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Crawford police looking for answers to stray dogs

September 10, 2008
On Tuesday, Aug. 26, as Anna Dewey was walking across her yard with her 18-month-old grandson, she saw a German Shepherd coming toward her. The dog, a stray, had been hanging around the neighborhood on Satterfield Lane west of Marengo for several days and seemed friendly. A neighbor had been feeding the dog and it had never bothered anyone. But that was about to change.

"As the dog got near us, it started growling," Dewey said. "All of a sudden, it jumped on top of my little grandson, Hunter. I slapped him off Hunter and he turned on my daughter, Sasha, who was just behind me. When he jumped toward her face, she put up her arm to keep him off and he bit her hand."

Neither Hunter nor Sasha were seriously injured, but both were examined by a doctor and are taking antibiotics for their wounds. Dewey was able to pen the dog up in a porch.

"I called the Prosecutor's Office, then I called the Sheriff's Office," Dewey said. "They sent out an officer, Deputy (Andy) Beals, and he was real nice and tried to be helpful, but there wasn't much he could do. There's no animal control officer or animal shelter here in the county, so when someone drops off a dog, there's no one for people to turn to."

The stray dog problem has constantly been an issue in Crawford County. With limited finances, it's not easy to raise the money, or the support, for animal control in some rural counties.

"Animal control is a local issue," Dr. Sandi Norman, of the Indiana Animal Health Foundation in Indianapolis, said. "There's no oversight by the state. There's five or six counties in Indiana that have no animal control program, and there's about 15 counties that have limited programs.

"Scott County now has a small animal shelter, but it works well for them. Some towns and cities have their own animal shelters, and there's a couple of counties that have an agreement with a neighboring county to provide animal control services.

"In most cases, it's the sheriff's department that get the calls about strays and animal problems, but they usually have no way to address the problem," she continued. "The days of law enforcement officers shooting animals is over. Several years ago, Crawford County got in a lot of hot water for that when the TV show 'Hard Copy' documented a Crawford County deputy sheriff and an official in one of the rural Kentucky counties shooting dogs. That's just not an option anymore."

In Indiana, dogs and other domesticated animals are considered personal property and law enforcement can only destroy a dog if they have the consent of the property owner and if the dog is witnessed killing livestock or attacking a person.

"In Mrs. Dewey's case, we were able to contact Bruce Lahue from the animal shelter in Harrison County," Chief Deputy Andy Beals said. "We have no authority to hold the dog, but Lahue was willing to drive over, pick up the animal and house it for the 10-day quarantine period, which is required when someone has been injured by a dog. We talked to the commissioners, and they agreed to pay Harrison County for expenses. Lahue met me and followed me to the Dewey residence. He was very professional and had no problem securing the animal and took it back to the shelter.

"After 10 days, if no one claims the dog, it will be destroyed. That's really an unfortunate side to all of it. But my main concern is that someone will be seriously hurt or killed if the issue isn't addressed. Not long ago, two people were attacked in Louisville and one of them died. I want to be proactive on this, not wait until something goes wrong."

Crawford County Sheriff Tim Wilkerson agreed with Beals, saying that it's time for the county to act, to come up with a plan that will help county residents when there's a problem, yet not bankrupt the county.

"I would like to see the county work out an agreement with another county to take care of strays and problem animals," Wilkerson said. "That would really help out until we get on our feet and maybe, someday, be able to build a shelter here. Other counties are doing the same thing, so I'm sure we can work something out.

"Now, all we can do if someone calls us about a stray is go there, look at it, and say, 'Yeah, that's a stray all right.' But we don't have the resources to do anything, and can't really provide any help. We can't contain or catch the animals. We can't shoot them — and why would we even want to? — most of us are animal lovers and own animals. But the community needs something that will help.

"It's a service the county needs to provide. It may cost to start a program, but it will be beneficial in the long run. We are aware that animal owners need to be responsible, but it doesn't always work out that way and they become someone else's problem. We're all concerned that a dog may go on school property and maul a child, and if that happens, we'll be asking ourselves why something wasn't done," he said.

Wilkerson added that there may be grants available to help the county with the problem, and fundraisers could also help.

"I'm sure some local people would volunteer their time to help," Wilkerson said. "Maybe we could get donations from dog food companies. We need to look at all kinds of options. But there's a limit to the time this department can spend on the problem. But the problem isn't going away."

"I hated to see the dog sent to Harrison County," Dewey said. "I know that after 10 days they will put it down, and I don't like to see any animal killed that way. I don't know why anyone would drop a dog like that. It's just cruel."

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