Hamilton County commissioners are considering several options about how to proceed with dog warden and humane enforcement operations. The program review began earlier this year after complaints from animal advocates.
The board in April agreed to a renew its contract with the SPCA for dog warden services while investigating ways to change how the county fulfills its requirement to patrol strays and enforce licensing - humane laws (i.e., animal cruelty) may be enforced by law enforcement agencies or humane societies.
County Budget Director John Bruggen recommends continuing to contract with the SPCA while pushing the agency and local law enforcement to work better together.
Bruggen and county administrators reviewed how other Ohio counties handle the duties in question and investigated what it would cost to turn stray and humane enforcement over to the Hamilton County Sheriff's department.
In a memo, Bruggen says the current SPCA contract costs the county $1.81 million per year, with roughly $700,000 going to stray patrols and $1.1 million to kenneling - the dogs must be housed somewhere and neither the county nor the sheriff's department have a separate kennel.
According to the memo, the sheriff's proposal would cost "roughly $850,000 annually, plus $300,000 in start-up costs, and vehicle replacement beginning in year three or four. The Sheriff patrol would provide one to two patrol cars for 17‐20 hours per day, with 5‐7 hours of emergency on‐call response. Our humane society currently provides one to three patrol cars, 24 hours per day."
However, the proposal does not include a desire by the sheriff's department to operate a kennel and the memo states the SPCA "has indicated that they do not wish to operate the dog warden kennel if they are not also maintaining the patrol function."
Bruggen estimates it would cost $6 million to buy and operate the SPCA's Colerain Ave. facility.
Pam Sears with the Hamilton County Prosecutor's Office addressed the Board of Commission Tuesday and said several communication breakdowns have been identified between the dog wardens and the legal system. She says IT and notification problems have been remedied.
Animal advocates have argued the SPCA-run dog wardens do nothing to help endangered or abused animals and don't work well with area law enforcement. They want the sheriff to take over and create something similar to the Butler County Sheriff's Dog Warden & Humane Officers program. They also aren't happy with the level of transparency offered by the SPCA, though the agency has made changes since the beginning of the year, including reporting requirements and quarterly public meetings.
They are not happy with the administration's report.
"What I don't see is any mention of the bang you get for your buck with the sheriff," says Lorren Ratley of Anderson Township. "You get multiple divisions ... You get investigative divisions; you get drug enforcement divisions; you get a SWAT team. You get a lot of infrastructure, you get a lot of communications and you get a lot of equipment that the SPCA admittedly doesn't have."
County Commission President Denise Driehaus says the county is considering the sheriff's proposal.
"We are more than willing to engage the sheriff on this conversation, but to be clear, we are under a budget crisis and none of us, I think, would be willing to spend dollars that are not necessary for this function," says Driehaus. "If we can do it differently we're clearly open to that; here we sit."
Ratley also takes exception to the memo's assertion that SPCA citations have gone up in recent months. She points out that the agency has been under scrutiny and suggests the county shouldn't be in the business of "babysitting" the humane society.
Others also repeated the call to have the sheriff's department take over humane enforcement.
Stacie Grant, also of Anderson Township, points out many people she speaks with think the SPCA is contracted to investigate abuse allegations but "all abuse investigations (the SPCA) does are at (its) sheer discretion. (The SPCA) isn't obligated by any agreement with the county to investigate any case of animal cruelty."
Under the current arrangement, the SPCA conducts cruelty investigations as a 501(c)(3), meaning its records are not public record, a fact that angers advocates who say the agency lacks transparency and doesn't do enough to help endangered animals.
Grant says she leaves meetings with the SPCA and/or county commission upset.
"My frustration is that I know there's a wealth of knowledge and experience in this community that could really fix this problem. It has to involve Sheriff Neil in his law enforcement activities and the (SPCA) contract and the doublespeak we receive from the SPCA on an ongoing basis is an insult to our intelligence and the intelligence of the Hamilton County commissioners."
Commissioners are asking Bruggen to provide a line item breakdown of the costs associated with the various proposals. The board is expected to revisit the issue in two weeks.
You can read the full memo below: