Animal shelter board discusses recent debates surrounding animal control ordinances, funding

Members of the Elizabethton/Carter County Animal Shelter Board discussed recent discussions surrounding animal control, including recent misunderstandings about potentially new ordinances and talks of transferring all funding for animal control from the Sheriff’s Department to the Animal Shelter.

The board said the document they gave the Law Enforcement Committee in January came mostly from existing regulations in Knox County.

“There are still people who do not understand,” Chairman Mike Barnett said. “We are not trying to go after hunters.”

He said the focus of potential new ordinances are repeat offenders, the ones who repeatedly breed feral animals or who repeatedly cause problems.

He pointed to the public backlash the board has received since the news came out last week, saying much of the criticism comes from supposed registration fees.

“That $100 registration fee is ridiculous,” Barnett said. “I am still trying to find out where that is.”

Discussions about the proposed ordinances are set for the Law Enforcement’s March meeting, where commissioners and the Shelter will sit down and go line by line to determine which items from the Shelter’s list are enforceable and which are not.

In particular, ordinances related to hunting dogs came under intense public scrutiny during last week’s committee meeting, a claim commissioner Mike Hill said is simply not feasable.

“You cannot assign housepet standards to hunting dogs,” Hill said. “The hunters really are exempt from this.”

He specifically pointed to a state constitution amendment in 2010, tailor-made to protect the profession of hunting.

As for recent conversations about animal control funding, Sheriff Dexter Lunceford said it was time to make that transition.

“I have bigger fish to fry right now,” Lunceford said.

Currently, he said he pays a handful of employees, including jailers, overtime in order to cover animal control services.

“It was never my expectation to drive a van around,” he said. “We cannot do that.”

County deputies have been handling animal control duties for the past few years. In 2019 alone, he said his department answered roughly 1,667 animal-related calls. He said not only is this not something his officers have the proper training for, it is not strictly necessary for his department to provide the expense.

“Animal Control is not my statutory responsibility,” Lunceford said.

He said his department currently sets about $38,000 towards animal control, while his employees on average make around $24,000 annually.

Sonja Culler said while she approved of bringing animal control back to the shelter, now was not the best time.

“If animal control comes back to the shelter, there needs to be numerous amendments,” Shelter Director Shanon Posada said.

No formal vote on either topic took place, as further discussions and debates are still ongoing. All meetings are free and open to the public.

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