Photo Caption: Sara Hartman smiles as the County Commissioners announce that the fee for rescuing a dog has been lowered from $14 to $3, during a meeting Tuesday.
The Athens County Commissioner voted Tuesday to cut license tag prices at the dog shelter for rescue operations to $3.
Earlier this month, the county was informed by Athens County Auditor Jill Thompson that it's legally obliged to include a license fee for any rescue dogs. Since then, the county has been charging the rescue operation Friends of Shelter Dogs standard prices for the license fees.
The fees run $24 per dog unless it qualifies for the spayed/neutered exemption, which knocks the price down to $14 per dog.
Friends of Shelter Dogs spokesperson Sara Hartman told the county commissioners last week that the rescue operation simply could not afford to continue its work at those prices. They had requested the fee be waived entirely.
The group has paid more than $600 in license fees since the new policy took effect May 3. Extrapolated over the course of a whole year, it would cost them $16,000, Hartman said.
"That makes it impossible for us to continue," she said last week. "So we are here to ask you to decide if what we are doing is of value to the county and if you want us to continue, because at the current price we absolutely cannot continue."
The group already has boarding costs, transportation costs and a high annual veterinary bill, she added.
Commissioner Lenny Eliason said Tuesday that the situation is a legal issue, not a revenue issue, noting that the commissioners have been informed by county Prosecutor Keller Blackburn that the county is required by Ohio Revised Code to collect a fee. Blackburn also told the board that the minimum possible fee – which is used for dogs donated for research – is $3.
That's the price that the commissioners agreed to charge for rescue dogs as well on Tuesday. Eliason and Commissioner Larry Payne approved the new policy. Commissioner Mark Sullivan was not in attendance.
The language of the approval also states that the county dog warden – Jeff Koons – will decide when and which dogs are available for rescue at the reduced cost.
Hartman expressed concern that this will lead to a situation where the shelter begins to fill up completely, and the rescue operation will have to work in emergency situations, trying to get dogs out before they're put down because of over-capacity. She said that this scenario has happened in the past.
Koon said he's unsure of what parameters he will use when deciding whether to release a dog for rescue, and will discuss the matter further with the commissioners. He said he doesn't have a timeline on when that decision will be made. What needs to be decided, he said, is the minimum number of days a dog should be at the shelter for those looking to adopt before it can be released for rescue if it's not adopted.
"We hope that the county recognizes that the shelter cannot exist on adoptions alone," Hartman said. "To disrupt the flow of what Friends of Shelter Dogs has developed in the course of the last several years will mean that more dogs are euthanized, and the county needs to decide if they can live with that."
Hartman previously noted that in 2003 the euthanasia rate was at 83 percent compared to 7 percent in 2011, due very much to the group's rescue efforts.
"It is a constant treadmill of dogs coming in there," she said. "So that's why when we are working on getting dogs out, we don't want to be back in the emergency situation. It's not workable."
Friends of Shelter Dogs member Anne Cornwell – an independent candidate for county commissioner who is running largely on the dog issue – has requested that the license fees be waived entirely. She said that she thinks the current rescue protocol has worked.
"People can only adopt so many dogs," Cornwell said. "We want dogs adopted but we also want to think about our county and what is really realistic for how many dogs can stay in this county."
One interesting tidbit that came up during the discussion involved Cornwell's father, local business owner and landlord Les Cornwell, stating that at the end of the Ohio University school year, his employees often find abandoned dogs at various apartments and properties he owns.
Dog warden Koons said he doesn't see students leaving dogs around town after they leave school to be too much of a problem, but Cornwell said it happens fairly regularly.
Commissioner Payne said he thinks both the warden and the rescue group have done a good job.
"I think this is a win-win for everybody," he said.
One audience member stated that it would cost the county more money to put dogs down than it would to let the rescue operation take them. Further, she questioned why dogs have to be licensed in Athens County if after they're rescued, they will go somewhere else, outside of the county.
"The law requires it," Commissioner Eliason said. "I don't disagree with you but we have had this discussion because… The county auditor has said that every dog has to have a license. The county prosecutor concurs with that. That's what we're required to do by law."