Animal shelter

A dog at the Cheaha Regional Humane Society. Photo by Bill Wilson / The Anniston Star

When the Calhoun County Commission voted 3-2 on Thursday to end its contract with Cheaha Regional Humane Society, what might have been inferred is that this move will fix what’s broken with stray animals and how they’re sheltered in Calhoun County.

But that’s far from reality.

The problem is bigger than Calhoun County and will take a solution that’s bigger than shifting who’s in charge of operating the shelter.

Cheaha Regional took over operations of the county’s animal shelter in 2014 following years of complaints about how the shelter was run under the county’s control.

While ownership has changed hands, the amount of problems hasn’t decreased.

Earlier this year, two former employees left the shelter, claiming they were underpaid and in a hostile work environment; one of those employees was charged with stealing a dog from the shelter; and the shelter’s director filed a libel suit against an online critic who accused her of “funny business” with the organization’s tax returns. And all those things are just this year, according to a report by The Star’s Tim Lockette.

And that doesn’t include the shelter’s sometimes less-than-desirable conditions and how often animals have to be euthanized.

Commission Chairman Fred Wilson said the shelter will go to “more of a metro concept,” but that doesn’t explain how it will reduce the number of animals taken into the shelter, or provide better care and more resources for the animals and those responsible for sheltering them.

Make no mistake, the people involved in this work care about the animals. But even the most tender of hearts can be overwhelmed when the circumstances are so dire and so persistent -- too many cats and dogs, too few people, too few resources (especially money) are a frustratingly hopeless mix.

But it doesn’t have to be.

Other states have so dispatched with this issue that when their residents want a pet, they often have to have them shipped in from places like Alabama.

The difference is a culture that encourages and even enforces responsible pet ownership. That would include legislation requiring owners to register their pets for a reasonable fee. Registration would verify that each pet has received the appropriate vaccinations and has been spayed or neutered. Another potential element of the solution could include limiting the number of pets per household.

Some local governmental bodies have tried to address the issue of stray animals on their own, but animals don’t necessarily recognize neighbors’ property lines, much less city and county borders.

No, this is a statewide issue.

What’s needed is real concern and real concrete legislation that points to real solutions. But that will require real political courage in a state that generally abhors “big government.”

Whatever state laws we have on the books don’t appear to be enforced with any consistency.

But, if taken seriously and with a concerted effort, the issue of stray and unwanted animals could be largely put behind us in a generation.

Imagine an Alabama where there are almost no stray animals and where animal shelters are nearly empty rather than over capacity with not enough food or space.

No matter who’s in charge, the problem with stray animals will persist.

Unless those in charge do something different.