Tommy Jarrell said Richmond County officials want the best office possible for the job of animal control duties and it’s not his.
Jarrell told The Daily Journal that he first approached Sheriff James Clemmons Jr. approximately 11 months ago about taking over the role of enforcing animal control laws and responding to countywide nuisance complaints. Jarrell said it’s a matter of finding the best fit with the manpower available.
“There’s no specific place for animal control to operate in county government,” Jarrell said. “It’s operated differently in each county (in North Carolina). In some counties, the animal control and animal shelter, it’s all one unit. In our county, it’s not one unit.”
Which begs the question, then, who’s best quipped to handle the job. Prior to July 1, the Humane Society of Richmond County owned and managed animal shelter operations. Volunteer and funding issues cropped up and the county government stepped in to take over. But that’s not what precipitated the move of the animal control office, Jarrell said —a move which the county commissioners approved the transfer at their Dec. 9 public meeting. The move becomes effective Jan. 1.
“Even prior to that, we had initiated the conversation with the sheriff’s office about the feasibility of taking animal control,” he said.
The transfer, Jarrell said, “has nothing to do with the animal control staff. To me, it was all about resources and who could do the job best.”
Jarrell explained that his agency currently has two full-time animal control officers. Both positions are funded by the county government. Each staff member works primarily Monday through Friday during days and evenings, “then, nights and weekends, they rotate being on call.”
Animal control staff are charged with responding to a wide range of calls for help; at one end of the spectrum is a concerned resident calling about a stray mother dog with pups and, at the other, an apparent dog attack.
“We obviously, for budgetary reasons, cannot respond to every call,” Jarrell said, noting that a stray dog with pups is “not the kind of call that you’re going to pay someone overtime to handle at night. Animal control is not visible at nights and weekends unless it’s an emergency.”
The problem is a good number of calls come when people are home from work, on the very nights and weekends when animal control staff are not on the clock. Meanwhile, sheriff’s deputies are patrolling the roads on a constant basis.
“They’re always there to answer the telephone,” Jarrell said of the county’s law enforcement agency. “They can respond to calls much quicker because it’s not a matter of one person being on call, living in Hamlet and the call being in Derby.”
And if a sheriff’s office employee is responding to a call and requires assistance, that person would “have the full force of teh sheriff’s department there to back them up,” Jarrell said. “They’ll be able to do a better job. The animal control officers we have now do a great job. It’s just there’s not enough of them to cover the county 24/7 … and the public wants somebody there when they want them. What I perceive as an emergency might be very different than what you perceive as an emergency.”
It’s not exactly clear how the issue would be better managed through the sheriff’s office. Multiple efforts to solicit answers and insight from Clemmons and Chief Deputy Mark Gulledge have been unsuccessful. While the second half of the fiscal year’s annual $94,000 budget will be accessible by Clemmons to fulfill animal control duties, it’s not known if the sheriff’s office will hire staff or spread the duties among the existing deputies. It’s also not known, if hires are made, if they would be full-fledged law enforcement officers.
Demand for service
Jarrell said that since the public knows the animal control officer has regular business hours, most of the calls come in during that period. After hours, callers can leave a message or, if immediate assistance is being sought, can dial the cell phone number of the animal control officer on call.
“Based upon payroll, in terms of times they respond to calls, they are probably going out three nights (each week) after hours to a call,” Jarrell said. “Again, I think they’re probably other calls it would be nice to be able to respond to.”
But reality is the bottom line, which is the budget. And, Jarrell acknowledged, “we pretty much encouraged them not to respond to the calls” after hours. “Whereas the sheriff’s department, they have a presence all the time.”
Animal control officers delivered 145 animals to the shelter in November, 128 in October, 128 in September and 109 in July. The figure for August wasn’t immediately available.
The health department’s two animal control officers are not guaranteed their positions beyond the end of this year, Jarrell said. One of them has been offered a job in another part of county government. Jarrell said there is no place for either employee within the health department, as their skills don’t transfer to a current vacancy.