Commissioners, Humane Society need to meet

August 14, 2011

There seems to be only one area of agreement in Washington County where animal control is concerned: No one is happy with the status quo.

A rural county is bound to have its share of four-legged issues, but a Herald-Mail report shows an apparent lack of cohesion among public officials and definite confusion among the public about how to deal with problem animals.

Unlike many jurisdictions, Washington County's animal control unit is an arm of the nonprofit Humane Society of Washington County. The County Commissioners pay $1.1 million annually to the Humane Society for the service.

At some level, these two missions are at odds. Animal control protects people from animals, while the Humane Society, more or less, protects animals from people.

Further, Humane Society Executive Director Paul Miller says that his organization faces problems of adequate funding, jurisdictional questions and gray areas in the county's animal laws.

Manpower is a key problem, he said, but the commissioners have sounded reluctant to add to the Humane Society's budget without the establishment of a demonstrable need.

In this, we believe that both sides have legitimate points, so the first item of business is a strict accounting and full transparency of all Humane Society financing, coupled with call numbers to indicate the amount of services provided.

This will show how much bang for the buck county taxpayers are receiving, and if Miller is correct, it will back up his assertion that more manpower is needed. This will also be valuable information for the commissioners to have, moving forward on related matters.

Once we know how much money we're spending on what problems, it will become easier to rewrite the ordinances Miller believes are in need of clarification. Poorly drawn law wastes tax dollars twice — once when an officer responds, and again when the officer has no controlling authority and a second agency has to be called.

A strict accounting should expose these areas of ordinance weakness as well, which should address more of Miller's concerns.

Perhaps it will come out that animal control only serves to confuse the Humane Society's mission, in which case this burden should be placed elsewhere if it makes sense financially.

But none of this accounting can begin until the Humane Society and Commissioners sit down with open books and make some solid decisions based on solid data. We urge this to take place at the soonest opportunity for the sake of all Washington County residents, human or otherwise.

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