Animal control officers play important role in area towns
by Mark Ledbetter
Apr 21, 2013 | 2332 views |  0 comments | 7 7 recommendations | email to a friend | print
While it may be true for some that dogs are a man’s best friend, if dog owners allow their best friend to roam freely in the community, they may find themselves facing fines and fees.

Childersburg, Lincoln, Pell City, Sylacauga and Talladega have ordinances defining dogs that are “at large” as not under restraint by its owner or effectively providing confinement that allows their dog to escape.

Depending on the municipality and number of citations, dog owners may face fines as little as $15 up to $500, plus the cost of boarding the animal until owners pick them up at the animal shelter.

Typical complaints citizens report include dog owners allowing their dogs to roam free at night, often resulting in tipped over trash cans, torn newspapers, destroyed flower gardens, or urination and defecation in the neighbors’ yards.

Residents seeing dogs roaming can call local dispatch or authorities to register a complaint. The complaints are then turned over to local nuisance or animal control officers who investigate the complaint.

Childersburg Animal Control Officer Robert MacLeroy and Sylacauga Nuisance Control Officer Michelle Taylor both try to locate dog owners to return the pets before taking them to a shelter. Officers have the option to issue a warning or a citation as the situation warrants.

Responding to a call can be hazardous. MacLeroy, who has served for 14 years, said he has been scared on occasions and has been bitten twice. Using the proper equipment is important. MacLeroy said, “Normally, if you get bit it’s just about your own fault.”

Taylor, who has served since June, said she has been very fortunate and has only encountered one dog she described as having “aggressive tendencies.”

“If I had not used a lot of caution, it could have attacked,” Taylor said. “I always take caution and approach every animal with caution.”

Taylor said one issue Sylacauga faces is dogs roaming in packs. She said the packs include dogs that owners have abandoned or dropped off rather than taking them to a shelter. Or the dogs may come from adjoining county properties.

Because they are usually not neutered or spayed, Taylor said packs produce puppies. She said packs and strays also create potential problems for people and other pets, either through skin diseases or exposure to rabies.

Catching strays is not an easy task.

“They are semi-domesticated and there’s no fear of humans,” Taylor said. “They have not shown any aggression, but they are a nuisance because they lay around, and there again these dogs get into garbage cans and tear up stuff.

“It doesn’t take long for them to become savvy; they are already street smart.”

Taylor said the dogs have identified her vehicle and leave the area.

“They might be in a particular neighborhood, (and) a few weeks later I see them in another,” Taylor said. “They know the city and how to maneuver and avoid traffic.”

Both MacLeroy and Taylor said citizens at times hamper their efforts to catch the strays. Taylor said citizens that feed strays often keep strays from entering traps set up because they aren’t hungry and won’t enter the trap.

MacLeroy said some citizens have broken their pets out of the pound rather than pay a fine.

In both cases, owners can be charged with obstructing an officer in performing their duty.

When an animal is picked up control officers take them to a local shelter. Childersburg maintains a pound on Hollywood Blvd. Sylacauga has an agreement with the Animal Rescue Foundation. Because Talladega County doesn’t have a facility, it has entered into an agreement with the city of Talladega to accept animals from unincorporated areas.

Generally, animal owners have four to seven days, depending on the municipality, to redeem their pet. They do have to pay fees to the shelter or pound for upkeep and, in some cases, pay a fine.

While Taylor said she has not had anyone angry with her to her face, she has heard that some have been upset with her when they have to pay fees.

Taylor explains to the owners there are issues created when they allow their dogs to roam. Taylor said if a dog attempts to cross the street, drivers may swerve or stop suddenly and have an accident, or hit a pedestrian.

MacLeroy, however, said he has had many people angry with him. He said he has had to have his telephone number changed to an unlisted number because of the number and nature of the phone calls he received.

Stray dogs are not the only issue control officers face. Taylor said she has been called upon to remove a squirrel from a residence and responded to a complaint regarding a pot-bellied pig and its companion, a black lab.

Residents in Sylacauga and Talladega need to be aware that the property within the city limits serves as a bird sanctuary and the killing of most birds is prohibited. Residents in Childersburg need to be aware that their city has one of the strictest vicious dog ordinances in the county.

MacLeroy said it was important for local residents to know what local ordinances require in order to avoid inconveniences and fines. Having dogs vaccinated and tagged and keeping them under their control at all times can save them time and money.

Contact Mark Ledbetter at mledbetter@dailyhome.com