sheriff Tony Harris said. "It's neither of our fault. Everyone is full, and it's a problem."
It's hard to know when the sheriff's office may again have an animal control officer. The last one left the position a few weeks ago to pursue another career.
And Harris wants to revamp the way the position is funded.
The county's animal control officer answers animal calls in Lebanon, the county's towns, and the county's unincorporated areas.
Boone County's animal control officer may investigate reports of malnourished livestock or pets, animal hoarding, barking dogs, dog bites, attacks on livestock, stray cattle and goats, and more. The officer spends a great deal of time picking up stray dogs, finding their owners, and reuniting them with their families.
The sheriff's office has a five-unit kennel designed to hold dogs overnight, or for up to two days. "Unfortunately, we are housing animals for weeks, sometimes even months, at a time," Boone County Sheriff's Cpt. Jeremy McClaine said.
The number of stray animals in recent months has skyrocketed. "It's very time consuming," Harris said.
The sheriff's office and humane society have worked hand in hand for years. The humane society has taken dogs whose owners could not be found over the years, HSBC Director Susan Austin said.
"Our relationship has been great," Harris said. "But they're full, and we've got to figure out a solution."
"Shelters all over the United States are facing overcrowding," McClaine added.
Covid-19 is part of the problem. Many people with pets are being evicted in the wake of the pandemic and can't take pets to their new homes, Austin said.
And many employees who were sent home to work during the COVID-19 pandemic adopted dogs to keep them company, McClaine and Austin said.
"Now people are back to work, and the cost of everything is through the roof," McClaine said. "People are making the decision to get rid of their dogs. And if they can't rehome them, they are just dumping them."
"If people don't have enough food to feed themselves, what's going to happen to their pets," Austin asked. The humane society operates a food pantry to help people keeps their pets.
"Keeping pets in the home where they belong is a priority," Austin said. "We like to make sure people have their companionship. It helps with emotional and physical health and makes the difference between feeling isolated versus just being alone."
"A lot of those dogs adopted during COVID didn't get any basic obedience training, so now they are teenagers without boundaries," Austin said. "And people returning to work now are finding their dogs have separation anxiety, and they don't want to deal with it."
The percentage of stray dogs reunited with their owners has dropped nationally, as many owners don't want to be found. Animal control officers often spend five or more hours to find a pet's owner, only to learn the owner doesn't want the pet any longer.
Many of the recent strays are driven here from other counties, McClaine and Austin said.
At the same time, adoptions of large and medium dogs have dropped dramatically. Shelters are full and remaining so.
"In some places that means really great dogs are being euthanized to make space," Austin said, adding, "Really great cats are being euthanized to make space for the intakes."
The Humane Society for Boone County is a managed-admissions, no-kill shelter. They don't cherry pick their intakes based on space available. They manage admissions by taking animals if they have space and pausing admission when they don't. But they're full now, and Austin expects to outgrow the current building within 10 years, based on the county's predicted growth rate.
The humane society has kennels for 14 dogs and room for as many as 20 cats. But they recently had 149 animals in their care. "We do the rest in foster care," Austin said. They receive no tax money.
Humane society volunteers have no police obligations or power. "Animal control is a governmental function," Austin said. "Our volunteers have no right to trespass on anyone's land to go out and look for a stray."
Austin believes animal control and enforcing laws pertaining to animals are the responsibility of government and law enforcement agencies. But Indiana does not mandate that counties have a local government-run animal control agency, according to the Indiana State Board of Animal Health.
Each county decides its own level of animal control, and only about half of Indiana's counties have an animal control agency, according to the ISBH.
Austin wants the county to staff an animal control officer round the clock. "I would love to see the county fully fund the staffing he (the sheriff) needs to cover it," she said. "Tony's hands are kind of tied."
"Loose dogs don't just happen from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday," she said.
Kennel management and ensuring animal welfare alone, take about least three hours a day. The kennels need to be sanitized periodically, and that's difficult when they're full, McClaine said.
Reuniting stray animals with their owners takes much more time than people imagine. There's also a social networking side to the job. Animal control officers educate the public and help them determine how to keep animals from escaping their fences or solve other related problems. There are criminal investigations on top of the daily duties.
"There's a whole lot to it that just one person can't handle," Harris said. "It takes a special kind of person. It's not just a dog catcher job anymore."
The sheriff's budget lacks funds for another animal control officer, or kennel upgrade, and the Boone County Council would have to approve any budget increase for animal control and care.
Harris plans to re-evaluate the situation before making another hire. He wants to meet with heads of other law enforcement agencies and see if they can provide financial or other cooperation, or suggest other ways for animal control to improve.
For more information on the Humane Society for Boone County, its pet pantry, other ways to help keep a pet, or to donate to the pet pantry, visit the website at https://www.hsforbc.org/ or call 877-473-6722. Leave a message with a name and phone number, and someone will return the call.