Breeder, Hunters Interviewed: 'We're Not Opposed To Animal Control As Such, But The Humane Society Shouldn't C

 

On a per capita basis, Greene County has one of the state's highest numbers of hunting and fishing licenses.

According to the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency, 6,876 people in Greene County currently hold resident combination hunting and fishing licenses.

Of that total, 478 individuals even hold $100 all-inclusive "Sportsman" licenses, which cover every state-regulated hunting or fishing activity - including big game, archery, muzzle-loaders, trapping, etc. - for a year.

Many Greene Countians hunt with dogs, and they have made it clear in the last year or so that they definitely want to see their viewpoints addressed in any local discussion of animal control.

A large delegation of hunters and outdoorsmen came to the January meeting of the Greene County Commission to weigh in when the subject of animal control was discussed.

About the same number - practically enough to fill the Chancery Courtroom at the county courthouse - were also present to speak and listen on March 9, when a County Commission committee looking into the animal control situation held its first meeting and took public comment.

'Hunters Want View Considered'

Outdoors writer Larry Self, who served as spokesman for the group at the commission meeting in January, said then and continues to assert that most hunters are not opposed to animal control, as such.

In a recent interview, Self, a widely known local hunter and fisherman who writes a weekly outdoors column for The Greeneville Sun, said he was speaking for a loose coalition of bear hunters, fox hunters, and rabbit and coon hunters when he addressed the commission.

"Our main concern" in appearing in large numbers when the County Commission was discussing animal control, Self said, was to demonstrate that "hunters are concerned citizens as well, with a point of view that needs to be considered, if the county is going to do something about animal control."

In a later interview, Self said that, speaking only for himself, "I'm not here to attack animal control. I have no problem with animal control. And I'm not against spaying or neutering, or pet adoption."

But, Self said, he does have a problem with the animal control ordinance proposed to the County Commission last year by the Greeneville-Greene County Humane Society.

The reason for his concern, he said, is that the Society has taken anti-hunting stances in the past, both locally and nationally.

"We don't have a problem with animal control, but we're concerned with (the Humane Society) being involved with it," Self said.

No Position On Hunting

Kitty Jones, wife of Gregg Jones, co-publisher of The Greeneville Sun, is a former president of the local Humane Society and frequently acts as a spokesman for the organization.

Mrs. Jones acknowledged in recent interviews for this series that the Washington, D.C.-based Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) has an official anti-hunting policy.

But she also emphasized that the local organization is not connected with the HSUS. In addition, she says, the local group does not have any official position whatsoever on hunting.

As reported in Tuesday's issue of the Sun, Jones has explained that the local organization does not get involved with the hunting issue because members have different opinions about it.

The local organization, she stated, is focused mainly on humane treatment of "companion animals" - such as pets and strays - and on trying to reduce the county's population of unwanted animals.

She also emphasized that the Humane Society believes that animal control should be a governmental function, not the responsibility of itself or any other private organization.

She added that the Society is willing to cooperate in animal control procedures in some way if the appropriate governmental agency or agencies wish it.

Jones also said the organization believes it would be logical and appropriate for both hunters and Humane Society representatives to be part of the process of finding a solution to the animal control situation.

1998 Proposal

The animal control ordinance proposed to the County Commission in early 1998 by the local Humane Society included a proposed pet licensing fee, and a kennel fee that would be paid by owners who have more than four dogs.

In addition, the proposal included language that many hunters feared might mean that persons who were not recognized as breeders could be forced to have their animals spayed or neutered - thus putting an end to hunting-dog bloodlines that in some cases go back many, many years.

The Humane Society representative emphasized to the commission that the proposal was strictly a suggestion, offered in the hope that it would get discussion started about what to do concerning local animal control.

The proposal found little if any support among the members of the commission. The Greene County Commission hardly discussed it, and the idea in effect died last spring.

The Humane Society has not made any proposals on the subject since that time and has no plans for any proposals, Jones said.

Self said that the reason that he and other hunters showed up in January when the county commission again discussed animal control was "to see that those issues (from the 1998 proposal) don't resurface."

'Willing To Serve'

Self said that he does not believe there is a major animal control problem in the county, "but if there is, hunters are willing to serve on the committee."

"I honestly cannot deny or acknowledge that there's a problem" with stray dogs, he said, adding that, personally, "I see more stray cats than dogs."

Self said that the point needs to be made that hunters are "not fanatics, and that we're trying to be straighforward about this, and look at the issue.

"At the same time, we want to make sure that our concerns are addressed."

He said he believes that funding any animal control solution with proceeds from pet licenses would be a bad idea, however, because "the only people footing the bill would be responsible pet-owners."

Self also said that adding a pet license on top of the fee for rabies vaccinations might have the unintended consequence of making some people less likely to vaccinate their pets.

Dog Breeder And Trainer

Frank Register, a retired Greeneville policeman who is a respected longtime local breeder and trainer of Boykin spaniels and Labrador retrievers, said in a recent interview that he has seen only two stray dogs at his Mosheim home in 20 years.

Despite this, Register said, "I'm not opposed to a law about keeping dogs controlled. I don't let my dogs run at large, or on my neighbors," he said.

He added that he believes that most hunters do not do this either. "You can't train a good hunting dog and then let him run over the neighborhood," Register said.

But, he continued, "I am opposed to an anti-hunting group getting on the tax rolls to use tax money to further their goals."

Register said he believes that the Greene County Health Department's current animal control effort is doing the job, and if it is not, then perhaps it needs to be strengthened.

He also said he is not necessarily opposed to the idea of a county pet license, as long as he could be assured that the revenue from the license would be used "where it was going to do some good."

But he said he believes that enforcing an animal control law would require hiring "50 or 60 deputies."

"I don't feel like you could hire enough people to make everybody toe the mark." he said.

Long Heritage Of Hunting

Register said it would be pointless to try to speculate on how many hunters there are in Greene County who use dogs, or how many dog breeders, but he said that hunting with dogs is an important part of the heritage of this part of the country.

"Many people don't understand how many generations of people have been raising dogs and hunting with them," he said, but he also said he believes that most County Commissioners do understand this.

Register stated that he believes the commission will "use common sense" when they do address animal control.

"I'm not against a sane and constitutional dog law. I have no difficulty with that. The only problem I have is with these folks who are anti-hunting."

Register said that his dogs are kept in kennels that are cleaned twice daily, and washed weekly. All his dogs are vaccinated for rabies and other diseases, and he requires that dogs have their shots before he will accept them for training, he said.

According to both Self and Register, when top hunting dogs change hands, hundreds if not thousands of dollars are exchanged, and their owners generally take appropriate care of their investment.

'Some Type Of Animal Control'

Bill Johnson is another well-known Greene County hunter and dog fancier, and general outdoorsman.

A past vice president of the Tennessee Conservation League, he is currently vice president of the Greene County Hunting and Fishing Club, although he stressed that his comments are strictly his own, and do not represent the official views of either organization.

"Animal control does have me concerned," Johnson said in a recent interview.

"As a lifetime outdoorsman, I certainly feel like we need some type of animal control. Free-roaming 'pets,' and I put that in quotations, do have an impact on our wildlife.

"Free-roaming dogs really do bother our deer herd, and free-roaming cats are bad on our quail, as well as on our songbirds."

However, Johnson said, he is opposed to the Humane Society being involved in animal control, because, he said, "They are, not only locally but nationally, anti-hunting."

Johnson said he is not opposed to the Humane Society being involved in the dialogue that could lead to adoption of a county animal-control ordinance.

"I'm not opposed to them being at the table, but I am opposed to them being the people that run the show."

Confident in Commission

Johnson said he believes that the County Commission will consider the interests of hunters in any animal control effort they come up with.

"We need better animal control than we have," Johnson said, although he added that in many years of operating two farms, he has never personally had a problem with dogs bothering his animals.

Johnson also conceded that not all hunters are responsible. "It gets back to 'one bad apple can ruin the bushel,' " he said.

"We haven't done a good job of policing our numbers."

Wrote Rabies Law

Glenn Renner, a former Greene County Commissioner and former state representative, is also an avid bird hunter who uses Brittany spaniels and German short-haired pointers.

"I support animal control," Renner said in an interview. "We have a problem, and it's fairly widespread throughout the county."

Renner said he has talked to some of the county commissioners who are serving on the present County Commission committee to investigate the local animal control situation and make recommendations.

"I proposed that they get together" with the Humane Society, Renner said.

Renner served in the Tennessee House of Representatives in 1965-66, right after the county experienced a severe rabies problem.

"I'm the one that wrote the law that's on the books" on rabies, he said. That law, he added, requires dogs and cats to have a valid rabies vaccination and requires "all peace officers" to help local health departments enforce the law.

In addition to that law, Renner said, the state has "a leash law," which requires owners to keep animals of many types - not just dogs or cats - on their property or else under their control.

Renner said he believes that whatever solution the county and perhaps the Town of Greeneville come up with concerning animal control "should be done on an equal taxation basis," and not necessarily by means of a pet license.

Renner said he believes there is support for animal control even among hunters and farmers, but both groups are concerned about costs.

Sees Animal Dumping Problem

Todd Johnson is a deer hunter who does not use dogs when he hunts. "I hunt anything," Johnson said in an interview.

But he also said he is in favor of animal control because of the problem of stray animals where he lives, at the intersection of the Kingsport Highway and Scotts Farm Road.

"The animal problem around here is pretty serious," Johnson said. "Animals are dumped around here all the time."

Johnson believes that increased funding from the county or city for the Humane Society's Animal Shelter "would help out some."

He said he does not favor a pet license as a funding mechanism because "I'm not in favor of being penalized myself," as a pet owner.

Johnson also does not like the fact that the Humane Society shelter charges a $10 fee to accept a dog or cat.

"Last year I took three or four dogs" to the shelter, he said, adding, "It cost me $10 apiece. I don't see why I should have to pay for somebody not taking care of their animals."

Mike Kelley, manager of the Humane Society Animal Shelter, explained in a recent interview for this series that the Society regrets charging a fee for bringing in a stray or abandoned animal.

But he said the fee is needed to help cover the shelter's operating costs since the facility does not receive financial help from either the Greeneville government or the Greene County government.

Experience With Dog Pack

Johnson said he takes animals to the Animal Shelter because "I hate to see animals dumped out," and because when he encounters them they are often "starved and scared."

Last year, he said, a pack of three or four dogs that he assumes were wild appeared frequently in his neighborhood.

Though he said he has hunted ground hogs in the past, when one built a home on the hill behind his home, he left it, because he liked to watch it.

But the wild dog pack, he said, stalked the ground hog until they "cut him off" away from his hole, caught him, and killed him.

Next: What Greene County Is Doing Now; What Other Communities Do.

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