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Stray dog problem prompts budget requests

COURTLAND

Two area residents are asking Southampton County’s Board of Supervisors to consider allocating additional funds for the county’s animal shelter and humane society.

Doing so could help house the influx of stray hunting dogs Southampton sees annually in the months following deer season, they say. In some cases, the tracking collars hunters place on their dogs can fail, resulting in the dog getting lost in the woods; other times dogs are deliberately abandoned.

“My son-in-law called animal control sometime in January that he had a hound dog with no collar … and it was two and a half weeks before an animal control officer came and got the dog, and that was because they didn’t have anywhere to put him,” said John Burchett, speaking at the county’s March 23 public hearing to solicit input from residents prior to drafting its 2021-2022 budget.

According to Maj. Camden Cobb, spokesman for the Southampton County Sheriff’s Office, the county’s animal shelter has capacity for only seven dogs at a time. The sheriff’s office oversees the county’s animal control division.

“Normally I don’t advocate spending more money but it’s my proposal that we build an addition to the pound at the jail farm property,” Burchett said.

He says he and County Attorney Richard Railey built an 80-dog kennel, fully covered with running water, for less than $10,00 in 1999.

“I know the prices have gone up but you don’t need an 80-dog kennel; we just need maybe capacity to house maybe 20 dogs for the overflow … we have adequate personnel at the jail farm, the corrections officers and the inmates, to clean up after the dogs and feed them and take care of them.”

Railey, who’s hunted with dogs since age 12, confirmed he built the kennel with Burchett in 1999 for under $10,000, but said it was on private land.

“There are state standards for a dog pound … you have to work hard to conform to specifications,” Railey said. “To build a private pen, you don’t necessarily have to do that.”

Ninety-nine percent of Southampton County’s hunters who use dogs would never deliberately abandon them, Railey added, but “there are a few bad apples, just like in society in general.”

Dogs can also escape from their owners’ homes without the owner realizing.

“I had a dog, and this dog was about 12 years old, who got out of a pen last spring and the next day … I got a call from Pittsburgh, [Pennsylvania],” Railey said. “A lady had the dog. She asked me if I still wanted the dog; I said, ‘Of course’” The dog had apparently escaped and hitched a ride on a truck near Route 35, traveling hundreds of miles across state lines.

Leslie Utley with the Southampton County Humane Society is also asking for county funding. Her group incorporated in March 2020 and received its 501(c)(3) nonprofit status, and now works with the county’s animal shelter to coordinate veterinary care and transportation for adoptable dogs.

According to her, there’s a small percentage of the animal shelter’s budget that goes unused, totaling around $5,800. The Humane Society spends around $4,480 a year on veterinary expenses, which this surplus could cover, she said. Currently, a lot of that money goes to veterinary clinics outside the county.

“We would like to focus more on the two veterinary clinics that are inside the county,” she said.

The county is scheduled to present its draft budget tonight, April 7, at a 6:30 p.m. work session. The draft will be available on the county’s website late that afternoon prior to the work session. Another public hearing will be held at 7 p.m. May 17, with the board’s adoption vote scheduled for 7 p.m. May 25.