• John McGary, Woodford Sun News Editor

New laws mean more calls to Animal Control

WOODFORD ANIMAL CONTROL officers Jodi Mullins, left, and Elizabeth Cecil, deal with a friendly but energetic dog (the only pet there that day) who’d been caught running loose last week. They say animal protection ordinances passed by the county and city governments a few months ago have led to more calls from concerned citizens. (Photo by John McGary)

Employees of the Woodford County Animal Control Department say they’ve been busier since animal protection ordinances passed the two city councils and Woodford Fiscal Court earlier this year.

With cold weather still months away, they also want to spread the word about new requirements for animal shelters, because some owners may need a head start on building or altering shelters to comply with the new laws.

The ordinances passed by the Midway and Versailles city councils and Woodford Fiscal Court are quite similar, with the county’s version taking precedence when tougher.

The county ordinance says adequate shelter must be provided to “owned, domesticated animals, sufficient enough to protect the animal from weather conditions that may cause suffering, based upon the species, breed, body condition and health of the animal.” The shelter must be weather and water-proof, and for dogs and cats, “structurally sound, with a solid floor, at least three solid walls/sides, a solid roof, proper ventilation, organic bedding, and uncluttered by objects which are likely to cause injury or be detrimental to the health of the dog or cat, and placed in an area that will shelter the dog or cat from the direct effect of wind, rain and snow, with dimensions appropriate for size.”

Animal Control Officer Elizabeth Cecil said she and colleague Jodi Mullins and Animal Control Director Susan Jones try to give pet owners a chance to remedy problems.

“Usually, what we do is give them 24 hours – ‘Hey, you need to get a doghouse, an acceptable place. If you don’t, then we’re just going to go ahead and cite you.’ Usually, we’ve had good compliance with that. They get it done and it’s usually an acceptable doghouse – solid walls, solid floor and everything,” Cecil said.

They expect more calls from concerned citizens when rain, sleet and snow and cold temperatures arrive this winter. (Cattle are unaffected by the new law.)

Shelters for horses don’t have to be a run-in – a three-sided building with a roof, Cecil said.

“It can be a tree line. But it has to be something (to allow) the animals to get out of the weather if they want to,” Cecil said.

Still, if the animal is suffering, owners must do more, she said.

“So again, we have to use our discretion when we respond to a call. The biggest thing for us … is a lot of these horse farms, their thoroughbreds are turned out during the day. They’re typically brought in at night,” Cecil said.

Other, less valuable horses don’t fare as well. Some farms have no shelter or tree lines, Cecil and Mullins said.

“Those are the types of areas that we have concerns (about) and we want to make sure that they have adequate time to start preparing for what they’re going to be required by law (to do),” Cecil said.

Owners can be given a date by which they must be compliant, but Cecil pointed out that it’s hard to put posts in the ground when the ground is frozen.

“So we want to try to do whatever we can to reach out to them and say, ‘Look, you don’t have a good tree line where they can get out of the wind and the sleet.’ If you’ve got some older horses and you don’t have a barn… they’ve just got to be able to do something to give them some kind of shelter,” Mullins said.

“ … When we show up, we’re looking at what’s going on and how is the animal acting. Is it in distress? Is it OK? So we’re taking notes of everything as we’re walking into a situation, taking pictures, seeing if there are violations,” Mullins said. “We tell them as long as they’ve provided everything that they’re supposed to provide for that animal and the animal’s okay, there’s nothing we can do about it. But if we show up at a situation and there’s an animal that’s not faring well, it’s in distress, well, that falls back on the state (animal cruelty) law…

That owner, it’s their responsibility to do more. Whatever they need to do to make sure that animal’s not in distress from the weather.”

Another year-round concern is the new tethering requirement that call for a minimum 10-foot-long tie-out with swivels on both ends, attached to a collar in an area that won’t allow the animal to get easily tied up or, worse, strangled.

Cecil has worked at Animal Control for four-and-a-half years, Mullins for a dozen, and Jones for more than 14 years. Each loves animals, with Cecil and Mullins owning horses, dogs and cats.

They say overall, Woodford County pet and animal owners are a good lot.

“Woodford County is amazing. (Pet owners) really seem to follow the laws more than… any of the other counties that we see,” Mullins said. “We’re very fortunate. We’re very, very fortunate.”

However, they’ve encountered the exception to that rule more often than they’d wish.

“It’s frustrating. It makes you very angry, because you’re like, ‘It’s common sense. They’re living beings,’” Cecil said. “I think I’m more shocked than anything. Shocked at two things – the owner, why did he let this happen? And why didn’t somebody call us sooner…” Mullins and Cecil say they’re always friendly with the owners, but occasionally, their courtesy isn’t returned.

“If we’re trying to talk to them and let them know what’s required by law and what’s unacceptable and what needs to be fixed, if they’re going to be uncooperative and start telling us off and being rude, we tell them, ‘Fine. We’re just going to go to the county attorney,’” Mullins said. “We want so badly to help people be successful. We don’t go around wanting to charge people and send people to court.

That is not at all our goal, even though we were hired to enforce state, county and city laws. We want to help people help their animals.” Education is a chief goal, they said.

Some dog owners don’t know they’re not allowed to let their pet run loose, and aren’t charged the first time it occurs. Cecil remembers a

Boxer they were asked to visit, whose owner didn’t seem to be aware the animal needed more food.

Most of them heed the advice – or warning.

“They turn around, like it’s a whole 180. It’s amazing,” Cecil said.

Pet owners can read the city and county ordinances on those governments’ websites, or on the Facebook page of Woodford County Animal Control.

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