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The Taylor County Animal Shelter will no longer be a place for would-be pet owners to find a new family member.
Instead of offering animals for adoption, the shelter will soon serve as a holding place for the county’s stray animals.
In 45 days, animals will no longer be up for adoption at the shelter, which set up shop at a new home last month after a $150,000 grant paid for construction of a new building. By unanimous vote on Tuesday night, Taylor County’s magistrates have voted to end the county’s contracts to house stray animals from LaRue, Green, Russell and Casey counties. They also agreed to begin soliciting counties to contract with to house Taylor County’s stray animals.
The decision comes after two years of discussion between the shelter and various community members, according to Taylor County Judge/Executive Eddie Rogers, and many accusations that the shelter isn’t operating the way it should.
Operation of the shelter has been the discussion of many governmental meetings in the past two years, and once again took the spotlight at Tuesday’s regular Taylor County Fiscal Court meeting.
Rogers told magistrates that the county has received another open records request from Kathryn Callahan, the Louisville attorney who previously submitted requests and has attended meetings with Taylor County’s SPCA group.
“The administrative time we are spending in complying with their requests, which are basically proper under the law, is becoming a tremendous burden on our staff.”
Rogers said responses to the requests are taking many hours to complete.
In the latest, sent to Rogers’ office via fax earlier Tuesday, Callahan has 27 requests, from documents containing all of those who have adopted and fostered animals, all reports of who worked at the shelter, the educational background and training of shelter employees, shelter inspections, various emails and a copy of the will written by Margaret Nelson, who named the shelter as a beneficiary of her estate, along with details of what is to be done with that money.
State law requires open records requests to be responded to within three working days of the request.
“It seems that despite our best efforts and despite the fact that accusations against the county and the shelter in the past have been proven false, our shelter will continue to be the target of some people and organizations,” Rogers said.
Rogers said he believes shelter employees treat the animals that come to the shelter with love and care.
The county spends more than $300,000 a year on the shelter, Rogers said, even with revenue collected from contracting to house animals from LaRue, Green, Russell and Casey counties.
Taxpayers pay that cost, he said, and it continues to increase at a rapid rate.
“I think that we must therefore be mindful of whether we should consider contracting with another county to handle our animals,” he said, “and terminate our arrangements with other counties for the handling of their animals.”
If magistrates choose to do this, Rogers said, the refunding of money to those counties and to Nelson’s estate should be considered. The new shelter building was dedicated last month in Nelson’s honor.
Rogers said he realizes that even if the county no longer operates an animal adoption shelter, it must abide by state law and control the county’s stray animal population. As such, he said, the county would operate the shelter as a temporary holding facility.
“I’m opening this up for discussion,” he said. “I stand firmly that this has got to stop. And the only way that I can see ... is we’ll transport our animals to some other [county].”
Magistrate Matt Pendleton said he agrees with Rogers. He said he has no doubt that the shelter is taking care of the animals that come to the shelter.
After an organization has made multiple requests, Pendleton said, costly changes were made based on those requests.
In the last two months, Rogers said, about $100,000 has been spent at the shelter.
“We’ve bent over backwards to accommodate these people,” he said. “And if it’s not going away, I don’t see any other way to move other than to say, ‘We’re through.’”
Magistrate James Jones asked what the county is required to provide for its stray animals.
Rogers said the county is required to house its stray animals, whether that means doing so itself or contracting with another county to provide that service.
“We will be taking our animals somewhere else on a daily basis,” he said.
Rogers said the county has 45 days to opt out of its contracts with LaRue, Green, Russell and Casey counties.
“To give them time to search out another vendor,” Pendleton said.
“What really broke the camel’s back with me was when they asked for the will,” Rogers said.
Taylor County Attorney John Bertram said the county isn’t the entity responsible for Nelson’s will.
“I think it’s disgusting. And the implication behind that is that we didn’t do properly with what we were given or we weren’t supposed to get it,” he said.
“A telephone call would have been in order to discuss that, and given the fact that, you know, her husband is surviving, and I think it was a rather meaningful and emotional thing for him ... I’m sure that meant a lot to him. I just find this incredibly distasteful.”
Bertram said wills become public record after they are recorded.
“It’s something that they could get,” he said. “And they could do it in, I think, in a much more respectful manner.”
Magistrate Ed Gorin said he believes it’s sad that the county can’t operate a service that people appreciate. He said he believes the county’s actions and changes at the shelter have gone unappreciated.
Since last July, Rogers said, the shelter has taken in about 1,800 animals and euthanized 263.
About 1,200 to 1,500 of those are animals from Taylor County.
“That’s a pretty good percentage that we’ve saved,” he said. “And for these people to be asking and asking ... could I entertain a motion here?”
Pendleton made a motion to opt out of contracts with LaRue, Green, Russell and Casey counties and begin soliciting a county to house Taylor County’s stray animals.
Magistrate John Gaines asked the cost to contract with another county. Rogers said the county has spent about $300,000 already this fiscal year, he said.
Gaines said when he was elected to serve as a magistrate about 10 years ago, it cost the county about $300,000 to house its inmates in a nearby county.
“You know, it’s not the animal’s fault that they end up at the shelter. It’s the owner’s fault and they’re laying all the cost on every taxpayer in this county.
“And it’s sad that we have to treat an animal the way they have to be treated. You can’t put an animal in a motel.”
Gaines said he believes it’s sad that the county is doing the best it can to house animals and treat them with the care they need.
“And it’s not good enough,” he said. “It’s sad we had to reach this point. That’s all. I’m ready to vote.”
Rogers said he believes the situation is sad.
“We used the inmates. The inmates turned on us. One thing led to another. They made accusations to the employees and the employees do not need to work under this kind of a stress. We can’t do our job properly for the community.”
“Let’s go shopping,” Gaines said.
In a roll call vote, magistrates unanimously approved Pendleton’s motion.
After the meeting, Rogers said he will send a letter to officials from LaRue, Green, Russell and Casey counties terminating those contracts.
“And we’ll go from there,” he said.
Rogers said he has been told that Callahan isn’t officially representing the SPCA group, but she has attended meetings with them.
“Hopefully, they’ve done what they wanted to do,” Rogers said. “To me, she’s representing someone.”
He said he doesn’t know what county will be able to house Taylor County’s animals. Shelter staff members could have to transport them to Lexington, Louisville or Somerset.
“It’s sad that we had to come to this,” he said.
Rogers said he doesn’t believe the county will have to terminate any of the shelter’s four employees. He said the county will still have to pick up its stray animals and operate a shelter for residents to surrender animals.
“It’s not to say we’ll never have an animal shelter again,” he said. “But at this point, we’ve got to do something.”
On Wednesday, Taylor County Animal Shelter Director John Harris said the shelter has bent over backward for the Taylor County SPCA and other groups in the community.
“I think it’s a sad day for Taylor County,” he said. “The last year, the shelter has come a long ways.”
Harris said several people have said they want to help the shelter, though they seem to stay behind their computers making accusations and aren’t willing to help after all.
He said the shelter was established in 1980 and has been operating since. It has been expanded three times.
“We have come a long ways in the 14 years I’ve been here,” he said.
Harris said he wants to thank his employees, those who volunteer and all the rescue groups that have helped the shelter.
“They put their heart and soul into the animals,” he said. Harris said the shelter will shut down sometime in April.
Callahan declined to comment for this story, except to say that she believes her requests are legitimate and she has come to the shelter before to find records herself. She declined to say whether she is representing the Taylor County SPCA.
Taylor County SPCA President Harry Reif said his group is interested in operating the shelter, should the county be willing to contribute to it financially.
On Feb. 8, a special Fiscal Court meeting was announced for Thursday, Feb. 28, at 6:30 p.m. at the Taylor County Courthouse to discuss animal control issues. That meeting is open to the public.
For more from Tuesday’s meeting, see Monday’s issue.