Despite complaints from animal advocates, Hamilton County commissioners approved a new one-year contract with the SPCA for dog warden services.
The contract is retroactive to Jan. 1, 2019. It requires a list of options within three months for taking the program in a different direction in 2020.
"In a three-month period of time [we'll have] a chart of options in front of us including the sheriff's office, including other options for the county to take a look at how we deliver this service," says Commission President Denise Driehaus. "I frankly think that is fair. I think we're going to need three months to put that together."
The vote was 2-1 with commission Vice President Stephanie Summerow Dumas dissenting, primarily based on the contract length and increase in the amount of the contract.
"I refuse to commit $1.8 million to an entity that provides no data, no back-up, nothing we can look at," she says. "This is a 50-year contract we've been doing, I think this is a good time to look at things differently."
Animal advocates are not pleased with the plan.
"The SPCA does not have any concrete mandate or even a financial incentive to enforce the cruelty laws," argues Stacie Grant of Anderson Township. "Conversely, it has a significant number of disincentives, cost being the greatest, and has no consequence for failing to enforce cruelty laws."
Grant is pleased, however, the board is listening to their concerns.
"I understand a lot has to be reviewed and it sounds like the intention is to increase scrutiny and oversight to ensure a good result for the community and the animals," Grant says in a statement to WVXU.
The $1.8 million contract includes reporting requirements and quarterly public meetings. That's in response to requests for more transparency from animal advocates. However, it doesn't mandate access to records related to animal cruelty cases. The SPCA is not contracted to provide humane enforcement services for the county.
Access to public records is a specific concern for advocates and county commissioners. County Budget Director John Bruggen explains there's a disconnect created by Ohio law.
"I understand that it makes absolutely logical sense for an entity that is empowered by the Ohio Revised Code with the enforcement of humane law to be subject to public records requests," he says, "but the Ohio Revised Code allows this code to be enforced by a non-profit that is not subject to public records requests."
The three probable options the county will consider include bidding the service out to other providers. The SPCA has had the dog warden contract for at least 50 years. The county could decide to bring the program in-house, or turn over operations to the Hamilton County Sheriff's Department.
Animal advocates favor this final option in a program that they say should be similar to Butler County's program. Sheriff's deputies already have statutory duty to enforce animal cruelty laws. The current dog warden contract with the SPCA only addresses patrolling strays and checking licensing.