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Shelter or Sanctuary? Metcalfe Sheriff addresses animal control

Metcalfe County Fiscal Court discusses the county’s responsibilities for animal control. The county is expected to resume discussions at the next meeting on Tuesday, Jan. 24. Photo by Allyson Dix

Allyson Dix
Jobe Reporter

 Animal control is a multifaceted problem–a complex and often contested matter. There are many legalities mixed in with a compassion for the well-being of animals.

It isn’t always a black-and-white issue.

Lingering at the county level are ongoing discussions over animal control matters and it isn’t an uncommon one.

In fact, most communities face the complexities that come with animal control and Metcalfe County isn’t exempt from such.

Metcalfe County Sheriff Lonnie Hodges spoke on the lack of services being rendered by the county’s animal control. Photo by Allyson Dix

Metcalfe County Sheriff Lonnie Hodges most recently told the Metcalfe County Fiscal Court there are several problems with the county’s animal control and provided improvement suggestions such as training.

He said the county is “already footing the bill” for animal control services that aren’t being rendered and suggested the county review the policies and contracts associated with the matter.

The county employs an Animal Control Officer (ACO) and also contracts with local veterinarian Dr. David LaFever, who operates the Edmonton Veterinarian Clinic, to provide shelter and care for impounded animals at the Metcalfe County Animal Shelter.

While Hodges clarified his purpose wasn’t to complain about any specific individual and instead address the problem as a whole, he presented several issues he had with the service and said his deputies weren’t equipped to capture animals, nor did the responsibilities fall onto his department.

Hodges and Edmonton Police Chief Delaney Wilson, who was also present in the Jan. 10 meeting, said between the two of them, several hundreds of calls each year are received by the local police and sheriff departments, which doesn’t fall within their purview except for animal cruelty, criminal charges, etc.

Edmonton Police Chief Delaney Wilson, at right, said the police department receives excessive calls related to animals. Photo by Allyson Dix

“We don’t have the manpower to work all the regular duties that come with the sheriff’s office,” Hodges said, adding the department does respond to such complaints when they can, but the matter is “increasingly getting worse.”

The sheriff said the ACO responsible for picking up animals is not responding to those requests.

“He says he has nowhere to take it,” Hodges said referring to the animal control officer, adding that the ACO works for the fiscal court.

The current ACO is Danny Smith.

Our readers may recall details in the April 2022 publication when Coomer addressed the court because he said he had nowhere to take seized dogs.

Before his resignation, former Animal Control Officer Billy Coomer addressed the Metcalfe County Fiscal Court in April 2022 where he said the local animal shelter was refusing to take in dogs seized by the county. JPI/File Photo

In that fiscal court meeting, he said, “The animal shelter has refused to take dogs for several weeks.”

Coomer resigned around 3 months later.

The county is required by state law to deal with animal control and those regulations are detailed in KRS 258.195.

Metcalfe County Judge/Executive Larry Wilson said in the Jan. meeting that LaFever could house 20 to 25 dogs and is also required to follow a separate set of state laws as a practicing veterinarian.

Wilson said Dr. LaFever wishes to continue assisting the county.

Wilson said with sheltering animals, there are networks across the state that work together and facilitate pet adoptions and attempts to find the owners.

“But because of the present economy, people are getting rid of dogs,” Wilson added, “The shelters are all full, there’s nowhere to take them.”

The judge/executive suggested forming a committee and Hodges replied, “There needs to be accountability.”

“If he can hold 25 dogs, that sounds like plenty of space for this small county, but it’s also, it’s not a sanctuary,” Hodges added. He later said LaFever can’t house what he doesn’t receive.

Additionally, in the April 2022 and Jan. meetings, discussions were had that if officials are aware of the owners of an animal, a court order is required to remove an animal from a property as it is considered private property.

It is well known in the community that LaFever’s wife, Donna, spends numerous hours caring for the county’s unwanted and lost dogs that find themselves at the local shelter, which is housed next to LaFever’s vet clinic. It isn’t uncommon to see regular attempts to find homes for dogs on Facebook, a social media platform.

In a call after the meeting on Friday, Jan. 20, LaFever told the Edmonton Herald-News (EHN) that they had adopted two dogs out that very day and the day prior, they had already received nine dogs and six of those were euthanized since the start of 2023.

An expired contract between LaFever and the county lays out many responsibilities for the shelter, and Hodges told the court that according to the contract, “this establishment is violating several standards.”

He later said that a committee and investigation should occur to address the issues.

EHN reviewed the contract for further details.

The contract between LaFever and the county expired as of November 2022, however, he continues to help the county in the interim of the expired contract.

The shelter shall maintain dogs or cats for the required five (5) days if at all possible as is required by the KRS regulations, according to the contract.

LaFever, who signed the most recent contract in agreement with former Judge/Executive Harold Stilts, has the discretion, according to that contract, to euthanize impounded animals if they meet “any of the criteria accepted by the state for immediate euthanasia.” That includes things like aggression, infectious diseases, etc.

In the April 2022 court meeting, LaFever said he’d euthanize any dogs the county wanted him to euthanize:

“I’ll put ‘em to sleep if…one of ya’ll want to come down there and tell me which ones y’all want put to sleep.”

There were no volunteers who accepted LaFever’s negotiable request.

But the contract states, “If, however, the animal shows potential as a family pet or otherwise productive member of the group, the Shelter will make every reasonable effort to find a good placement for the animal.”

Hodges told the court in Jan. that “animal control” doesn’t limit to only dogs, but any other animals such as cows, pigs, horses, and even llamas.

“That’s why the statute says animal control,” Hodges said, “It’s not dog warden or dog catcher, it’s animal control.”

Animal control officers are given the powers of a peace officer with the exception of arrest in all animal complaints, Hodges said.

He also informed the court of free training for ACOs with the Kentucky Animal Care & Control Association (KACCA).

Currently, there are two programs available.

The first is the Animal Care Technician program which is a basic introduction to animal care and kennel maintenance. The second is a basic Animal Control Officer training program. The Basic ACO program is designed around the Kentucky Animal Control Officer Training manual created by KACCA and approved by the Kentucky Animal Control Advisory Board, all according to the KACCA website.

Is there an easy solution to the many components of animal control? Perhaps the purpose for the many detailed statutes in place is to provide guidelines for communities to assist and maintain animal control problems.

However, the sole responsibilities are not limited to law enforcement and county government, and perhaps it’s a daunting task for the sheltering and caring of strays left for one or two people to attend to.

Pet owners are also required to follow state and local laws and could be held accountable for failing to do so. Pet owners are encouraged to research their associated city, county, and state requirements to facilitate in the efforts of animal control.

Some in the community believe holding pet owners responsible will alleviate some of the ongoing problems while others accept that in a rural Kentucky community, animals are simply a part of our daily lives so long as there are no safety issues or destruction of other’s property.

There are numerous grants available to apply for that can assist animal control that could give the county more financial resources.

In the last six years, according to the Metcalfe County Animal Shelter, they have received a total of 902 dogs and adopted 830 out to homes–over a 92-percent adoption rate.

While the county may have no associations with the national organization Best Friends Animal Society, their CEO Julie Castle said, “The responsibility of saving pets’ lives should not rest solely on shelters and those in animal welfare, but on entire communities including community members, government leaders, shelters, and other animal welfare groups. Through collaboration and community involvement, this model provides better support for pet owners, efficiency in shelters, and more lifesaving outcomes for pets. When a community supports its shelter’s critical needs, we see dramatic results.”

The Best Friends organization has spearheaded extensive data collection sets with coordinating outreach to shelters across the country over the last six years.

Perhaps stakeholders in the community, neighbors, pet owners, and animal lovers will find a collaborative yet reasonable and law-abiding path forward in dealing with animal control, facilitated by the leadership in place for the four-legged animals that share the collective land of Metcalfe County.

The Edmonton Herald-News will provide updates as they are provided.

A 2019 photo of students from Hornet Hands after hosting a collection drive for the Metcalfe County Animal Shelter where they collected many items including treats, food, blankets, cleaning supplies, and toys for the dogs. They also spent quality time with the dogs. Photo/Facebook/Dr. David LaFever

One of many dogs that have been housed at the Metcalfe County Animal Shelter. Photo/Facebook/Dr. David LaFever

A public screen shot from Dr. David LaFever’s Facebook page made on Jan. 11. A scroll through his Facebook will provide a timeline history of attempts made in finding owners or homes for the county’s stray dogs. Photo/Facebook/Dr. David LaFever


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