LIVINGSTON COUNTY — County Administrator Ian M. Coyle recently responded to concerns raised by local resident Melissa Nichols over how the Livingston County Dog Control Shelter Facility is run.
Nichols, who runs Going To The Dogs Rescue in Perry, created a petition on Change.org demanding immediate change at the facility, which is a program of the Livingston County Department of Health. She has also been in touch with Coyle, as well as Livingston County Department of Public Health Director Joan Ellison, and dog control officer Roxanne Clark. To date, the petition has 570 signatures.
Nichols’ main goals are to ensure more dogs are adopted from the shelter or returned to their owners before being euthanized, and that spaying and neutering is enforced. Currently, the dog control facility, located on Gypsy Lane at Hampton Corners, requires anyone adopting a dog to pay a $35 minimum deposit upon adoption, and sign a legal New York State sterilization agreement. The agreement states the dog must be spayed or neutered within 30-60 days, depending on its age. The fee is refunded once proof is given. While this is in compliance with Department of Agriculture and Markets, Nichols is concerned because the department’s law does not go into detail on how to enforce the law should someone not comply within the set amount of time.
Other choices the facility could implement are utilizing another agency to assist with spaying and neutering, like the Humane Society of Livingston County, or places like Nichols’ rescue, which start spay and neuter funds and collect donations to help ensure all dogs are spayed and neutered before adoption. Nichols said an adoption fee could be set in place to offset the cost.
Nichols also said the facility can also use its own veterinary services with a contractual agreement. She suggested they put out a request for local veterinarians, asking for a discount to have the dogs fixed before adoption. This technique is more expensive than the others, though Nichols said some veterinarians give discounts.
“Spaying and neutering is one of those bigger aspects of this involvement, since it is one of the only ways we can combat over population 100% and decrease the homeless pets in our area,” said Nichols. “There’s so much more that can be done.”
Coyle responded to these concerns on behalf of himself, Ellison and Clark in an email.
“First and foremost, we have and continue to operate within the constraints allowed by applicable law,” said Coyle. “As new opportunities to subsidize spay and neuter costs are now being offered to us, we are exploring the possibility of using them. For example, we now have several of the Livingston County Humane Society vouchers to supplement NYS vouchers further reducing the expense of spay/neutering to an adopter. We have not received or used these vouchers previously and it’s a great partnership with the Humane Society and we are grateful for their assistance.”
Coyle confirmed that working with local veterinarians to perform pre-adoption spays and neuters is another option, though he said there is some concern that raising adoption fees may reduce the number of dogs adopted. However, Coyle said the county plans to evaluate and assess this as a policy option at its next Human Services Committee meeting.
While Nichols is happy the county is taking steps to better the facility in terms of spaying and neutering dogs, she is still concerned about how euthanasia is handled.
“They don’t have a standard operating procedures manual or employee handbook that gives a situational play-by-play for the department,” Nichols said. “So, there’s no intake procedures or outtake procedures or euthanasia procedures. We assume they’re following New York State law, but there’s no procedure to ensure that. There’s not any additional training to ensure that laws haven’t changed and are now being followed in the appropriate way.”
Nichols requested FOILs (freedom of information law) on the facility and found there are no policy procedure manuals in place. She also learned in a meeting with Ellison that she was having the dog control officer write the procedures herself, which Nichols thinks is self-defeating since she isn’t getting additional training. When she asked if an attorney would review the handbook to ensure no laws were being overlooked, Ellison allegedly said it wouldn’t be necessary.
According to Coyle, the facility is in full compliance with NYS Agriculture and Markets Law, Article 7, which establishes processes, procedures, and policy systems for dog shelters.
“NYS Department of Agriculture and Markets also produces a Dog Control Officer and Municipal Shelter Guide that is used as a reference in implementing the provisions of the applicable Laws,” said Coyle. “We are looking at add-ons and enhanced policy/procedure language where and when appropriate.”
Coyle also added that the facility has one part-time employee and she is trained.
Nichols said in addition to not having a proper employee handbook, the facility also doesn’t keep records stating why certain dogs were euthanized, only that they were.
“When rescues are offering to help with a dog that hasn’t been adopted in a timely manner, instead of contacting these rescues and asking if they’ll take them, they’re making the call to euthanize them,” Nichols said. “And this may be a healthy dog. Unfortunately, because they’re not following Department of Agriculture and Markets law, which states to clearly indicate the dog’s disposition, I have no way of knowing, looking through the FOIL records, if the dog was euthanized for a behavioral concern or whether it was euthanized for a health issue, or whether the dog was completely healthy.”
According to Coyle, this isn’t true.
“We keep all required records on euthanasia,” Coyle said. “We are working on a modification to our database to include additional information on the approvals of and reasons for euthanasia.”
The facility recently received an inspection from the Department of Agriculture and Markets, which deemed them in compliance.
Still, Nichols, a dog owner herself, wants to ensure dogs who are lost and end up at the county’s dog control facility are given a chance to be reunited with their owners. She also wants to make sure the facility is doing the best it can.
According to Coyle, the county is working on ways to run the shelter as efficiently as possible. Recently, the facility implemented a microchip scanning system to help get dogs back to their owners quicker.
“Our facility has the chance to be an example for adoption and promoting and making sure we’re no kill” said Nichols.