Friday, March 16, 2007

County could take over animal control

Sheriff says Hailey will regret abandoning program

Express Staff Writer

The city of Hailey wants to kill its animal control program but it's likely not bound for extinction, says Blaine County Sheriff Walt Femling.

The Hailey City Council unanimously agreed Monday that the program, which costs $55,000 a year to operate, is costly and inefficient. Hailey Mayor Susan McBryant said the animal control officer only issues three or four citations a year within the city boundaries and she wants to pass the entire program off to Blaine County.

Blaine County, which already pays the city of Hailey half of the operating costs, deals with more animal control issues than the city, McBryant said.

During a study session Thursday morning at the Old County Courthouse in Hailey, Femling said the sheriff's office would consider taking over the program. But he added that he thinks "Hailey will be back in the game within a short period of time."

Femling said he's dealt with animal control issues in the Wood River Valley for 27 years and cities always regret dropping the services because animal control problems always arise.

"I've seen what happens," he said.

Meanwhile, Femling said he's considering retaining the services of the animal control officer, Kevin McMullin, for about 20 hours a week. He said he's been discussing the issue with Interim County Administrator Stan McNutt and both agree that animal control can be drastically improved.

Femling said if the transfer occurred, the sheriff's office would guide the animal control program but it would be fully operated by McMullin, not the sheriff's deputies.

The improvements and changes discussed include:

· Expanding the pet licensing program.

· Raising the cost of licenses.

· Enforcing civil penalties on people with unlicensed animals.

· Possibly enforcing criminal penalties on people who deliberately abandon animals.

Femling and McNutt both believe the changes can be instituted slowly but steadily to give people a chance to adjust.

Femling said McMullin knows most of the problem dogs throughout the county. He said he envisions a scenario where McMullin will begin by issuing warnings and educating owners about licensing. He said McMullin should be able to sell licenses on the spot and if the problem persists, the owners will be slapped with a fine.

"People will license their dogs if given the opportunity," Femling said.

Another possibility briefly discussed Thursday was the future creation of an independent animal control program in the county.

Blaine County Commissioner Larry Schoen made it clear that he wants animal control to be conducted in a humane way. He also wants to make sure that people will not be discouraged to take stray pets to the Animal Shelter of the Wood River Valley, a nonprofit organization.

"What the community wants is effective animal control done in a humane way," he said.

McNutt and Femling will continue to explore the issue over the next couple months.

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