Kenai Peninsula Borough Mayor Mike Navarre said Tuesday he was taking the first step in considering how the borough might address cases of animal abuse or neglect.
The mayor’s investigation will gather data on what resources and options exist, look at other Alaska boroughs’ costs and problems with abuse and neglect issues in order to mitigate the concerns of residents who have petitioned the borough assembly at several meetings during the last few months.
The mayor’s action is not a commitment to borough animal control, but rather to simply gather good information to pass on to the assembly, Navarre said.
“It could come in any number of forms — maybe we make some grant funds available,” Navarre said after the meeting. “Maybe the assembly could consider if they want to put it out for a vote again. But in order to do that, you really need to know what the costs associated with it are. Do we supplement already existing organizations in their efforts or do we try to do something on our own?”
Animal abuse and neglect cases are not new to the borough, but many residents have recently testified to the assembly they have become frustrated with a lack of solutions to the problem.
In 1998, Kenai Peninsula Borough voters turned down an advisory ballot question asking if the borough should consider limited animal control powers and whether those powers should include dangerous animal control and disposal, rabies control and adoption. Voters turned down the advisory question 2,254 votes to 1,950 votes, but said if such limited animal control were approved, it should include all three of those powers.
Currently, animal control is limited to incorporated cities like Kenai and Soldotna and while Alaska State Troopers are charged with investigating allegations of animal abuse, they rarely do because they often lack the time and resources.
Tim Colbath, founder of Alaska’s Extended Life Animal Sanctuary in Nikiski, has proposed several ideas to combat the situation, including the formation of an emergency animal resource and response team to present evidence to help troopers obtain a search warrant.
“This, Mr. Mayor, I think should be an indication to you directly — and to the assembly members — that it is not just me,” he said speaking about the numerous people who testified at the meeting about abuse issues. “This is the community asking you to take action.”
Colbath said he and others are not looking for animal control, rather just a way to help with what he said is a growing problem.
“We’re not looking for anything that resembles animal control here, sir,” he said. “No licensing, no barking dog police, no leash laws, no restrictions additionally (from) today. All we need is the borough sanctioning to address these abuse cases. Additionally, the borough needs this emergency animal resource and response team for disasters and catastrophic emergencies.”
Assembly president Linda Murphy said Wednesday she thinks the assembly as a whole would like to help with the situation, but short of adopting animal control powers was unsure what else the borough could legally do.
“On the other hand, we definitely have a problem and something has to be done about it and I’m not sure if it’s as simple as Mr. Colbath thinks it is,” she said.
Murphy said it was “too bad” the state isn’t helping with enforcement. But, Murphy said she still has “a lot of questions and not a lot of answers” and was looking forward to what Navarre presents.
“If money was no object and there were no legal problems, it would be great if we could have animal control in the borough,” she said. “I don’t think we will ever be able to do that. Our borough is too large and many areas are sparsely populated so how could you possibly have area-wide animal control?”
Said Assembly Member Ray Tauriainen at the meeting, “It is hard to look at, you can’t just wish it away. It would be nice if ... something positive could be done to reduce (abuse and neglect).”
Judy Fandrei, a former veterinary technician and creator of the Peninsula Spay/Neuter Fund, encouraged the borough to collaborate with local shelters and other entities as the process went forward.
“I had to work with the clinics and the shelters to get my program to work — if I didn’t have them on board, it wasn’t going to work,” she said after the meeting. “So I guess my thought is that because this has to do with legal issues and the borough ... you’ve got to have the troopers, along with the shelters, along with the community and then find out how other places in the state protect animals that are abused or neglected.”
Fandrei complimented the mayor’s effort.
“It sounds like what they are trying to do is not do animal control, but just trying to protect and help lessen the number of animals that are abused and neglected,” she said. “We are trying to do the right thing to make this community better, I think. It is a start and it is a good start and we need to start there ... at the beginning.”
Brian Smith can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.