2010-04-29 / Editorial

We don’t need a full-time ACO

By Michael Schnack

Many individuals spoke in favor of keeping a full-time animal control officer during our recent budget workshops. They spoke very emotionally about what a “nice, compassionate” person the current ACO is and how the town cannot do without the services that she provides.

They spoke about how the ACO helped them with the birth of kittens, removed raccoons from a chicken coop, helped rid their attic of squirrels, comforted a grieving owner of a sick and dying pet, transported baby raccoons, helped rid their house of bats and so on. I’ve also received letters telling me how the ACO helped to corral polo ponies and prize cattle, and helped with the adoption of bunnies.

The Town Ordinance, Chapter 10, Animals, outlines the responsibilities and authority of the ACO. The ACO’s primary function is to enforce the Animal Ordinance, including impounding animals and reporting on their disposition; investigating bite cases and vicious dog complaints; and investigating complaints of other violations of the ordinance. Violations of the ordinance include failure to follow a confinement order; allowing a dog to be at large, violating the town leash law, in effect between the hours of 7 a.m. and 4 p.m.; allowing dogs on school property; barking dogs in apartments; owning or keeping more than three dogs per residence; or failing to remove feces from a public sidewalk, park, public place or building. Dogs are also required to be licensed, and the ACO is required to complete an annual dog census.

The Town Ordinance may be enforced by any police officer of the Town, per Section 10-41, Enforcement. The annual census may be completed by the Town Sergeant, per Section 10.71, Census and is currently handled through the town clerk’s office.

The ordinance prohibits the keeping of wild animals, except by conditions “affixed by the animal control officer.” The ordinance makes no mention of trapping, transporting or dealing with wild animals on private property (Section 10-5, Wild Animals).

After review of police dispatch records, our town administrator reported that in the month of February, the ACO responded to calls taking approximately five hours – out of 160 hours of paid time – two of which were to help find a lost dog after 4 p.m., when the leash law was not in effect. In March, the ACO responded to calls totaling two hours.

The full-time ACO issue is similar to the Cranston crossing guard situation of a few years ago. Cranston was paying full medical and pension benefits for part-time work. We are paying a full-time salary, full medical and pension benefits for a job that requires less than a half-time position. Hypothetically, this would be like having a full-time, yearround employee to plow snow.

I don’t believe that this is a good use of town resources, or that taxpayers should be paying for the types of individual services that were reported during our budget meetings.

In light of the discussions regarding the elimination of funding a full-time animal control offi cer position and after review of the ordinance, I am offering the following proposal to maintain the required level of animal control services for the town.

All animal control complaint calls should be reported to the police department. Dispatch should then determine the appropriate resource to handle the complaint. Calls should be handled in the following manner: Animals suspected of having rabies or distemper, or animals threatening the safety of people, should be handled by the police.

If an animal must be transported, it should be transported by the North Kingstown animal control officer, or – if not available – by a licensed and trained person contracted on a per-call basis by the town. Any ordinance complaint, including barking dogs/noise complaints; vicious dog complaints; reports of animal cruelty; leash law violation or reports of too many dogs (four or more) being kept at a residence, may be handled by the police, since these are enforcement issues and it is the police department’s responsibility to enforce the law.

Lost and found calls may be handled for information purposes and should be maintained until the animal is retrieved by its owner. No action is required unless the found animal must be picked up to be impounded. If animal pickup is required, either the N.K. ACO or town-contracted person should be contacted.

Wild animal complaints, including wild animals inside homes or disturbing property, should be handled by directing callers to the DEM website for information and direction to the Nuisance Wildlife Control Specialists list. NWCS are licensed by the DEM to handle wildlife complaints – our ACO is not.

Reports of injured animals should be handled by directing callers to the Wildlife Hotline at 294-6363, or www.riwildliferehab. org/whattodo.html for a list of licensed rehabilitators. In no circumstances should a citizen try to capture or handle an injured wild animal. Other wildlife information is available from the Department of Environmental Management website at www. dem.ri.gov/topics or at Division of Fish and Wildlife offices.

Since many issues raised during our budget meetings included non-ordinance-related animal issues, such as midwife to cats; herding livestock or horses; personal animal services; adoption assistance and the like; I would recommend that the Jamestown Humane Society be solicited to develop a volunteer hotline to render assistance or support in these areas.

I do not believe that we require the services of a full-time animal control officer, nor do I believe that the town or its citizens will be adversely impacted by the elimination of this full-time position.

The Town Council has a responsibility to make sure that our tax dollars are spent wisely. This is an area where I believe that we can do a better job for the taxpayers, while providing the appropriate level of service for the town.

The writer is president of the Jamestown Town Council.

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