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Give a lost dog a chance


Friday, December 07, 2018

For the luckiest of lost dogs, their return home — or their path to a new home — starts with being picked up by an Animal Control Officer (ACO) who launches efforts to identify the dog, contact its owner and effect the happy reunion.

Sometimes, it’s not a happy reunion and the owner gives the animal up for adoption. Either way, the ACO plays a pivotal role in ensuring the welfare of our four-legged friends. These unsung heroes typically work for peanuts, since the position is usually part-time in our Franklin County towns. Even the most dedicated officer usually juggles his or her duties with another job. The low pay makes it a hard position to fill and the sporadic and sometimes heartbreaking duties contribute to a high burnout rate.

Enter the Franklin Regional Council of Governments, a regional service organization serving the 26 towns of Franklin County. The FRCOG is the former county government, abolished in 1997 and reestablished as a voluntary membership organization. It excels in arranging regional services that member towns can buy into, the latest example being a model for a new, shared animal control officer.

As envisioned by the COG, this regional animal control officer would be based at the Sheriff’s Office’s regional kennel and adoption center in Turners Falls. The ACO would spend 75 percent of his or her time working for the towns that buy into the position and 23 percent working for the kennel. The Sheriff’s Office would provide a vehicle, laptop and other equipment. The full-time, benefited position would provide a living wage of $20.50 per hour.

According to FRCOG Community Services Director Phoebe Walker, the animal control officer would get training, but would not manage barn animals, such as loose cows or pigs. The regional ACO would respond to calls from participating towns and attempt to catch any stray dogs, returning those whose owners are known and housing the others at the kennel until other arrangements can be made.

The ACO would also issue citations and fines, prepare and file complaints with the district court and provide annual report information that could be included in towns’ annual reports. The result is a professional, comprehensive approach to a need that has long bedeviled small towns.

The kicker is, it takes eight towns to make it work. Towns typically fund such positions at $5,000 or less, including expenses. Anything much higher than that would be a hard sell. Currently, seven towns are considering this solution: Buckland, Colrain, Heath, Monroe, Northfield, Rowe and Shelburne. Charlemont, which had expressed interest, opted not to be part of this plan, so there is room for another town to participate, Walker said.

So far, the Shelburne Selectboard has voted to join the regional ACO plan, contingent upon the proposed funding formula. That leaves seven more “Yes” replies needed to make the position a reality. Walker said she hopes the remaining towns will decide by year’s end. If the plan is supported, a regional animal control officer could be hired by March.

There’s precedent for the proposal, as Athol and Orange already share an animal control officer.

We call on the remaining six towns that have expressed interest, plus one more, to take advantage of COG’s expertise in constructing regional answers to local issues.

Together, eight towns can offer a tail-wagging solution to a pet problem.