League for Animal Welfare

The little puppy to the right keeps inching closer to the bigger dog's food under the watch of Jamie Pate Friday afternoon at the League for Animal Welfare in Anniston. (Photo by Trent Penny/The Anniston Star)

The Calhoun County Commission voted to terminate its contract with Cheaha Regional Humane Society last week, but the next steps toward managing the stray animal population are still uncertain.

County Administrator Mark Tyner said it’s too early in the transfer of control to discuss specific candidates for leadership roles at the shelter, or to define exactly what roles need to be filled. The shelter will need a new director, and someone to act as an animal control officer to pick up strays and handle animals in the county.

“It’s the very early end of that process,” Tyner said. “After a set listing of positions is determined, it will probably be a month or so before we start advertising.”

Jane Cunningham, CRHS director, said that there would be a press conference held within the next few weeks that would explain her organization’s position on the transfer of power, but she declined to offer details Friday afternoon. She did say that the conference members will include attorneys for the nonprofit.

Commissioner Eli Henderson said that the contract was terminated because of contract issues relating to picking up stray animals.

“In that contract, there’s not a clear understanding about who was supposed to pick the dogs up,” he said.

Henderson is back on the commission after a four-year hiatus during which he was circuit clerk; he said that during his prior four terms, the county had a responsibility to pick up strays and handle any animal incidents, like bites. He said that function disappeared when the new contract was taken up, with no replacement, but the county responsibility remained.

“We didn’t have that under contract, but by law, we’re supposed to do that,” Henderson said.

Former county Administrator Ken Joiner said that the commission’s understanding was that the service would be provided. He said there were several meetings about the contract with CRHS.

“The commission got direct complaints from some citizens about services being provided,” Joiner said.

The stray problem in Calhoun County might be beyond what a single animal control officer could manage. Anniston Councilwoman Millie Harris said the only solution to overpopulation can be found in stricter spay and neuter ordinances. She said that an ordinance for animal registration already exists on the books in Anniston, but it’s not enforced, and it doesn’t have a fee schedule.

She pointed to Huntsville’s ordinances as an example; the city requires that dogs and cats over four months old be registered and licensed through the city animal shelter. Owners have to provide proof that the animal has been spayed or neutered, and in turn get cheaper animal registration for the year, or a permanent license for $35. 

Harris said that Huntsville was able to cut its stray population within a few years; statistics from 2014 showed that less than 27 percent of the nearly 6,000 dogs and cats taken to the city shelter that year were euthanized.

Anniston’s ordinance was rewritten last year, Harris said, though she said she wasn’t certain of a timeline on implementation and enforcement.

“We’re working on how best to go about it,” she said.

Paula Meadors, director of the League for Animal Welfare in Anniston, said that the overpopulation problem has to be dealt with through laws like the ordinance. Handling it any other way would be “impossible,” she said.

Meadors said that every shelter in the area experiences overpopulation, including Cheaha Regional. Her shelter has to keep strict control on population because the facility runs entirely on community donations; she has about 20 dogs and 11 cats right now. The number has to stay low because it’s the only way for the shelter to survive.

“That’s just how we have to do it,” she said, “but that doesn’t help the cats at the landfill that need homes.”

Assistant Metro Editor Ben Nunnally: 256-235-3560.