Athens County Commissioners Discuss Dog Shelter

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It was a dog day in August at Tuesday’s meeting of the Athens County Commissioners, who considered a number of issues relating to the county dog shelter.

The day included a complaint made against the dog warden, approval of a spay/neuter voucher program, discussion of energy deficiencies at the shelter and consideration of setting a single price for annual dog tags.

Karen Pilcher, a member of the volunteer group Friends of the Shelter Dogs, came to the meeting to lodge a complaint against Dog Warden Jeff Koons for what she claimed was “unprofessional and abusive conduct.”

“His berating had me in tears and near hysteria,” Pilcher said in a statement she read at the meeting. “Sadly, this is not new behavior for him.”

Commission President Lenny Eliason said the incident related to pickup times for Friends members to get dogs from the shelter. The group takes dogs to veterinarians and also takes dogs for rescue programs.

Koons declined to comment to The Messenger after Pilcher’s complaint, saying he preferred to see how the commissioners handled the matter.

Later, the commissioners held a 45-minute closed-door discussion among themselves, then authorized Eliason to meet with Koons and take whatever disciplinary action Eliason deemed necessary.

Commissioner Chris Chmiel said he will be talking with members of the Friends about what occurred.

“It takes two to tango,” Chmiel said.

The commissioners approved a proposal for Friends of the Shelter Dogs to provide $50 vouchers to people who would have difficultly meeting the requirement to have dogs they adopt from the shelter spayed or neutered. Friends member Anne Cornwell said the group is willing provide $2,000, enough for 40 vouchers, from a grant the Friends received from the Athens Foundation.

The county has tried voucher programs in the past, but without much success. It costs from $100 to $200 to have a dog fixed, depending on the breed and the veterinarian.

Cornwell said people will only get the voucher if a vet appointment is made at the time of the adoption, which the Friends group hopes will encouraged the new pet owners to actually have the dogs worked on.

Each year, the commissioners must set the price of dog tags. It was on the agenda for Tuesday, but the commissioners postponed action until next week after Cornwell brought up the possibility of doing away with the county’s two-tier pricing of dog tags.

The county charges $24 for a dog tag, which drops to $14 if the dog has been spayed or neutered. The county went to the two-tier system in 2006 as a way to encourage spaying or neutering of pets.

Cornwell, who said she was speaking as an individual and not as a representative of Friends, expressed doubt that the $10 savings is actually encouraging people to get their dogs fixed and may be discouraging people from buying dog tags.

Cornwell said she had a discussion with a deputy auditor in Franklin County who told her that Franklin County had a significant drop in tag sales when it went to tiered pricing. That hasn’t happened in Athens County, but Cornwell said that could be due to the county allowing people to who already had dogs in 2006 to continue paying the lower tag price for those animals.

She said she suspects there are people who can’t afford the cost of spaying or neutering and also can’t afford the $24 tag price, so they just don’t buy tags.

To go to a single price for an annual tag, but not lose revenue, would likely require a tag price higher than the $14 that most people now pay. By law, the county can only increase tag prices in $2 increments.

Whatever price the commissioners set for annual dog licenses will also impact the price of three-year and permanent tags that the state is requiring the county to sell beginning with 2014 tags. The three-year tag price is three times whatever the annual price is, while permanent tags are 10 times the annual price.

At Tuesday’s meeting, the commissioners heard a report from energy analyst Jason Morosko of New Marshfield, who they hired to do an energy audit at the dog shelter. He said energy savings could be made by repairing drywall above the drop ceilings so the county isn’t heating and cooling the shelter’s attic. Morosko said insulating the exterior block walls would save energy, and there are issues with the ventilation system that is expelling heat that is not being recaptured.

Morosko said he is perplexed by the large electric bills at the shelter, which is heated by natural gas. He said the electric bill averages $380 per month, and he suggested that county maintenance workers try to track down the cause.