Posted 6/09/15 (Tue)
By Nicky Ouellet
A collarless white lab whimpers in a large kennel in the garage behind the police station after being picked up by Police Officer Josh Nelson Saturday evening. The dog has no tags or identification to help trace him back to his owners.
It’s a story that plays out, on average, four to eight times per month each summer in Tioga.
Officers recently sought approval from city council for a proposed $220,000 project to move and renovate the city pound, which they say is poorly equipped to safely and hygienically care for lost or abandoned animals.
If approved, work to complete phase one of the three-part project could be completed by the end of the year.
K9 Officer Jeff Spivey is spearheading the project, which he says is overdue. The police department is responsible for the safety and wellbeing of lost and abandoned pets for five days, after which time the animal is turned over to a rescue organization or animal shelter.
“This is a reality in Tioga,” said Police Commissioner Ronda Davidson. “We have a lot of pets running around, a lot of pets that have been left in town and nobody wants them.”
The current pound facility is a windowless, cement-floored room in a garage behind the police station. Spivey says it is poorly suited to house cats and dogs because it lacks proper quarantine and cleaning facilities.
“In all reality, this is the only thing we’ve got,” said Spivey. “It’s not really what you need.”
Moving the pound to a new facility has been in the works for the past year in order to make way for the proposed city hall expansion project, says Commissioner Davidson.
“We have to have temporary housing for these animals. They’re not going away,” she said.
The proposed new facility would occupy half of the recycling center building on First Street, nearly quadrupling the size of the current pound.
It would have six to eight caged kennels, a quarantine room, drains in the floor to easily clean away waste, a grooming table and wash bay, a covered outdoor kennel, a storage room for supplies and a drive-in bay to easily move animals from a vehicle into the facility.
Phase one would begin this summer to complete necessary plumbing, drainage and structural renovations. Phases two and three -- moving the kennels and dressing up the space, respectively -- would be completed later as funds from the city and outside sources become available.
Though the police department has always been responsible for lost or abandoned animals in city limits, the number of strays has skyrocketed in recent years, likely in connection with the population boom triggered by Bakken oil.
“Right now we’ve got animals almost every day,” said Spivey.
Spivey counts his department lucky to have help from Maxine Shannon-Craine, who runs the Raise Your Pawz animal rescue in Tioga.
Shannon-Craine has fostered rescue animals for the past 30 years and incorporated Raise Your Pawz as a non-profit in 2012 to connect rescued animals with adoptive homes.
Raise Your Pawz has worked hand-in-hand with the police department ever since to ensure that the animals that pass through the pound receive proper medical attention, food, shelter and eventually, a home.
“I have to say that the police department, they really work their butts off to take care of these animals,” she said.
Raise Your Pawz annually places between 1,000 to 1,500 strays, a number which has roughly risen and fallen with the population of temporary workers in the area, said Shannon-Craine. She has traveled as far as Minneapolis to find homes for stray and abandoned animals in and around Tioga, but sometimes it’s the police officers themselves who take the animals home.
Shannon-Craine agrees the current pound facility is inadequate for the dogs and cats passing through it.
“We don’t really want the dogs in a facility, we want them in foster homes,” she said. “But we don’t have that many foster homes to place them all in. Our ideal would be to have a building for the animals.”
If the renovation plan is approved on Monday, June 15, the police department will continue to oversee the city’s pound.
However, officers say it would help if dog owners register their animals with the city so they can be returned to their owners, avoiding placement in the pound altogether.
“Five days is a long time, especially in our pound here,” said Nelson, the officer who found the city’s most recent stray. For this dog, the story ends happily, with owners coming to claim him early Sunday morning.
“It was a bummer to see him go as he was keeping me company while I was writing a report,” said Nelson, who was hoping to train the pup to fetch papers from the printer. “But I’m glad he’s home.”