Sinking teeth into a growing problem… Non-emergency calls about animals to 911 could result in penalties

Published 6:32 pm Wednesday, June 15, 2022

Callers could face legal action for calling 911 with non-emergency animal control issues in Carter County.

The animal shelter board discussed the ongoing issue during a meeting with members of the 911 board of Tuesday.

“We are getting a lot of non-emergency calls in reference to animal calls,” said 911 board member Kelly Geagley. “When the shelter is open, we are still getting inundated with calls which causes a burden on us due to us being short-staffed. We are just looking for a solution.”

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Shelter director Shannon Posada said the one animal control responder available after normal hours receives calls at all hours of the night, even while attending church with his family. He has received calls about dogs, goats, chickens and pigs.

“When they don’t get the reaction they want, they call 911,” said Posada. “If Darren (Lacy) doesn’t respond immediately, people then call 911. They are learning the ways around the system to turn their problems into someone else’s. I understand it’s frustrating and aggravating to deal with some of these people.”

The crux of the problem revolves around what is an emergency in regard to calling 911 about animal issues and when to contact the animal shelter, which is open from 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday.

“If someone is bit by a dog, that aggressive dog needs to be off the street,” said Posada. “If an animal is hit by a car or is physically injured or abuse is suspected, 911 needs to be called. If an animal is running at large, 911 has to dispatch a deputy to respond.

“An emergency is not a box full of kittens or a litter of dogs that someone wants picked up or someone that has an animal contained,” she added. “They can call the animal shelter and we will have Darren or someone get out there and pick those animals up as soon as possible. That is not an emergency.”

The director said the solution would be to track repeat offenders who continue to call 911 and make an example out of those people.

County attorney Josh Hardin said it is a “a matter of educating the public.”

“There is a statue that allows for prosecution when you tie up 911 for non-emergency calls,” Hardin said. “Both parties are working in good faith to do their part. An emergency is not someone bringing a box full of kittens to the animal shelter and because there is no room for the kittens, that party leaves the shelter and when they leave they call 911 to pick those kittens up.”

The penalties according to the state statue in regard to the abuse of 911 is a Class ‘C’ misdemeanor for the first offense which can carry up to 30 days in jail and a fine of $50. An aggravated offense is a Class ‘A’ misdemeanor which can allow a person if convicted to be put in jail for 11 months and 29 days and a fine of up to $2,500 which is the maximum penalty under the statue.

Animal shelter board chairman Mike Barnett said it was time to “hold people accountable.”

“Nobody wants to put penalties out there due to making voters mad,” Barnett said. “We need to deal with the problem whether it’s a fine or whatever – something has got to give and it has to start somewhere.”

For the next month, the parties agreed that 911 would refer non-emergency calls to the animal shelter to handle during normal business hours while keeping a record of people who are abusing the process for possible prosecution. A report would be provided at the next animal shelter board meeting on July 12.