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City Council to finally hear animal control issues

By Kendra Caruso | Jan 14, 2020
Source: File photo

Belfast — Heidi Blood, an animal control officer for several towns surrounding Belfast, and some Belfast residents finally got a response from City Council after nearly three months of email requests for a discussion about animal control issues.

They have concerns about responses from the Belfast Police Department, the city’s official animal control agency, to issues involving stray cats and how it handles lost pets.

Blood sent a mass email Oct. 21 to several Belfast officials and businesses outlining the issues she has heard about or been involved with and requesting a council discussion at that time. Finally, the Belfast residents she is working with went to a City Council meeting Jan. 7 and addressed councilors directly about discussing the issue.

“We, respectfully ask that you give serious consideration to hiring one or more Qualified persons to handle ACO services for the City of Belfast,” Blood wrote in the October email. “Thus, freeing up our Police officers time and vast experience and training to address the more serious legal issues within the City.

“In addition, we respectfully ask that this matter be brought to a special City Council meeting. And voted on for the people of Belfast.”

Resident Kelli Grindle Stone made a formal request for a special City Council meeting to discuss the issue and waited for a response during the public comment period. Mayor Eric Sanders told her that the comment period is a chance for councilors to listen without discussing what is said.

A few days later the City Council scheduled a work session for Jan. 14 to discuss animal control issues, but it is not a session during which any action will be taken.

In Blood's October email she mentioned several instances where the Belfast Police Department would not take action on stray cats in town, which she said is a major issue in the city. She recommended that the city hire an animal control officer whose sole focus is animal laws and issues.

Then-Belfast Police Chief Mike McFadden, who has since left the department, said in a November interview that the part-time position was not filled five years ago because police officers would be responding to most animal-related calls anyway and they are required to know all laws, including those relating to animals.

But Belfast resident Gail Green recalls one instance where an improper dog euthanization conducted by an officer scarred her family and made the dog’s death more drawn-out than necessary. She thinks it is important to have one person assigned to the position.

“They’re getting paid for a job they’re not doing,” Green said. “…. I just want someone in the position who cares.”

Green said that her and her daughter's dogs got loose one day in the fall of 2018 and the Police Department was called. By the time she got to the scene, her dog had been hit by a man whom she said was not wearing his glasses while he was driving.

Mortal wounds quickly became visible and the dog started getting aggressive, she said. She wondered why the officer did not have any equipment in his vehicle to properly handle animal issues. She said he did not have any leashes or muzzles, which she thinks might have helped to get the dog to a vet for a more peaceful euthanization.

Green agreed to have the officer euthanize the dog with his gun. After shooting the dog three times, each time with his eyes closed, she said, it was apparent to her that the dog was not dead. Her family member brought it back to her house and after shooting it once, the dog appeared to die.

During this event, her grandchildren were in the house and old enough to realize what was happening, which she said was deeply upsetting for them. She was able to locate the other missing dog, which was unharmed,without police help.

McFadden insisted that the dog had died, but its nervous system continued to react. But to Green, the dog did not appear to have died after the police officer’s three shots.

Green thinks that if there were a designated animal control officer, there would have been more knowledge and resources available to ethically euthanize her daughter's dog at the scene or transport it to a veterinarian.

Blood said that most issues with Belfast Police Department’s responses are with stray cats. She has received several calls from people, thinking that she is the animal control officer for Belfast, about taking stray cats to an animal shelter.

“Folks generally make the mistake that I am the Belfast animal control officer often,” she said, “just because I’m well-known when I’m in the area. So, I always tell folks, ‘call Belfast PD, they’re the animal control for Belfast.’

“And I always tell them that if you don’t get anywhere with them, report it to the state’s Animal Welfare Department and they’ll have an agent come down and check out whatever it is that’s going on.”

She said most people in the city do not even know that the Belfast Police Department acts as the city’s animal control agency. She said she has helped trap lost cats and dogs for owners who received no help from the Belfast Police Department.

Green has fostered many stray cats in the city. At first she tried calling the Belfast Police Department about stray cats that she knew were on a deceased neighbor's property she and her husband were helping maintain. She said that after several calls, there was no police response.

She took in the mother cat and its litter and found the cats homes. At one point she had up to 22 stray cats she was fostering. Many of the strays appear to be malnourished and very thin, she said.

The city partners with PAWS Animal Shelter in Camden, which will take in lost or stray cats and dogs. But Blood said the city rarely takes stray cats to the shelter.

Blood said stray cats pose a risk beyond overpopulation: they can spread diseases like rabies and feline leukemia virus, which can be passed to domesticated pets. She said it is important to control the stray population to reduce the spread of these diseases.

She said she hopes this City Council meeting will be the start of a discussion that ends in the city's hiring an animal control officer or holding the Belfast Police Department accountable for dealing with animals properly.

Some of the people working with Blood think she would be a good fit for the position, but she said she has her plate full with seven other towns she is responsible for and is not interested in the Belfast position.

“I don’t want the job,” Blood said. “I’m not voting for the position. I want whoever has it to do it correctly.”

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