Guest Opinion: Explaining proposed animal control changes

Joe W. Vann III Chairman, Animal Control Committee

I am writing this in response to the article in the June 29th issue on the public meeting for the proposed Mercer County Animal Control Ordinance. I realize that by the time this is published the item will be decided. The reporting in the article was very accurate as to what was said and by whom, but there was no effort to verify the accuracy of the comments. I will attempt to address this.

Mercer County currently does not have an Animal Control Ordinance, it has a Rabies Control Ordinance which was written in 1973 to implement the state’s former Rabies Control Act. Except for rate and fee schedules, it has not been revised since. However, the state replaced the Rabies Control Act with the Animal Control Act in 2003, making our ordinance over a decade out of date.

The Animal Control Committee began working on this revision last November. The final version was a collaborative effort of the committee, Furever Friends of the Mercer County Shelter and the State’s Attorney’s office. This was a long, deliberative process and any member of the public had the option of attending the regularly scheduled meetings which all had published agendas. There is much more to it than the registration and inoculation of cats against rabies.

The reason for adding cats is that they are becoming a public health hazard and nuisance in the incorporated areas of the county. The Animal Control Act requires the county to act when there is an overpopulation of domestic animals. The Mercer County Animal Control Department has contracts with most municipalities for the use of the pound and to pick up dogs running at large. The municipalities do not have the financial resources to establish their own animal control departments and operate their own pounds. These municipalities currently pay $27,350 a year to the county animal control department and the village boards and city councils are threatening to rescind these contracts if we don’t add cats. The Animal Control Department is funded solely by fees, fines and these contracts. They receive no funds from the general fund or county property taxes.

These cats present a cost to the department. It usually has eight times as many cats as dogs in custody at any given time. Every cat that comes in that is deemed adoptable is spayed or neutered, inoculated against rabies, and microchipped. The Department currently is required to investigate an average of a dozen cases a year where cats have bitten residents of this county so severely that medical attention was required. This is all paid for by dog owners. Cats accounted for 61.1 percent (272/445) of the rabid domestic animals reported in 2014, a 10.12 percent increase compared with the 247 reported in 2013. Cats that live on farms are specifically excluded from registration/inoculation requirements by state statute. The definitions in the ordinance are state statute and are not subject to individual interpretation. Our staffing model, though modest, is identical to the much larger adjacent counties of Rock Island, Henry and Knox. Rock Island and Knox currently require the inoculation/registration of cats as do 20 other counties and many municipalities.

Capture, neuter and release programs do work, but slowly. The most successful demonstration project showed a 60 percent reduction in feral cat colony population after eleven years.

The argument was made that there would be an increase in abandoned cats. This same argument was made when the fees were raised last year for dog registration. It simply didn’t happen. For those who have trouble affording the cost of spaying and neutering, the county currently has over $34,000 in the Pet Population Control Fund specifically for this purpose and far more cats are fixed by this fund than dogs. This fund comes from $10 of the registration fee collected from owners of intact dogs. Owners of intact cats have paid nothing into this fund.

I do have one correction to make in the reporting, only the registration and inoculation of cats goes into effect Jan. 1, 2017. The rest of the ordinance goes into effect immediately upon passage.

These are the facts, presented without hyperbole, drama or histrionics. Everyone is entitled to their own opinion, but they are not entitled to make up facts. After the press left, the regularly scheduled Animal Control Committee Meeting was held. None of the speakers against this ordinance bothered to stay, see what we do, or participate in the Public Comment portion of the agenda.