Upshur County Pct. 3 Commissioner Frank Berka said that about 35 persons, ranging from public officials to veterinarians, attended a meeting he convened Thursday to discuss the problem of animal concerns in the county, a conference which provided a “great beginning” to solving the issue.
“I think that we opened up the fact that it’s going to be very expensive, no matter if we (the county) maintain a contract with (the city of) Longview (to house stray animals) or do something on our own,” Berka said Monday. “I think that the next step is to probably develop a task force to determine what’s the best way to go for everybody (and determine) the least expensive, intrusive way to benefit our taxpayers.
“I think I could probably pull some people together to do it,” the commissioner added.
Berka said he called the gathering to discuss “the number of animals we have in our community, the strays, (and) the injured because we have too many animals running out on the roads and things like that. Citizens need to be concerned about controlling the number of animals in our county and then we’ll have less of a problem.”
In a news release, Berka said he opened the two-hour meeting at Etex Telephone by saying “I have been told that nothing will ever happen in Upshur County regarding animal concerns. Those naysayers need only to look at the number of decision makers asembled in this room here tonight to see that that is not the case.”
Among those attending, he reported, were county officials, city managers, law enforcement and volunteer organizations.
During the meeting, Berka wrote, Longview Mayor Jay Dean was invited to speak about a proposed new animal shelter in his city. In the news release, Berka quoted Dean as saying that while Longview wants to continue contracting with the cities of Gilmer, Ore City and Gladewater, Dean was “looking for a more permanent contract extending to at least three years.”
Berka also quoted Dean as saying “costs are yet to be determined based upon those contracts and any new contract with Upshur County as a whole.” The commissioner said Gladewater’s contract is $43,000 annually (Gilmer pays $2,407 monthly, according to City Secretary Kathy Davidson Hoover, while Ore City pays $85 per animal, said its city secretary, Gail Weir.)
Stuart Russell, representing the Longview Humane Society shelter, said it receives 1,100 dogs and cats annually from just Gilmer, Gladewater and Ore City, and “there is no way they could keep up if all of Upshur County were included,” Berka wrote.
In addition, Burge Linton, the shelter’s board president,argued it would not be practical for Upshur County to partner with the humane society after the new shelter is built, the commissioner said.
“As far as us just being able to do what we do now, when you pull the Longview animals out of our shelter, even with the rest of our contracts, our price per animal would nearly double, “ Berka quoted Linton as saying.
According to Berka, Linton additionally said the present shelter charges $87 to take an animal and that factoring in the cost of a new facility, he calculates it will cost $285 to accept one at the new facility and the current one will most likely close.
Most attending last week’s meeting said “educating animal owners about the importance of spaying and neutering their animals was paramount to fixing the problem,” Berka noted.
Some at the meeting contended the spay, neuter and vaccination ordinances in Longview should be instituted throughout Upshur County if the county contracted with Longview for sheltering animals, Berka noted. But “the notion of who would be able to police that seemed to dismiss that idea,” he wrote.
Nonetheless, Berka added that spaying and neutering would reduce the number of stray and injured animals, thus reducing law enforcement officers’ case loads and letting them “concentrate more on criminal activity.”
He added that there are free or low-cost operations that spay, neuter and vaccinate from time to time.
For example, Berka said, the Upshur County Animal Network, a volunteer group, said at the meeting that it can take animals to Oklahoma, where dogs can be spayed or neutered for $35, cats for $25. “In Upshur County, those veterinary services are as much as $90,” he added.
One person at the meeting, whose name Berka did not know, “indicated that it is possible to purchase a remote facility for handling those procedures for $6,000 and use veterinarians in training, thereby not having to leave Upshur County,” the commissioner wrote.
Berka also said that Texas Star, a vollunteer rescue operation funded by donations, indicated at the meeting that in four years, it has adopted out 955 animals, 800 of them dogs. The adoption fee is $150, which includes all costs of vaccinating, spaying and neutering, he said.
Berka noted, however, that before officials “would go any farther with seeking financial aid for the volunteer organizations, it would be necessary” that he “see some of their financial statements.”
The commissioner also said that two Gilmer veterinarians, Dr. Randall Spencer and Dr. Craig Bell, “indicated the vastness of the concerns” at Thursday’s meeting. Both work closely with the Upshur County Sheriff’s Office, said Berka, who quoted Capt. Gary Roberts as saying the veterinarians are in effect “the only places deputies can go to with the stray and injured animals.”
Roberts, along with Pct. 3 Constable Stanley Jenkins and Pct. 1 Constable Gene Dolle, “expressed the need for a certified police officer to be an animal control officer for the county,” the commissioner reported.
He quoted Dolle as saying that “having someone who can enforce and follow up cases is a big part of our problems concerning animal neglect and abuse.” Berka then quoted Roberts as saying the county’s “not having a shelter or an agreement with an active shelter made it difficult on law enforcement.
“Gilmer’s Hope House no-kill shelter reported that it was at capacity with its limited space,” the commissioner added.
Dolle, who has worked on several animal abuse cases, issued a statement on Thursday’s conference. He termed it “a very good meeting” overall, saying “there were several good ideas discussed. The only problem is the money.”
The constable said Dean and East Mountain Police Officer Matt Graham broached the possibility of a regional animal task force, “a great idea in my opinion.”
Dolle additionally said the meeting “well established that Upshur County has allowed this problem to get out of hand.
“Since Gregg, Smith, Wood and other counties have tightened up their animal laws, such as Smith County having a countywide leash law, people are either coming here to dump their dogs or moving in this area to do their careless care for their animals because they know they can get by with the way they care for them,” the constable added.
“This also brings in the dog fighters, hoarders and abusers,” Dolle contended.
As for resolving the problem, he wrote, “I know that this is baby steps, but if we can continue to work together for the same goal - animal control - we can get the job accomplished.”