Animal Control needs to address underlying issues

click to enlarge Animal Control needs to address underlying issues
PHOTO BY STACIE LEWIS
WILD Canine Rescue and PAWS for Life held a protest outside Sangamon County Animal Control on Oct. 16, 2021, calling for the dismissal of executive director Greg Largent. He was eventually terminated in May 2022, although SCAC claimed the allegations of animal abuse and neglect at the facility were sensational and later proven false.

It's not fixed. Changes have been made, but Sangamon County Animal Control is not fixed.

Low-hanging fruit has been addressed. Now a doubling down on the more complicated issues that have vexed the operation for years is needed.

Overall operational changes have not been made. Sangamon County finally posted the operation director's position on Oct. 13, which closes Oct. 29. Posted on area websites and Indeed.com, it has not been posted with the obvious professional organizations – the National Animal Control Association, the Association for Animal Welfare Advancement and the Illinois Animal Welfare Federation. The county is not going to reach true professionals unless it is posted on these platforms for a reasonable amount of time. As is, it is a wholly disingenuous effort that represents a horrendously missed opportunity.

Animal control work entails two major functions: (1) the many facets of proper management of an animal shelter and (2) field services, which entails a wide range of law and ordinance enforcement as well as first response for animals in distress and various animal/human interface issues.

The person at the helm of Sangamon County Animal Control must have the experience and training to execute these responsibilities and lead and support staff. The operation is faced with a myriad of circumstances each day, requiring a depth of understanding of legal procedure, animal handling and animal health.

The field services side of the operation should have its own experienced, trained supervisor to support the work of the officers. The officers should have formal and ongoing training which is available through the various professional associations. There should be hiring requirements that reflect the nature of the work. None of this is in place at Sangamon County Animal Control.

The county needs to continue to put more resources into animal control, and one of the best investments is experienced, qualified people. The county recently lost two experienced animal control officers, out of a total of five. The Sangamon County Public Health Department starts clerk typists II at a $37,995 a year salary. It starts an animal control officer at $36,695. The county's explanation is the salaries are the result of collective bargaining.

Macon County, a neighbor Sangamon County has looked to as a model, was faced with the same dilemma, and they did something about it. The management actually worked with the union to improve base pay.

Macon County's animal control is run by its sheriff's department. Currently a retiring lieutenant, to be replaced by a sergeant, is assigned to animal control to work with the officers and support them with their myriad of enforcement responsibilities. They have proper supervision and support in place for their officers.

Sangamon County still has not recovered its volunteer base at the facility – volunteers are desperately needed to fulfill many tasks, including adoption promotions and counseling. The county has failed on all fronts to manage a volunteer program.

For several years, local nonprofit partners have covered veterinary expenses required to avail the services of private clinics. This year, the county appropriated a $50,000 "emergency" fund. This fund is not covering emergency needs, it is covering standard care needs, and it needs to be appropriated at that rate every year. The nonprofits are still contributing significantly, but they no longer have to cover so many of the cases that come in the door.

Illinois Humane has continued to support critical care needs, along with evaluation and care for the victims of neglect and cruelty cases (some of these cases are handled cooperatively with Animal Control). For just four of the cases handled this summer, the amount paid by Illinois Humane totaled nearly $15,000.

The county, in a newly drafted transfer partner agreement (for the acceptance of animals by other licensed shelters from the facility to relieve the facility census) included a non-disparagement provision. Given the history of this facility, no self-respecting animal welfare organization committed to the prevention of cruelty to animals would sign such a thing – unless of course, they have legal counsel who recognizes and advises that the agreement is actually unenforceable.

In reality, the transfer agreement as a whole is not necessary. Transfers are governed by operation of law, pursuant to the Animal Welfare Act. What is problematic about the clause is that it prohibits groups who have been very helpful getting animals out of SCAC in the past, who don't have ready legal assistance, from partnering with the county now. Repeated requests to the county to strike the clause have been met with silence.

At election time, elected officials are tuned in to what matters to their constituents. The pet products and services business is a $1.25 billion industry and polls indicate 75% of society cares about animal welfare. After more than 20 years working in animal welfare locally, I know these statistics apply to Springfield and Sangamon County as well. People care deeply about their animals, and the animals in need in this community. Contact incumbents and new candidates alike to let them know animal services are important to you.

Jane E. McBride is founder and president of Illinois Humane, a nonprofit whose primary mission is cruelty and neglect investigations, the recovery and rehabilitation of animals that are the subject of such cases, and advocacy. McBride has served as an approved humane investigator in the state of Illinois since 1999.

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