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Sheriff's office wants to replace SPCA as county dog warden

County commissioners expected to vote Thursday
Posted at 7:38 PM, Apr 02, 2019
and last updated 2019-04-02 19:51:54-04

CINCINNATI — Will the Sheriff’s Office push SPCA Cincinnati out of the dog warden business?

Hamilton County has had a contract with the SPCA for 50 years. But Sheriff Jim Neil, whose office faces $5 million in budget cuts, is looking to take over the $1 million-plus contract when it expires Thursday.

Neil says his office is better equipped to be the dog warden, and some vocal advocates agreed at Tuesday’s county commissioners meeting.

“There hasn't been a dog fighting charge in Hamilton County in, I think, over a decade. There's dog fighting going on in Cincinnati and they (SPCA) haven't done anything about it,” said attorney Lisa Rabanus.

“Generally with dog fighting you have drugs and you have guns, and so if the dog warden is part of the Sheriff’s Office then you have availability go from one into the other.”

“We have a track record that goes back to 1788,” the sheriff said. “That's what you get with us is law enforcement out there to serve our people.”

Stacie Grant is another animal rescue advocate pushing for change.

“We do the every Sunday adoption events and we're pulling them out of shelters and cleaning them up,” Grant said.

Grant has rescue dogs of her own and volunteers regularly. She feels the SPCA isn't accountable, isn't working with rescue groups and isn't sending a message of enforcement.

“I just don't think that there's any visibility right now with the current dog warden as to what's going to happen to people when they abuse an animal, and I think that they feel they can do it with impunity,” Grant said.

“It worries us, it pains us as a community, the rescue community, to know that we can't have a hand in making things better and this is what I think the Sheriff can provide.”

In a letter to the commission, SPCA CEO Jake White said many of the advocates’ allegations are incorrect.

“I stand behind the fantastic results that our team has successfully accomplished,” White said.
 
The letter points out that the SPCA created the Pet Coalition of Greater Cincinnati last January to work with rescues.

When it comes to transparency, the SPCA says it is just following advice of county attorneys.

But the SPCA admitted it has limitations on policing power, and the sheriff promised to get tough with lawbreakers.

“There will be transparency in our operation and our deputies will be out there aggressively enforcing the laws,” Neil said.

Neil's chief deputy says the sheriff’s office can save money on the enforcement side.

“We can use some of our existing personnel ,” said Chief Deputy Mark Schoonover. “They may be wearing two hats like far western cars doing the animal control thing but answering calls for service at the same time, but there will have to be some additional personnel put on as well."

The sheriff’s office says it is still running the numbers - especially about kenneling – but they expect to partner with advocates like those Grant and Rabanus work with.

“They've kind of run unfettered for decades and that's been the problem,” Rabanus said.

The SPCA stands to get a 3 percent raise from county taxpayers if a new contract is approved this week.

Commissioners are likely to vote on the extension on Thursday - just as it expires. The new agreement includes requirements for reporting and regular public input sessions.

The commissioners likely will vote to keep SPCA on through the end of the year while they look at other options over the summer.

“We need to let them know that our thumb is on them,” said newly elected Commissioner Stephanie Dumas, a Democrat.