Most of you don't go to municipal meetings unless there is some burning issue, like independent trash haulers or police getting yanked out of schools against their own wishes. Thanks to the Ross Township massacre, there will be less citizen participation. But stray control has been on the agenda in several Northampton County municipalities. A few years ago, it was discussed by Lehigh County's Board of Commissioners. It's a growing problem.
Under the state dog law (Yes, we actually have a state dog law), police and animal control officers must pick up strays. Historically, that has never been a problem. But then the SPCA became a no-kill shelter known as the Center for Animal Health and Welfare (CAHW). Things changed. It began to cost a lot more money. And very often, there was no room at the inn, leaving municipalities to sort things out for themselves.
Take Bethlehem Township, which has the dubious distinction of leading the County in stray dogs, with 150 in 2012. In 2011, a $5,000 budget for the removal of stray cats and dogs ended up costing over twice that amount. In 2012, the Township was slated to spend much as $25,000. Comm'r Michael Hudak complained that "anybody" could bring an animal to the Center at Township expense. He speculated that people moving out of the area could bring their dog or cat to the Center and say, "Look. I found this stray pet."
It's a problem in Bethlehem (100 stray digs in 2012), too. Unable to come to terms with CAHW, police were looking after and even walking strays as the City looked for shelters. These days, stray dogs go to the Christmas City Animal Hospital for a period of 2-7 days while the owner is sought. After that, it's off to Berks County Humane Society at a cost of $200 per animal.
According to the Meyner report, police cheiefs throughout the County are frustrated.
Police chiefs in all of these municipalities expressed frustration with the amount of time it takes their department to process a stray dog. As a result of their municipality not having a contract with a licensed kennel, most of these departments (and several of the others) have constructed small facilities to hold their stray dogs temporarily, and Easton’s facility of six cages is licensed by the state. Police chiefs indicate that the time it takes to find a homefor each dog varies greatly from several hours to several days. No information is available on how many dogs are returned to their owners or sent to shelters or rescue groups. The reality of the current situation is that while state law requires municipal police departments to handle stray dogs, it does not require private animal shelters to accept stray dogs picked up by municipalities.Then the CAHW became a closed facility, unwilling to accept municipal strays unless there is room, and money paid up front.
And don't mention cats. There is no state cat law. So large populations of feral cats are being ingored., though they may outnumber dogs 4-1.
They Meyner report is recommending a County-wide approach, providing for a centralized shelter
One suggestion is a referendum asking County voters if they would vote for the equivalent of a ¼ mil of tax to solve this problem. This ¼ mil would be a $12.50 cost per year to a homeowner with a property value assessed at $50,000. This would result in approximately $1.3 million per year which could be used for a state of the art centralized shelter/ facility which could solve this issue.
A second possibility is through the county's General Fund, or through a Bond that could include the construction of an animal control center as well as other potential Northampton County priorities such as bridges and a Regional Forensics Center. There may be other viable funding solutions from the 38 municipalities for the construction and operation of this facility.
Whatever happens, it will be up to the next County Executive.
Meyner report on Lehigh County:
Lehigh County hosts two animal shelters: the Lehigh County Humane Society (established in 1906) and the Sanctuary at Haafsville (established in 2012). The Humane Society accepts stray dogs and cats from residents and from municipal agencies in approximately nine municipalities through contracts; the Sanctuary accepts stray dogs and cats from residents and municipal agencies through contract in approximately 13 municipalities (some of which do not have a police department). The Humane Society operates as a kill facility; the Sanctuary is a no-kill facility. The Humane Society charges a flat fee to each municipality based on the size of the municipality and its history of how many dogs and cats have been brought to it from municipal agencies and residents. Based on the number of stray animals brought by either municipal officials or residents in 2012, Upper Saucon, Whitehall, and Fountain Hill each paid approximately $100-150 for each animal. The Sanctuary charges $110 per stray dog and $30 per stray cat. The Humane Society will not accept stray dogs from any municipality not under contract or from any municipality outside of Lehigh County. The Humane Society’s president indicates that the shelter is currently close to capacity (with a daily census of approximately 200 cats and dogs). The Sanctuary is willing to enter into contracts with municipalities outside of Lehigh County at a fee of $110 per dog and $30 per cat.
Meyner report on Allentown:
With a population of 118,000 people, Allentown is by far the largest municipality in any of the seven counties in suburban Philadelphia and the Lehigh Valley. The city employs one full-time Animal Control Officer whose duty is primarily focused on picking up stray dogs and cats and bringing them to the Lehigh County Humane Society. According to City Recycling Bureau Manager Ann Saurman, each year the city’s Animal Control Officer and residents bring more than 2,400 animals to the Humane Society for which the city pays the Humane Society $115 per animal. She estimates that the residents on their own bring one-half of the strays to the shelter, which is located in the middle of the city and is convenient and close for many residents. Ms. Saurman told us that she had conducted a survey of many counties and individual shelters within Allentown’s geographical region recently to compare the rates charged by the Lehigh County Humane Society. Her conclusion was that their cost of $115/animal being paid to the Humane Society was fair and typical of other shelters’ charges.