Animal control was a main topic at Monday’s meeting of the Ellis County Commissioners Court.

Several residents spoke out about the agenda item, with commissioners waiving the typical 15-minute time limitation for any topic.

All of those who signed up to speak requested that the county’s leash law be put back into place as it was drawn up in 1996. They cited a variety of reasons for the requested reinstatement - and noted 871 signatures had been gathered on a petition toward that purpose.

“We are being dumped on out in the country,” Larry Davis said, asking commissioners to reinstate the ordinance as it was while also forming a committee to look at a better solution.

At the commissioners’ request, assistant county attorney Lee Auvenshine explained the amended ordinance, noting animals are no longer picked up for “running at large” as that language was removed.

However, Auvenshine said, animal control officers - which are under the direction of the sheriff’s office - are able to pick up any animal deemed a nuisance, vicious or rabid. Relating specifically to the term, “nuisance,” Auvenshine said officers are allowed to use their discretion, but an eyewitness complaint as to the nuisance should suffice for an officer to pick the animal up.

Ellis County SPCA executive director Dana White presented figures indicating the lack of animal control would lead to increased wild dog and feral cat populations that in turn would create larger predator populations such as coyotes as they would have a larger food supply.

From September to November 2006, the sheriff’s office took 492 animals (dogs and cats) to the SPCA, which has the county’s animal control contract. From September to November 2007, 182 animals were brought in, White said, noting the impact of the commissioners’ decision to change the ordinance.

“That’s a difference of 310 and let’s say half of those lived and weren’t killed by cars or coyotes,” she said. “Of the surviving 155, say half are female. If each of those 77 females has a litter of six, we’re back up to 462. It’s going backwards. It’s increasing the number of animals running loose.”

White said she hadn’t met a single person who was happy with the amended ordinance.

“I think it needs to be reinstated until there is another plan,” she said, saying the SPCA is financially unable to take in animals from the public without a surrender fee being paid.

The SPCA has come under criticism from the public after the change in the ordinance and residents called the sheriff’s office and were told stray animals were no longer being picked up. Some of the residents took the animals in themselves to the SPCA and paid a fee to drop them off; others said they didn’t have the money to pay and left with the animals for an unknown disposition, White said, saying maybe 20 people a month will pay the fee.

Wally Swanson of Ennis said he was concerned the county was accruing a liability by not picking up stray dogs.

“What if one of these dogs that’s not picked up turns out to be dangerous and kills somebody?” he asked, saying Ellis County as a whole could have its image damaged, saying the manner in which animal control is handled is an expression of community values and ethics.

Swanson also queried the commissioners about their liability for leaving abandoned animals to die a painful death due to coyotes.

“Is it your position today that you are not violating state animal cruelty laws?” he asked, saying he’s having an attorney research the question.

Some of the other ideas put forth by those speaking included looking at how other counties are handling animal control issues and promotion of spay/neuter clinics. No action was taken Monday, with Commissioner Pct. 2 Bill Dodson saying he placed the discussion item on the agenda so others on the court could receive public input.

“There are a lot of misconceptions on what a stray animal is, what a nuisance animal is,” he said. “It’s a no-win situation that we need to address and look into. I don’t have a good answer.”

In other business, commissioners:

rescinded the burn ban at the recommendation of fire marshal Jim Pharr received an update on NorthSTAR relating to mental health services - current and proposed - for the county approved a work order under an interlocal agreement with the city of Alma approved renewal of a contract with Comtex for maintenance and repair service on the county’s radio towers and dispatch equipment approved a joint resolution for a joint primary for the March 4 election approved vendors as requested by the purchasing department approved submission of a bill to the city of Midlothian for the November local option election decided to leave the county mileage reimbursement at 48.5 cents per mile in lieu of an increase to 50.5 cents, the Internal Revenue Service rate approved reappointments to various emergency service district boards, with Kenny Caldwell to replace Thomas Leyfield on Palmer ESD No. 9 took no action on a “Clean Fleet Vehicle Ordinance” recommended by the Regional Transportation Council pending further information from county staff

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