Friday, February 9, 2007

County has no plans to develop animal shelter

Commissioners urge dialogue with cities over funding

Express Staff Writer

Blaine County has no intention of severing its ties with the Animal Shelter of the Wood River Valley and pursuing a county-run shelter.

The Blaine County Commission discussed the issue on Tuesday, partly in response to comments made by Bellevue City Councilman Steve Fairbrother in January.

Fairbrother, who owns the Wood River Equine Hospital in Bellevue, argued during a Bellevue City Council meeting Jan. 11 that a county-run animal shelter would help reduce the increasing problem of at-large dogs roaming throughout the valley.

"We just can't afford to pick up dogs," Fairbrother said at the meeting.

Fairbrother raised hackles among animal-lovers in the community after suggesting that a county-run animal shelter could also be run as a "kill" facility for animals not adopted in a certain amount of time.

The Animal Shelter of the Wood River Valley does not euthanize animals. Instead, the private, nonprofit organization runs an extensive and highly successful pet-adoption program and "promotes awareness and protection for all animal life," according to its mission.

Fairbrother said he planned to propose his idea to the county but County Commissioner Sarah Michael said that never happened.

The county currently contributes $17,500 annually to help fund the animal shelter, located west of Hailey. Its contract with the shelter, which expires March 3, will be renewed, Michael said.

But the commissioners want to start a dialogue with the cities to discuss future funding for both the shelter and animal control.

"The vast majority of animals picked up, and animal issues, are in the cities," Tim Graves, Blaine County deputy prosecuting attorney, said Tuesday.

But the cities' financial contributions are minimal.

According to Leslie Luray, president of the Animal Shelter of the Wood River Valley, between December 2006 and January 2006 Ketchum paid the shelter $84, Sun Valley $308, Bellevue $48 and Hailey nothing. Luray said Hailey did not contribute funding because they "don't want to pay for cats or citizen impounds."

Heather Dawson, Hailey city clerk, could not be reached for comment.

Luray declined to get into specifics about what she thinks each city should pay, saying only that she thinks the entire financing program should be under one umbrella.

"I think we need to be really realistic. We need to support a humane solution to some of the animal control issues we face," said County Commissioner Larry Schoen. "We should be looking at how to get better animal control."

One possible solution to the animal control issue that the commission discussed was imposing tougher civil penalties for animals picked up without licenses.

Michael added that "the county and the cities ideally should have a coordinated system" and she encouraged "that we all work together to better achieve animal control."

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