The Greene County Commission's Animal Control Committee met Thursday for the first time since May.

County Commissioner Jan Kiker, the group's appointed chairman, presided.

Kiker said it was "a privilege" to be named to succeed the late Commissioner Jim Eagle, the committee's longtime chairman. Eagle died of a heart attack last May 17.

"Animal control was very important to Jim," Kiker said.

He noted that Eagle, who was a strong advocate for increased efforts regarding animal control by the county government, lived long enough to see the county's Animal Control Facility built and staffed.

Kiker also noted that Eddie Keys was hired in July as the facility's full-time director.

Keys then asked Angela Shelton, the county's animal control officer, to report on activities.

Shelton said that in July, August and September, 23 animal-bite investigations were conducted, and 946 telephone calls were answered about animals, resulting in 58 complaint investigations.

Nine animals were tested for rabies, and one dog tested positive.

535 Animals Euthanized

A total of 645 animals were picked up by county animal control officers during the three-month period, Shelton said, and of those, 525 were euthanized, 37 were claimed by their owners, and 83 were "rescued" by pet rescue organizations.

Of the animals euthanized, Shelton said 184 had serious health problems, and 196 were considered too aggressive to be adoptable, but 143 probably were adoptable.

At present, Shelton said, the county government does not have a procedure for direct adoption of dogs and cats held at the Animal Control Facility, but it does work, whenever possible, with the Greeneville-Greene County Humane Society and Helping Paws, a pet rescue organization, and those groups do handle adoptions.

Later in the meeting Keys said that, of the stray animals picked up since July, he could "probably count on the fingers of one hand" the number that had tags showing they have had a valid rabies shot, even though such a shot is required by state law.

County Mayor Roger Jones said one of the reasons that Keys was hired was so that the animal control facility can have someone present five days each week to answer the phone and handle complaints.

"Since July," when Keys was hired, "I don't think my office has received any calls" about animals, the mayor said.

Keys said he and Shelton alternate being on call on nights and weekends.

Mayor Jones said that having to pick up 645 animals in three months is still a very large number, and having a facility really does not "address the problem" of unwanted animals.

"Sooner or later," he said, the county will have to take steps toward making pet owners take more responsibility for their animals, including finding some way to "stress the importance of spaying and neutering."

"Some areas of the county have gotten the message," the mayor said, and have seen that county animal control officers will respond to calls.

Describes His 'Dream'

Mayor Jones said that at some point in the future it might be desirable to have an adoption program at the animal control facility.

But he said "my dream" is to find a way for the county government to help the Humane Society raise enough funds to expand its shelter so that it can have the capacity to take adoptable strays that the county picks up.

"I would rather do that than for us (the county animal control facility) to become a full-blown adoption center," especially considering that the two facilities are about 100 yards apart on Hal Henard Road.

Humane Society Praised

Commissioner Bill Brown, a committee member who is also the county's director of Homeland Security and Emergency Management, praised the Humane Society for the help it provided when evacuees from Hurricane Katrina arrived with six pet dogs and an iguana.

The Humane Society provided rabies shots, physical exams and necessary treatments, he said. "They are to be commended," Brown said.

Mayor Jones agreed, saying members of the Humane Society were "right there on the spot, and I commend them also."

Jones said he believes that county officials need to continue to try to educate the public about taking responsibility for pets, and to urge people to think about the expense of keeping a pet and commit to accepting that responsibility before taking on a pet.

In addition, the county government may need to consider "opportunities to make it a little more convenient" for people to spay and neuter their pets, he said.

'Voice For Pets' Members

Cheryl Horton, who said she represents "Voice For Pets," said she and two other members have spent $30,000 of their own money paying to neuter stray animals they have rescued. But she said that even that amount is "like putting your finger in the hole in the dam."

She said her organization "could sure use some help."

Later, Darlene Buckner, another member of Voice for Pets, said her goal is for there no longer to be a need for that organization.

Buckner said that the only solution she can see to the problem is a mandatory spay/neuter program, with people who do not wish to neuter or spay their animals being able to opt out by paying a fee.

Buckner said that, if Greene County were to adopt such a law, she would be glad to work for the county for free, enforcing it.

Mayor Jones said that was a generous offer, but the county would incur considerable liability by letting volunteers enforce a law.

Rebecca Shaver, another Voice for Pets member, asked if that could not be handled by having the volunteers sign a waiver.

Mayor Jones said a waiver might keep the volunteers from suing the county, but would not protect the county from being sued by others.

Buncombe County's Law

Horton said she understands that Buncombe County, N.C., where Asheville is located, has passed a spay/neuter law that has resulted in a 60 percent reduction in the number of strays.

The committee members asked Mayor Jones to find out what he can about Buncombe County's law and tell them about it at the November meeting.

Later in the meeting, Keys told the committee that Helping Paws Mountain Rescue has asked for permission to take digital photos of adoptable strays that the county picks up, so it can put the pictures on its Internet site, at no cost to the county.

Commissioner Brown's motion to give the group permission was approved unanimously.

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