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Warden says people are more trouble than dogs

February 20, 2000

Pa. dog wardenBy RICHARD F. BELISLE / Staff Writer

photo: RIC DUGAN / staff photographer




WAYNESBORO, Pa. - Georgia Martin thinks she's more of a people warden than a dog warden.

cont. from front page

Martin, 54, Franklin County's state dog warden for the last year and a half, said her work deals with dog owners more than their dogs. It's the owner, not the dog, who usually causes the problem, she said.

She works out of her home, works regular hours five days a week, and is rarely called out on emergencies and then only by the police.

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Every weekday morning at 8, the 4 foot, 11 inch Martin climbs into the cab of her big Dodge pickup truck, its seat pulled way forward, and starts out on her rounds.

Her job takes her twice a year to the 45 licensed dog kennels in Franklin County for inspections. She checks off a list of 20 items with which kennel owners must comply if they want to keep their licenses - from sanitation to treatment of the animals in their care. "I'm very strict, but most are in compliance. I've only had to fine three owners so far," Martin said.

Martin is determined and always ready to enforce the state's dog laws. She issues more than 500 citations to dog owners every year, mostly for having unlicensed animals, a practice she calls "ridiculous."

She said 70 percent of the cases she works on involve unlicensed dogs and dogs with no up-to-date rabies shots. "I'm not flexible when it comes to having an unlicensed dog. I crack down and I don't give any warnings. It's an automatic fine," she said.

Dog licenses are issued on a calendar year basis and are available in the county treasurer's office. Licenses for neutered and spayed dogs cost $6. Others are $8.

Fines for owning an unlicensed dog run from $25 to $300. The amount is set by the district justice, but Martin said a first-time offender usually gets off with the minimum fine.

According to Franklin County Courthouse records, there are about 16,300 licensed dogs in the county, but Martin says that doesn't tell the whole story. "There are a lot more unlicensed dogs than licensed dogs," she said.

She said about 10 percent of the people she cites fight their cases in court. "I had about 60 court appearances last year and I lost only five of them."

The saddest and most difficult part of her job is rounding up unwanted and abandoned strays, she said. She picks up about two a week, all of which go to shelters, where they must be kept 48 hours by law.

That's enough time for their owners to claim them if they want them back, she said. Fines for abandoning dogs are $300 to $1,000. "Abandonment is hard to prove, but when I can I prosecute to the fullest extent of the law," Martin said.

"It's heartbreaking to have to pick up an abandoned dog on the side of the road. They usually stay where they were dropped off, sometimes for days, waiting for their owners to come back for them," she said. "The owners don't want the dog so they dump them off, usually in an isolated area where they won't get caught. It costs a lot to own a dog. That's why some people abandon them."

More dogs, especially beagles, are abandoned during hunting season. Hunters take their dogs in the woods and they run after game and get lost, Martin said. "Some hunters don't even try to find them. They figure they're easily replaced. Only one out of 10 beagle owners call the shelter looking for their dog."

Last week she picked up a rottweiler mix near Greencastle, Pa., that had been abandoned. He's living in the Antietam Humane Society Shelter on Lyons Road, where he has become a hit with Martin and the staff. They named him Brutus.

"Is he ever nice. There's a good chance he'll be adopted," she said, adding she'd take him herself if she didn't have a dog, two cats and four horses.

While loving animals comes naturally, Martin did a lot of training to prepare herself for the job. She took courses on how to deal with vicious dogs as well as difficult dog owners. She passed three animal cruelty courses given by the University of Missouri, a course on horse cruelty in Colorado and one on self-defense.

Animal cruelty matters are handled by the county's two Humane Society shelters - Antietam in Waynesboro and Cumberland Valley in Chambersburg. Martin served as the cruelty police officer for both shelters from 1990 to 1998 before applying for the state job.

"It was a career move for me," she said. "It's full time, has state benefits and I get a vehicle."

Martin said she investigated about 100 dog bites last year, but she has been bitten only once.

"It didn't even break the skin," she said. "I'm not afraid of dogs, but I have a healthy respect for them. They have a lot of teeth and they can do damage with them."

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