Town officials, humane society clash over services
SCHUYLER COUNTY--Dog control services in Schuyler County took center stage last week in a story of communication differences and administrative issues.
In late June, the towns of Catherine, Dix, Hector, Montour, Reading and Tyrone indicated their decision to contract with a private entity to provide dog control services instead of partnering with the county to do so. Two towns, Orange and Cayuta, indicated a desire to continue the long-standing relationships in place. New York State Department of Agriculture and Markets mandates that dog control services be provided.
Since 2009, towns in Schuyler County have contracted with the Humane Society of Schuyler County to provide shelter, care and adoption services for stray, abandoned, seized and surrendered dogs in Schuyler County. The Schuyler County Sheriff's Office has provided dog control services through a dedicated animal control officer with the additional support of Schuyler County deputies. Under the previous contract, towns pay the humane society 70 percent of the fees collected for licenses and the humane society pays the towns 75 cents for each dog that is enumerated.
"Paying towns for enumeration services is a financial liability for the humane society," said Executive Director of the Schuyler County Humane Society Georgie Taylor. "The humane society has no legal obligation to perform this service. The proposed contract did not include this section, which should not have been a problem because the state provides a vehicle for towns to recoup the cost if they do it."
Taylor further explained the humane society is a donation-driven organization. Her donors, she indicated, "give to support shelter animals, not to conduct a census."
"The enumeration process is designed to encourage people to license their dogs," said town of Montour Supervisor David Scott. "With this information, we can make sure that dogs are vaccinated, which helps to ensure the public's safety."
As the date for the contract to renew grew closer, the humane society proposed a new contract that did not include compensation for enumeration work done by the towns.
The new contract was not received in time for towns to respond appropriately, according to Scott.
"We asked to see the new contract with time to consider and react," said Scott. "The changes that were proposed would have required a local law, but we were not given the renewal contract with adequate time to pass a local law. "
According to Scott, the towns also experienced frustration with administrative issues.
"A couple of checks that we sent were lost," said Scott, a sentiment echoed by Carmella Hoffman, a former town clerk in Catharine. "There are probably too many hands in the pot. The proper handling of money is a challenge for many volunteer organizations."
Eventually, communication between the supervisors and the humane society stalled and was handled through lawyers.
"In the end, we had to do something," said Scott. "Ag and Markets requires that we provide dog control services. We tried to find someone in the county, but couldn't. That's when we turned to someone outside the county."
The towns approached Southern Tier Animal Control Services, and a contract was negotiated. This new partnership received a quick, harsh response from many people on social media posts.
"Comments on social media were inappropriate," said Scott. "People also drove by his house (the business owner for Southern Tier Animal Control Services) and hollered that they would shoot him if he stepped one foot in Schuyler County."
Eventually, Southern Tier Animal Control Services decided to opt out of the relationship and local officials decided once again to collaborate. According to a statement released by Michael Lausell, who is both a Schuyler County legislator and humane society board member, the Schuyler County legislature, town supervisors and the Schuyler County Sheriff "have agreed to work together toward an agreement with the Humane Society of Schuyler County for dog sheltering services when stray dogs are recovered in any of the towns in Schuyler County. ... In the interim, services will continue as they have, under the agreement between the towns, Schuyler County and the humane society. The county is continuing to fund and staff the animal control officer position through the sheriff's department to capture and transport stray dogs to the local shelter."
While a new contract has not been finalized, Lausell expects a contract through the end of 2020 will be ratified as quickly as possible. He further expects the town supervisors will meet with the humane society board and Taylor in August of 2020 to begin talks for the contract that will take effect on Jan. 1, 2021. Right now, though, his next step is to circle back to the supervisors.
"It's a matter of talking again to the supervisors," said Lausell. "I want to call them all and make sure we're on the same page. We'll get through this as quickly as we can. We wanted to make sure everyone knows that we've all agreed to keep it in place. So if there is a stray dog, call [the sheriff]."