The Calhoun County Commission canceled its contract with Cheaha Regional Humane Society hoping to establish a “metro” animal control solution, but the split might have had the opposite effect.
While two of the county’s major municipalities, Anniston and Piedmont, have signed contracts for stray animal impounding at the once-more county-controlled Morrisville Road facility, Jacksonville and Oxford have other plans.
Oxford chose to favor of supporting the temporarily-adrift Cheaha Regional in establishing a permanent headquarters to act as the city’s exclusive impounding service.
Oxford police Cpt. L.G. Owens said by text message last week that the city has “had good service with them in the past.”
Cheaha Regional board director Jane Cunningham said a contract with Oxford and monthly service costs are still being negotiated. She said the city brought in about 30 animals a month when Cheaha worked at the county facility; those animals are now being adopted through PetSmart, placed in foster homes and rescue shelters until a permanent facility is built.
She said there’s land set aside by the city for such a purpose near the Oxford Exchange, and she hopes to see ground broken on the facility this year.
“I’m excited about it,” she said by phone Wednesday. “The animals we had at PetSmart last Saturday were Oxford’s animals, and those animals were great animals. They got adopted quickly.”
Meanwhile, she said, the city Police Department already has animal control functions to handle aggressive animals, and Cheaha Regional won’t be expected to take over that role.
She said Cheaha Regional will exclusively work with Oxford for the “foreseeable future,” though she said she would like to see the permanent facility grow and possibly help more animals in the community, if possible.
A long-standing stray solution
Jacksonville also has its own animal control strategy, working exclusively with Calhoun County Humane Society for its animal impounding needs, according to police Chief Marcus Wood.
He said the city has worked with the shelter for more than a decade, though he wasn’t certain of the exact year a deal was made.
He said the city delivers an estimated 10 to 15 dogs per month to the shelter, and sometimes five to 10 cats. The city pays a flat rate of $1,300 per month for the service.
Soon after the commission announced its break from Cheaha Regional, he said, there was some discussion among city administrators about animal control, though the city ultimately decided to stand with Calhoun County Humane.
“We had this conversation when that kind of talk started happening,” Wood said. “We’ve had no issues about them ever being full and them not taking any animals. What we have works for us.”
‘A good side to animal control’
Meanwhile, county animal control center director Chris Westmoreland is busy establishing a new normal at the facility.
Dozens of dogs were already in the county kennels Wednesday morning, waiting for an eventual fate that might include adoption, placement in a rescue shelter or euthanasia. Westmoreland said he isn’t surprised by the flood of animals since the county took back control of the facility on March 1.
“We’re taking in a high number of animals, which is expected when there’s not been a whole lot of animal control services over the years,” he said.
Cheaha Regional operated the center on behalf of the county until last month, when its contract expired after it was terminated by the County Commission in November.
Commission Chairman Fred Wilson cited a desire to adopt a “metro concept” during a meeting at that time, though the facility was technically already a “metro” operation accepting animals from local municipalities.
According to their contracts, Anniston pays $4,000 per month to the county to house stray animals, a total of $48,000 annually, which Mayor Jack Draper said was up from about $15,000 per year at the time it was signed. Anniston signed its contract in March, and Piedmont followed suit in April for $18,000 per year, or $1,500 per month. Both contracts allow the unlimited delivery of animals by city staff, and both last until Sept. 30. Westmoreland said Piedmont’s payments are lower because they’re expected to deliver fewer animals each month.
Westmoreland said he’s had positive feedback from the municipalities in the short time they’ve worked with him.
“They have a resource they haven’t had in some time,” he said. “They’re thankful to have a resource they can reach out to when needed.”
Westmoreland said Calhoun County residents must live in unincorporated Calhoun County or in a contracted city, like Anniston or Piedmont, to bring animals to the facility. Though Ohatchee and Weaver are incorporated, he said, they receive the county’s services at no charge because they have populations under 5,000.
Westmoreland said he expects it will take about six months for the county-run animal control center to get where he wants it. Renovations are mostly finished, he said. On Wednesday, the door leading into the dog kennels shined with wet paint, and power tools were still out and ready to use in the unloading bay.
After operations have settled into routine, he wants to contact local school boards and start educational programs to teach children how to handle interactions with strays. He said outreach programs like that and the county’s “snip-it” ticket program, which subsidizes spay and neuter operations for county residents, might help change public opinion about the animal control center.
“There is a good side to (animal control), but I don’t think people here have seen that,” he said. “I think through professionalism and dedication, we can change that mindset.”