Residents share concerns about Animal Control and Humane Society

Published 8:45 am Tuesday, August 1, 2023


Several local residents spoke about concerns with Animal Control and the Humane Society at the July 11 Fiscal Court meeting.

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Judge-Executive Trille Bottom allowed three community members to speak on the topic. One of them was Jennifer Bodner Gaddis, who had sent an email to magistrates saying she’d like to file an official complaint against Animal Control.

She told stories of two recent incidents where Animal Control did not help injured cats. One incident happened when she found a cat on the road that appeared to have been hit by a vehicle, and it was still alive, but in apparent pain.

“I contacted Animal Control and spoke with a woman who stated that their Animal Control man was already out, and if the cat wasn’t already dead it probably would be by the time they got there; that was an exact quote of what she stated,” Gaddis explained.

With assistance, Gaddis got the cat into a box and took it to Animal Control. She said that someone with Animal Control was outside when they got there, who went inside after hearing about the dying cat. Then, Gaddis said a woman from the Humane Society came outside waving her arms and frantically saying they had no resources and could not take the cat.

“She stated they didn’t have anyone certified to put the cat down and couldn’t do anything with it; she offered zero solutions in the situation,” Gaddis said.

Gaddis said she took the cat to the Town and Country Animal Clinic where they treated the animal.

In an interview with the Advocate-Messenger, Humane Society Director Kari Kuh said she was the one who came out to help in that situation, but there was nothing that the Humane Society could do.

“This is an Animal Control issue; the Animal Control officer alerted me to what was going on in the parking lot, and I ran out there; yes I was waving my arms, I ran out there to see what the situation was, and we don’t have a capacity at the Humane Society to do anything with a cat that’s injured that badly,” Kuh said. “I stepped in trying to help, and we ended up paying for the euthanasia, but again this was not the responsibility of the Humane Society, and we did the best we could in that situation, which was to pay for the euthanasia.”

The Advocate-Messenger did not hear back from attempts to contact an Animal Control employee for comment.

Gaddis had an earlier incident on May 9 after her daughter’s softball game. They noticed a cat limping with a leg injury, and appeared malnourished and matted.

“I contacted dispatch and asked for Animal Control; a young man came out that evening and stated that Animal Control does not have funds for cats, that they only have funds for dogs that look adoptable,” Gaddis said. “We felt very uncomfortable leaving the cat at the ballfield considering it was visibly ill and there would be school children on the property the next day. We were given the option of us taking it home or leaving it at the ballfield.”

She took the cat home, and it later tested positive for feline leukemia. She said in her experience, Animal Control was rude to her; and she was disappointed that in the second incident, both AC and the HS refused to take the dying cat found on the road.

“If both agencies are going to continue to refuse to take animals, where are we supposed to look for these services, and what exactly are the taxpayers of Boyle County paying the staff to do?” Gaddis asked.

Magistrate Jamey Gay, who is on the county’s Animal Control Committee, said in an interview with the Advocate-Messenger that in these instances, Animal Control should have taken the injured cats.

“They should have taken them,” Gay said. “We’ve reviewed that situation with both the Humane Society and with our Animal Control officers, and I think we have a better understanding of how that should’ve operated and should’ve occurred.”

He also said it’s a common misconception that Animal Control doesn’t take cats, but they actually do take cats.

Kuh explained that while the Boyle County Humane Society and Boyle County Animal Control work closely together, and in the same building, they are two separate entities with separate responsibilities.

Animal Control is responsible for picking up stray and injured animals, animals running at-large, and enforcing animal laws. They are a government agency paid for by taxpayer dollars, bound by law to operate a shelter.

The Humane Society is responsible for owner surrenders, finding new homes or rescues for abandoned pets, supporting pet owners who have limited resources, among other things. They are a non-profit that relies on donations, fundraisers, and grants.

“The Humane Society is focused on outcomes, so we have all the programming to help people keep their pets, as opposed to bringing them to the shelter,” Kuh said. “We do work very closely together, but our roles and responsibilities are different and complementary.”

When Animal Control takes in an animal, it stays there for a minimum of five days. If it is not claimed by its owner, the animal is transferred to the Humane Society for adoption or rescue placement.

“Some of the comments [from the Fiscal Court meeting] that were directed toward the Humane Society were actually concerns about Animal Control, but this is where people are confused, because the Humane Society owns the building, but Boyle County Animal Control operates out of there, and we share the same phone number, so it makes sense that people think we’re the same, but there’s a very important distinction,” Kuh said.

Further concerns

Another person who spoke at the Fiscal Court meeting was Julie Rodes, a volunteer with Happy Paws Spay and Neuter clinic. She read excerpts from Boyle County’s Ordinance 842.1, which states that an animal is defined as any nonhuman animal except an insect.

According to the Ordinance, part of AC’s duties are “To ensure the protection of animals, and the abatement of public nuisances stemming from the maltreatment, abandonment of animals, and regulating commerce regarding animals.”

Rodes recounted one of her own experiences with AC and the HS. On April 28, 2022, a local resident came to Happy Paws with two malnourished puppies they found on the road. The resident told Rodes that she took them to the Humane Society and the puppies were turned away, with the reasoning that they were found just over the Boyle County line in Lincoln County.

Rodes took the puppies and called the Humane Society, and confirmed the reasoning for them not taking the puppies. Rodes then spent five hours finding a vet who would see them, got them care and took the bill.

Rodes said after encountering so many instances of animals being turned away from Animal Control and the Humane Society, she keeps a list of who to call for different types of wild or stray animals, and Boyle’s AC and the HS are not on the list.

“I cannot tell you the number of times I have called animal rescue, there is no response; I have to call 911 to get dispatch, and even then I’ve had no response,” Rodes said. “So for those in the county, for those who have tried, the mindset is, ‘why bother?’”

Lifelong Danville resident Rachel Beckman also spoke to the court about two years of frustrations she’s had with AC and the HS. While she doesn’t run a rescue service, she volunteers much of her time helping others in the community take stray animals to find care.

In February 2021, Beckman said she found a stray one-eyed cat in her neighborhood and adopted him. That summer, she found the house where the cat had come from, and found more cats there, two males, two females and a litter of kittens. She spoke to the homeowner and he didn’t claim ownership of them, and offered them to her.

“They were living outside in filth, drinking water with a ton of roaches floating in it, starving, and so naturally I contacted Animal Control and the Humane Society,” Beckman said. “To say the least, I received minimal support from them; one employee of the Humane Society told me they would have ‘a fine life if after they were spayed and neutered they were returned to those living conditions.’”

Beckman didn’t think that was good enough, so she found a foster and got all the cats spayed and neutered at Happy Paws, then found adoptive homes for all of them. That story spread throughout the community, and people started contacting Beckman for help with strays.

“People would beg me to help them find rescues, find fosters, find transport somewhere else, find money to vet these animals that are sick, hurt, or endangered, and they ask me almost always after they’ve already contacted Animal Control and/or the Humane Society and been denied help,” Beckman said.

Beckman said the Covid-19 lockdown partially caused a pet overpopulation crisis, due to spay and neuter clinics being closed during quarantine and people now abandoning pets they got during quarantine. However, she believes that the county does have financial resources to combat the crisis. But they need to direct the money to programs and plans that will do the most good.

She offered a solution of establishing a task force made up of Humane Society and Animal Control employees, Happy Paws representatives, local vets, local citizens involved in rescue, and local government officials. The task force could work together to formulate plans in tackling the crisis effectively, taking notes from other communities who are effectively combating the crisis.

Magistrates thanked each individual for bringing their concerns to the court, and Gay explained that they are aware of the types of issues brought up.

“This has been an all-consuming issue that we’ve been working on, and it is complex, more complex than you would think on the surface, and so there’s been a lot of time spent by a lot of staff within the county government in trying to come up with solutions,” Gay said in the meeting.

What led to these concerns

The Humane Society went through major operational changes around 2019, which in turn affected Animal Control operations.

The Humane Society and Animal Control had the opportunity to work with an animal welfare consultant from Team Shelter USA in 2018 to update their policies and practices. Kuh explained that at the time, they were euthanizing animals very often, and the shelter was constantly overcrowded.

“The place was full, we were euthanizing animals way too much; I think we euthanized 1,000 cats in 2017,” Kuh said.

In order to reduce the number of animals at the shelter and the number of euthanizations, the HS implemented managed intake in 2020. They shifted operations to focus on preventing animals from having to be at the shelter.

This meant that the HS started putting more emphasis on helping people keep their pets if they have limited resources to care for them. They now provide pet supplies, spay / neuter surgery, a pet food pantry, and other resources for those who might not be able to care for pets. They also have a home-to-home program for people who need to re-home their pets.

Instead of keeping cats and kittens at the shelter, Kuh said they try to utilize foster homes as much as possible, since kittens don’t do well in a shelter environment. They also started the community cat program. When people find a stray cat, they can trap it, bring it to the Humane Society for it to receive spay / neuter surgery and vaccinations, and then they put the cat back where they found it.

“The goal is to put as many of the fixed cats back in their natural habitat; they wouldn’t be there if there weren’t resources, and many times these are very loved cats that have several caretakers,” Kuh said. “It protects the environment, they’re fixed, they’re vaccinated, and new cats won’t move in, so we avoid taking in any of the outdoor cats, because they just don’t do well in the shelter, which is why we initiated the community cat program.”

According to a Shelter Statistics Analysis 2018 – 2022 document from the Boyle County Humane Society, the number of shelter euthanasias decreased dramatically between 2018 and 2022. In 2018, they didn’t do any trap-neuter-vaccinate-returns (TNVR), but in 2022, they did TNVR for more than 50% of the animals that came in.

The Statistics Analysis states, “The COVID pandemic changed community perception of sheltering. More people are willing to be a temporary stop-gap, assist in re-homing, and leaving the shelter as a last resort for pets. Animal fostering and adoption met an all time high, which would eventually taper and return to pre-pandemic levels.”

Kuh said that she’s aware that local residents are taking it upon themselves to take care of and find homes for strays, and the HS can provide financial assistance in those efforts. However, she said many people aren’t fully aware of the recent HS policy changes and why they were made, which likely led to the concerns expressed at the Fiscal Court meeting.

“The old way of thinking was to just drop anything off at the shelter, so that was a mind-shift we had to work with people on,” Kuh said. “The biggest pushback was the community cat program, but if it wasn’t working, if people weren’t happy to use it, we wouldn’t have done 650 spay and neuter surgeries last year, so clearly there is some engagement.”

Gay said that the changing policies have affected the way Animal Control brings in animals. He said the policies have caused a divide of opinion in the community.

“There’s some people who understand and believe in the new Humane Society practices, and there are others who don’t believe in them or don’t understand them,” Gay said.

“It seems that [animal control officers] stay somewhat confused on when they’re supposed to bring an animal into the Humane Society and not, and those are things we’re working to really get clarity on.”

Kuh said that the HS is relying more on the community, and while many are supportive, she understands that others are unhappy.

“I know that there are people who are unhappy with our new policies, I get that, and they can come to us directly; if they want to talk to a board member, they’re more than welcome to do that if they feel they’re not getting the support they need,” she said.

People can go to to see a list of the board members.

The Advocate-Messenger will be publishing a follow up to this story with further details about changing policies, pet overpopulation and possible solutions to these and other issues.