Council addresses animal concerns

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By Toni Stauffer

Of concern to the Phenix City council and the police department is recent animal welfare activism, especially, the recent attention brought by activists to the tethering of pets by owners. The department has been getting emails and social media messages regarding tethering and Chief of Police Ray Smith is checking with the state again to see if the state will address the issue.

Discussions during the city council work session on Monday, brought forth that the council had determined a tethering law will be more effective if handled at the state legislature, so that there can be a common law across the state.

“We cover several areas. We cover inside the city and police jurisdiction. And there is confusion over jurisdictions, whether you’re in the city or not in the city; in a police jurisdiction or not in a police jurisdiction,” Smith said. “If we were to have a tethering ordinance, it would affect different people differently. So, therefore, as the city moves forward, I recommend that we wait for the state to make a recommendation or a ruling. We can then force it state wide.”

According to Smith, the department does look at tethering as an issue and addresses every complaint of an animal being tied up. If that animal has been neglected, regardless of a tethering law, there are state codes that address cruelty to animals. If the tethering is done too tight, or inappropriately, the department can make a cruelty to animal charge.

“What we can’t do is investigate vague, anonymous tips on social media. They just don’t give us enough information to go out an investigate,” Smith said. “Call us and tell us where the animal is at and we will go and investigate. If they are not in our jurisdiction, we’ll refer it to Lee County, or where ever it needs to go.”

Mayor Eddie Lowe said the city has met with several groups regarding tethering and other concerns regarding animal welfare in the city, such as euthanasia.

“What we have decided to do collectively is to get some guidance from the state legislators, because there’s differences on both sides. It’s been turned down twice by the state. That should tell people something. To me, they are trying to draft it correctly. We are very sensitive to this. We follow the Alabama Veterinarian Association guidelines. We do not put animals down by hard stick.”

Chief Smith said that there is a term, a misnomer, he has been seeing on social media that activists are calling ‘pound seizure.’

“What they [activists] say is happening in pound seizure is that the pound has animals and people come in and seize the dogs. No, they don’t come in and ‘seize’ anything. We try to adopt out as many animals as we can. For rescue groups and other legitimate non profits, we’ll adopt out as many as we can, because the more we can get to other facilities, the more we don’t have to euthanize.”

Local animal rights activists have been protesting the acquisition from the pound of dogs and other animals by the Tuskegee University School of Veterinary Medicine for use in teaching. Smith said that the acquisitions happen several times a year, but the school did not receive any animals the last four months; however, this month the school got 10 animals, because they got a new group of students that needed training.

“They will do spay and neutering surgeries on these animals, and they do the best they can to farm them out to other rescue groups in Macon county. Those are animals that would otherwise be euthanized in the Phenix City Animal Shelter. So, we felt like it was a good use of policy to try to give these animals,” Smith said.

“We don’t make a dime off of it. We don’t sell the animals. We don’t get paid by Tuskegee or Auburn, or any other school. Every single animal that we give, it’s required that we give a report on how much we spend; how we adopt our dogs out, what dogs are brought in.” Important to note is that no one has said that some animals are not euthanized at Tuskegee, only that they stand a better chance out of the shelter than in it.

According to those same statistics that can be found online and Chief Smith, there are a “tremendous” amount of owner surrenders.

“One thing we need to make sure that the people in the community understand is that these owner surrenders are from animal owners who brought their dog or cat to us for us to euthanize. Under the law we are not required to do that, but we do that as a service. If we didn’t do that, they would just turn them loose in the street and we’d have to go pick them up. Smith went on the stress the need for education in the community and that if someone can’t care for an animal, they shouldn’t adopt one. He also said that if people are going to surrender an animal to the shelter, the shelter has very few options other than try to give them to another facility or to euthanize them.”

Councilman Steve Bailey, District 1, said that activists can form non profits and sit outside Home Depot or Tractor Supply, for example, and give the animals away, if they want. He said that there’s other ways for the activists to be involved other than to work for the city shelter, because they have a different outlook than the way the city is doing it.

“If they can form a shelter group of their own, they can come and pull as many animals as they can,” Smith said.