April 26, 2013

Sheriff’s office to take over animal control in Murray

Rachel Brown

— Murray County Sole Commissioner Brittany Pittman said her office has been inundated with calls, emails, complaints and concerns since she and Sheriff Gary Langford said this week the sheriff’s office will begin handling animal control on Wednesday, May 1.

Pittman said she intended the move to be a positive change for the county. Instead, she said, rumors began circulating that the shift would transform the shelter into a 100 percent kill rate facility. Pittman said the change won’t affect the kill rate at all.

“This move will allow the department to be better prepared,” she said in a written statement. “A mandated officer (trained in police tactics) is better equipped to handle certain situations than civilian officers (regular employees) due to the extensive training that mandated officers receive. This move will allow two additional mandated officers on duty within the county that can assist with emergencies and calls for assistance.

“The department will continue to be compassionate to animals ... as well as their owners. The department will still work hand in hand and support the Humane Society and rescue groups in their efforts to care for animals beyond the scope of what can be done at animal control.”

Three full-time employees and one part-time worker at animal control will lose their jobs. Those individuals, Pittman said, will be urged to apply for other county job openings for which they are qualified. A woman who answered the phone at the shelter on Thursday declined to comment, saying people there were told to refer calls to Pittman.

The reorganized department will consist of a secretary and two sworn sheriff’s officers. Pittman said the amount of money spent on animal control will not change.

Murray County Humane Society member Angela Micik said she is among many people who are looking forward to a meeting on Saturday at Chatsworth City Hall at 2 p.m. where Langford and his officers are expected to address their questions and concerns. The meeting is open to the public.

Micik said there are plenty of rumors flying around that the shelter will have a higher kill rate after the sheriff’s office takes over, and since she hasn’t confirmed any of the rumors, she hopes they’re untrue. She said the kill rate under the current director has been about 15 percent because workers network with so many other shelters.

Micik said Humane Society members aren’t sure how the shift will affect them. Langford couldn’t immediately be reached Thursday afternoon to answer the question. In some counties, Micik said, shelter adoptions are filtered through the Humane Society. In Murray County, members don’t have enough volunteers to handle the job, Micik said. She said they’ll continue to do as much as they can.

The Society posted on its Facebook page that the “main problem” with the change to the sheriff’s office “stems from the fact that the entire staff of the shelter, that was instrumental in the networking of these animals, has been dismissed. We (the Humane Society) are a small group of volunteer members. We cannot and are not equipped to take over the (sole) role of saving the lives of every animal that crosses their path ...”

Pittman said there will be other benefits to the move, in addition to having trained officers on the job.

“We can better utilize inmate labor to clean the pens (and) keep the facility maintained due to the fact you have to have a mandated officer with the inmates at all times,” Pittman said.

Langford said Thursday morning it’s his understanding that a “disgruntled employee” started rumors about the shelter going to a 100 percent kill rate. He said the “news” has made it to Florida, New Jersey and the United Kingdom.