By Jack Gurner
WATER VALLEY – City officials and the Second Chance Animal Alliance are working on an agreement that will allow the group access to the city pound in an effort to upgrade conditions at the facility.
The agreement, which has been in the process for several weeks, was the topic of an hour and 11-minute discussion before a packed house during the May first-Tuesday meeting of the city board last week.
Mayor Larry Hart introduced the group commenting that, “I personally believe it is a great thing for our city.”
Mandy Beard, vice-president of the SCAA, spoke first and explained that the purpose of the non-profit organization was to reform the city dog pound. She pointed to photos on a handout that showed conditions at the facility. “To say they are horrid is an understatement,” she said.
Beard listed some of the problems including no proper food, no bedding, and no medical care. “They are forced to eat off the floor next to piles of dog feces and urine spots. And, they have to sleep there as well.”
Dogs are picked up and held for five days with no media posting, she said. “If your dog is picked up you have to call city hall and describe your dog. If they were not claimed in five days, they were euthanized.”
She noted that there are no records of how many dogs have been picked up, euthanized, adopted or reclaimed prior to December. “Since November when we came along, we’ve got new bowls, new beds, some proper food, medical care.”
Members of the group have also been cleaning the facility daily. One of the major problems faced by the group is lack of access to the pound. “We’ve got to have a key so we can get in to do our work,” said Beard. Currently the volunteers have to be accompanied by Parks and Cemeteries Superintendent William Beard (no relation to Mandy Beard of the SCAA), William Beard also serves as animal control officer.
“Since November we have helped 42 dogs either find there way back home or to a new home. They’ve all been checked out by vets, vaccinated, spayed or neutered, and those that were not of age to be sprayed or neutered or on the calendar for when they are ready.”
Beard said that the spay/neuter program and medical care is very important because without it, the dogs continue to reproduce and more sickly dogs roam the streets.
“We would like to help the city keep providing this care to help these animals,” she concluded and turned the presentation over to Melissa Smith, SCAA president.
Smith apologized for her appearance and the way she smelled, explaining that it was her pound cleaning day. “We go down at our certain time every night. We give our dogs exercise time every night, which they were not getting before,” she said.
Although the group members are sticklers for cleaning standards recommended by the Humane Society of the USA, adhering to the standards is not possible because of the porous concrete floors at the city’s pound. Smith explained that they do use chlorine bleach once a week, but any more than that would deteriorate the bottoms of the dogs’ paws.
She added that the group had spent $7,538 on veterinary care, $780 on supplies and $712 on quality food. “While these financial figures seem quite tremendous, they pale in comparison to the countless hours we spend at the pound. “We’re there seven days a week feeding, cleaning and providing proper exercise for the dogs that were previously kept for five days without seeing the light of day.”
Smith told aldermen that the group had a few simple requests including a budget for the pound “which goes hand-in-hand with the dog ordinance enforced within the city limits.”
“We ask for a simple liability waiver that allows us to obtain a key to the locked pound and premises in order to insure the health and safety of our rescues being held at the pound. We also ask that the city seek an ACO (animal control officer) with the educational background that is required of his or her job title and that be their sole job responsibility.”
Smith emphasized that the group takes great pride in education and travels all over to attend conferences. “We sit in class from eight o’clock in the morning until nine o’clock at night to make sure we have the educational standards so that we know how to properly handle the dogs.”
One problem she commented on was that no one in the city is qualified to identify a vicious dog. Smith said that there were four supposedly vicious dogs at the pound that were not vicious, but simply scared. Proper education teaches what signs to look for to differentiate between truly vicious and simply frightened.
The group also is requesting that they be involved in creating or revising the current dog ordinance in the city so that it is clear and understandable for everybody. “There are a few gray areas in it.”
As Smith ended her presentation, she asked city officials if they had any questions. The mayor questioned her about the educational standards and then about the connection between the local group and the Humane Society of the United States (HSUSA).
Rumors had been circulated that the group was receiving money from the HSUSA, but that is not true. The group relies on donations and, in some cases, their own checkbooks to fund their efforts.
Hart explained that the city had been working with the group since November, but because the city has certain liabilities, a key to the pound area has not been provided until an agreement is in place.
He continued that the city’s legal counsel, John Crow, has been working on that agreement, “to where all our concerns and goals on both sides of the issue can be addressed.”
Crow said that the two sides had the basis of an agreement. “What we need to do is iron out a few little wrinkles here and there.”
“We do have an eight or ten page agreement here outlining the purpose of it, their responsibilities, our responsibilities, who pays for this, who pays for that,” said Crow.
When the city attorney said he would read the document there was grumbling from aldermen and one asked if it was necessary to read the whole thing. Crow said that he would limit his reading to the areas where agreement hadn’t been reached.
For the next 33 minutes, the two sides went over details. At the end of the discussion, Crow said that the two main issues appeared to be about the expense of taking animals to the shelter at Oxford (at a cost of $25 per dog) and having someone from the city available each morning to feed dogs held at the pound and to take care of the pens.
Smith requested that the SCAA have input into the selection of a city worker to help at the pound because of problems in the past. “We’ve run into some workers who don’t care for what we are doing down there and have made comments,” she said, and noted that some are afraid of the dogs.
“I think you would rely on the city’s capacity there to assign the right person,” the mayor said. “We’re going to have to find somebody who’s already on board that we could put in that position.”
Beard said that the SCAA wants to help take some of the load off the city at the city owned pound. “Realistically, you have created a pound. We want to step in and do as much as we can, but the animal control officer should be doing these duties. Any other place, if they don’t have someone to take care of them, they don’t have a pound.”
After a few more minutes of discussion, the question of participation by Yalobusha County came up. Smith explained that the group met with the county board of supervisors on Monday, May 4. “They are all very much in agreement that we need it and our county desperately needs it. We just all have to see what we can do together.”
Supervisor Lee McMinn attended the meeting and was asked by the mayor to comment from the county’s perspective. He emphasized that he was only speaking for himself as one-fifth of the county board. “I personally would like to see a joint county/city effort,” he said. “These ladies are gung-ho and fired up right now and I think they will maintain this for the foreseeable future. But, at some point, shouldering all the load, physically and financially is gonna’ get old.”
McMinn said that he would like to see both the city and the county step-up and take a bigger role in providing the shelter needed in the city and the county. He also said that he believed that the document being discussed was burdening the SCAA group a little too heavily.
That opinion was also the topic of discussion after the meeting among many of those in attendance. The SCAA is trying to help the city by creating a humane environment at the pound and it appears the city wants to shift much of the financial burden to the SCAA, commented one supporter of the group.
McMinn added that the discussion at the city and county board meetings “is an excellent start. The fact that we have spent this much time on it, I am really pleased with.”
As the discussion was coming to an end, the mayor justified the city’s position on financing the pound by listing a number of items that the city is required to provide as part of the animal control ordinance. “Please note that the city shall maintain at its expense the outer walls, roof, foundation, mechanical, plumbing, electrical…a pretty large maintenance. We’ll do the Oxford movement, we’ll feed, furnish the food, we’ll get somebody to work the morning detail.”
Initially, city officials and the SCAA agreed to meet Friday morning at 9 a.m., but the SCAA was unable to complete all of their requirements. So, on Friday morning, a recessed meeting was scheduled for Tuesday morning, May 12. That meeting also had to be postponed and is now scheduled for Tuesday, May 19, at 9 a.m.
By David Howell
COFFEEVILLE – The Second Chance Animal Alliance (SCAA) received a verbal commitment for support from the county during the “first Monday” meeting held May 4 at the Coffeeville Courthouse.
“We literally hustle puppies and beg for money. That’s what we do when we are not at our nine-to-five jobs,” SCAA President Melissa Smith told supervisors as she outlined the goals for the new, non-profit organization that include breaking ground on a new shelter this year that could possibly serve the city and county.
Her request was met with favor as Board President Tommy Vaughn said he would like to see a commitment from the county to assist the SCAA.
“Maybe there is a possibility of establishing a city-county alliance to help take care of this problem. I would like to see it done and I would like to see it done before I get out of here because there is a need for it,” Vaughn said. His term ends at the end of the year.
Smith traced the SCAA’s short history, starting last November when they started working with the Water Valley pound. She explained there were no beds or blankets nor heat and air in the city pound.
“Since November, 38 dogs have been fully vetted and rehomed with help from the SCAA,” Smith explained. She also said no dogs have been euthanized since November when her group got involved. Prior to their involvement, Smith explained dogs were housed for five days in a three-by-three foot concrete cell and then euthanized if they were not claimed.
“There are no euthanization records, so we don’t know by what means and that makes our hearts sad,” Smith added.
In addition to building a new location to house animals, Smith also said an emphasis on educating the public should be part of the process, a sentiment shared by Vaughn and other supervisors.
“When you take on a dog it is a 15-year obligation,” Vaughn explained, referring to the life span of the family pet.
“It’s more of a county issue as bad as that does sound,” Smith added, pointing to more restrictive laws in Water Valley that help curtail irresponsible pet owners. She also said previously many abandoned dogs in the county were sent to the Oxford Lafayette Humane Society.
“Last year they took in 1,586 dogs from our community,” Smith added. “The problem is us, and as bad as that does sound, we are to help. We want to keep it local,” she added.
“This is a problem that has been swept under the rug for years because we had access to Lafayette County’s shelter,” Vaughn agreed.
“I’ve got some ideas and we have not set down as a board. But I don’t want to throw them out there until we discuss it.”
Board Attorney John Crow praised the group’s work.
“This is one of the better things that has happened in this area. This group of young ladies donating their time,” Crow said. “They are God’s creatures, we owe it to them,” Crow explained.
Crow added that the city shelter is too small.
“They can’t handle the dogs that are brought to them or dropped off there, just from the corporate limits,” Crow explained. He estimated the shelter would need to triple in size to accomodate dogs from the county and city.
“Where the (city) shelter is (located) is Corps property, and it probably needs to be located somewhere else,” Crow added.