Is it time for Hawkins County to create an animal control program?

Jeff Bobo • Apr 19, 2019 at 11:15 AM

ROGERSVILLE — On Tuesday alone, the Hawkins County Sheriff’s Office was dispatched to two animal complaints, one of which involved two dogs being poisoned in Bulls Gap, and one involving dogs killing sheep near Rogersville.

Most neighboring counties have an animal control program, as do four of Hawkins County’s five municipalities: Mount Carmel, Church Hill, Surgoinsville and Rogersville.

Considering the fact that deputies answered more 500 animal complaints in 2018, some county commissioners are now asking if it’s time for Hawkins County to implement its own animal control program as well.

John Metz, who chairs the Hawkins County Commission’s Public Safety Committee (PSC), put the subject of countywide animal control on the agenda for Wednesday’s meeting. 

Metz said he wants to begin the discussion and gauge interest in creating countywide animal control. Metz also wants to determine if municipalities that have programs in place would be interested in a partnership with the county and/or sharing their expertise.

“It seems like there is a lot of effort placed on the sheriff’s office with a much larger volume of calls about that particular issue than what I realized,” Metz said. “They’re certainly tying up significant manpower in doing that.”

Commissioner Tom Kern, who is also a Church Hill alderman, said his city’s animal control officers stay very busy.

Hawkins County Central Dispatch Director Gay Murrell said that by the time Church Hill’s animal control officer goes on duty he usually has two or three calls already waiting for him.

“There is a leash law in Hawkins County, but there’s no way to enforce it,” Murrell said. “And it’s not just dogs and cats. We’ve had pigs running at large for several days. We’ve had horses out, cows out continuously that we have to send officers on. We have to send officers on all of that.”

Anyone who doubts the need for a countywide animal control program might want to try spending a week or two at the Hawkins County Humane Society.

HCHS manager Sandy Behnke told the Times News Thursday that the sheriff’s office is often overrun answering calls involving humans, and there’s not always enough time for them to answer animal complaints.

“In this week alone, I had six calls on neglected animals and abandoned in homes,” Behnke said. “As for strays, in a week I would say we get between five to 10 or more calls. I stress to each caller we cannot go out to anyone’s property unless we have an officer on the scene, and we direct them to Central Dispatch. Many times the officers are very busy and these calls go unanswered.”

Behnke added, “If we had just one animal control officer for the county, it would put a dent in the problem. I have been asking for county animal control for many years now. There are so many animals that are running at large, neglected and abandoned. The stories and calls we receive are heartbreaking. There’s no question if we need animal control. It is a urgent matter.”

Commissioner Danny Alvis, who previously sat on the HCHS board of directors, said he believes the 500 animal calls made last year would increase significantly if the public knew there was an animal control officer to answer their complaints.

It would put a strain on the space available for animals at the shelter, but Alvis said they could make room.

“We definitely need an animal control officer in Hawkins County,” Alvis said. “They would be busy.”

Hawkins County EMA Director Gary Murrell said there are grants available to expand animal shelters for a countywide animal control service.

“They do great work at the humane society, but if you do this, I believe it’s going to overrun them in a hurry,” Mr. Murrell said. “Once you tell people it’s available, it’s going to skyrocket.”

Retired Rogersville physician Dr. Blaine Jones, who attended Wednesday’s PSC meeting, said that along with enforcement, a countywide animal control program should also place a strong emphasis on education.

“There needs to be a ton of education regarding animal cruelty, taking care of animals, leash laws — everything that goes along with that needs to be done,” Jones said. “This is something if you did a countywide program could be initiated and carried out easier than Rogersville doing something and Church Hill doing something. You could centralize it and make a better program out of it.”

The Times News reached out to Sheriff Ronnie Lawson for his thoughts on implementing an animal control program, and how much it would cost. Lawson said he would have to do some research before he could make a comment.