The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

Local News

June 19, 2013

Animal Control Department will remain open

LEWISBURG — Funding decisions were deferred as the Greenbrier County Commission voted unanimously to keep its Animal Control Department open.

In a special Wednesday afternoon session that attracted law enforcement personnel from several agencies, commissioners first considered a proposal by Commissioner Mike McClung to close the Animal Control Department and turn its duties over to the Sheriff’s Department.

Arguing for that solution to the problem of covering Greenbrier County’s 1,000 square miles with only one animal control officer, McClung said the current situation is “unmanageable,” citing the demand being made that the one officer essentially work around the clock, as he is now on call 24 hours a day. And, McClung pointed out, “We don’t want to pay him overtime.”

The best solution, McClung said, would be to discontinue Animal Control as a separate department and shift the work to the sheriff’s “35 trained folks.”

Sheriff Jan Cahill, however, voiced opposition to that plan, noting, “I can’t say that I’m on board with that.”

He said his department currently employs 28 deputies, but with four assigned to the county’s middle and high schools, three serving as bailiffs, one attached to the multi-jurisdictional Drug Task Force and three deployed in military service, the number of officers actually available to answer calls is surprisingly low.

“It sounds like we’ve got a lot of people, but we really don’t,” Cahill told the commissioners.

Reciting the many tasks deputies are required to perform -- everything from prisoner transport and subpoena service to investigating crimes and administering the affairs of incompetent persons -- Cahill said he “was kind of shocked” to discover when he took office as sheriff just how many different duties his officers were expected to perform.

“We’re doing the best we can, but we wear many hats,” Cahill said. “We’re probably lucky to have two (deputies) out per shift.”

He said he has heard from several people in the community who are concerned about the proposal to shift Animal Control’s responsibility to his department, noting that people want law enforcement officers to focus on investigating crimes, not “chasing a Rottweiler up the road.”

Cahill summed up, “The citizens are better served having Animal Control.”

McClung asked the sheriff what level of staffing he would recommend for Animal Control, in order to meet the law’s requirement that the county be patrolled by a dog warden, while also ensuring that dangerous situations are dealt with as they arise.

Cahill opined that the department would need “more than one” officer—perhaps two or three—in order to provide 24/7 availability. He made the distinction between an officer being on duty and being on call, saying that was the way the West Virginia State Police used to handle personnel shortages.

“It’s not a banker’s hours job,” Cahill said.

In supporting Commissioner Woody Hanna’s proposal that a part-time dog warden be hired to supplement the staffing in the Animal Control Department, commission President Karen Lobban noted, “We’re trying to do the best we can with what we have to work with.”

The commissioners voted to advertise a part-time position for a person to serve as dog warden on Saturdays and Sundays, plus be on call for emergencies those same two nights.

When McClung repeatedly questioned how much the extra employee would cost and where the funds would be found, Lobban brushed his concerns aside, saying, “We’ll have to do the interviews and go from there.”

Commissioners did not allow public comment during the meeting, but did call upon Judith Walz-Harris, who serves as president of the Greenbrier Humane Society’s board and who led a sizable contingent of the organization’s members and supporters at Wednesday’s special session.

An attorney, Walz-Harris told the commissioners she believes having an open animal shelter, as Greenbrier County does, fulfills the State Code’s requirement that a dog warden “patrol the county.”

-- E-mail: talvey@register-herald.com

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