It’s been more than a year since Garfield County (GarCo) has gone without an animal control (AC) unit.
When it came to GarCo’s 2021 budget, the commissioners, faced with a hit in revenue, asked various departments to make cuts where each saw fit. The sheriff’s department set AC on its chopping block. When all was said and done, the three positions that made up GarCo’s AC unit were cut.
Sheriff Lou Vallario told The Sopris Sun that he had to cut 5%, or roughly $1.2 million, of the department’s budget in 2021. Having formed the county’s AC division during his first term, Vallario stated, “Eliminating it was extremely difficult for me,” but, “unfortunately, I have to prioritize people over animals.”
In addition to being short on funding, the sheriff’s office is also down 21 positions.
“The reason we had three deputies assigned to AC was because we get so many animal calls including bears, livestock and other calls that are technically other agencies’ jurisdiction,” such as Colorado Parks and Wildlife and the Brand Inspector, explained Vallario.
The sheriff noted that county ordinances, such as vaccinating pets are still obligatory, although the enforcement thereof is less frequent without the program. The county’s vaccine voucher program, previously offered through AC, was likewise done away with.
According to the sheriff, criminal violations involving dangerous dogs are still dealt with by the sheriff’s department, the same as any misdemeanor or felony.
According to the sheriff’s office, in 2018 there were 1,476 incidents involving pets, 1,586 in 2019 and 1,333 in 2020 — the final year AC was active. In 2021, that number dropped to 309 and thus far in 2022, 255 pet incidents have been recorded.
“GarCo AC was involved in the majority of cases regarding stray animals [mostly dogs], bite incidents and any neglect or abuse charges in unincorporated Garfield County,” Wes Boyd, executive director of Colorado Animal Rescue (CARE), told The Sopris Sun.
Pets brought in by AC were assigned a case number at CARE — or, in the case of western Garfield County, at Journey Home Animal Care Center in Rifle. In 2019, 123 pets were assigned case numbers at CARE, in 2020, 138 — compared to only three since GarCo AC was nixed.
Discretionary grant funding from the county to CARE also took a hit. In 2019, CARE was granted $365,000. In 2022, that source of funding decreased to $220,000. In 2020, the deficit was offset because CARE was paid a fee for each animal brought in by AC.
The county’s reasoning, according to Boyd, was the strained economy, a need to scale down the county’s budget and to distribute funding more evenly between CARE and Journey Home (previously known as the Rifle Animal Shelter).
Journey Home’s executive director, Heather Grant, said that the number of animals brought in by GarCo has significantly decreased and pets still being brought in are most commonly either injured or left without care due to an arrest of the owner.
When AC was active, Journey Home received additional funding through a contract with the county to care for the animals it brought to the shelter.
Without AC, “I think it puts a lot of responsibility on the public,” Grant stated, noting that individuals have taken it upon themselves to deliver strays to the shelters — including “dangerous” dogs confronted by people without training.
Case study one
For instance, when LuLu Colby came across a seemingly vicious dog at her home in West Mamm Creek, which was clearly also a stray, her instinct was to help the animal. “He was totally terrified,” she told The Sopris Sun, “and would just snarl, snap and growl if you tried to get close to him.”
Eventually, she baited the dog into a crate. Colby herself is vaccinated for rabies — having worked with bats — but figures most people are not. After getting the dog into the crate, she had no way to lift it onto the bed of her truck.
She got in touch with Journey Home which happened to have volunteers available to assist in transporting the dog to the shelter.
It’s worth noting that Colby did not attempt to reach out to the sheriff’s department, because she was aware that AC was no longer available.
Colby plans to attend the Board of County Commissioners meeting in Silt on Sept. 10 to speak to the importance of having a county-wide AC unit.
Case study two
Cynthia Jacobson and Mike Fleagle live on the east side of unincorporated Garfield County. After several alleged incidents with a neighbor’s dog(s) on their own property, at least one resulted in a citation being issued and the dog owner pleading guilty to a misdemeanor: ownership of a dangerous dog.
While the case was resolved in the courts, Jacobson and Fleagle are still left wondering if and when another attack may occur. Part of the dog owner’s sentencing was to “comply with all [requirements] applicable under 18.104.22.168 sub section E.5” of the Colorado Revised Statutes, which includes securing the area where the dog is kept and posting signage indicating a dangerous dog lives there. While Fleagle acknowledged efforts have been made, the couple also reported that the fencing still has openings which the dog(s) could escape through.
Jacobson and Fleagle have yet to reach out to the sheriff’s office since sentencing, to request the department follow up to make sure the defendant is in compliance. When asked why, the couple reported that previous attempts had been unsuccessful and were apparently told by a dispatcher at one point to shoot the dog(s) if they came onto their property again.
The two feel at a loss as to what recourse they have available to ensure the sentencing requirements are met and their safety reassured.
Vallario indicated that in such a scenario AC would have likely responded as a “courtesy,” but clarified that the sheriff’s department is not “party to what the court orders,” giving the example that if a defendant was ordered to take alcohol classes, the sheriff’s department would not intervene unless the court issued an order to do so.
“I would love to reactivate the [AC] program,” concluded Vallario, “but until we see better consistent revenue streams that would allow it to maintain longevity, it still remains a low priority.”
It takes community support to keep The Sopris Sun shining.