On animal welfare, is there more community can do?

This week’s rescue of 35 dogs just outside of Soldotna highlights a question the Kenai Peninsula Borough has been struggling with for years: How much, if any, animal control is needed — or even wanted — outside of city limits?

Fortunately, the situation on Knight Drive had a positive outcome. Concerned citizens heard about the situation via social media, contacted the owners and offered to help. As it turned out, the animals’ owners were willing to accept assistance, and volunteers collected the dogs and transported them to Alaska’s Extended Life Animal Sanctuary in Nikiski. Once healthy, the sanctuary will begin the process of adopting the dogs out to new homes.

It would be nice if that were the end of the story. Unfortunately, it’s one of many animal welfare cases across the Kenai Peninsula. Sometimes it’s reports of animals lacking adequate food or shelter, other reports involve loose or stray animals exhibiting aggressive behavior toward people or wildlife.

While the peninsula’s incorporated cities have animal control officers, the borough has never established animal control outside of city limits where enforcement of state regulations falls to Alaska State Troopers. In the past, troopers have told the Clarion that reports of animal neglect are common, but seizure of animals is rare.

The borough assembly has taken up the issue periodically, but residents in the borough’s unincorporated communities have generally opposed additional government regulation. Peninsula voters will have another opportunity to weigh in on the October municipal election ballot, which will include an advisory measure asking whether the borough should exercise limited animal control powers in unincorporated areas, and if properties outside of cities should be assessed a mill rate of 0.002 to pay for domestic animal rescue and care services. The borough would contract with an organization such as Alaska’s Extended Life Animal Sanctuary to provide those services.

It’s an issue borough voters should consider seriously. There comes a point where the cost of doing nothing outweighs the cost of taking action. Tim Colbath, of Alaska’s Extended Life Animal Sanctuary and a proponent of limited animal control, told the Clarion the cost of this week’s rescue effort will exceed $15,000, including food, medications and spay/neutering expenses. The sanctuary is seeking donations to help defray those costs. Perhaps some of that expense could have been mitigated, had there been a mechanism in place to address the issue sooner.

In the meantime, we’re grateful to have a community of concerned citizens willing to help where they see a problem. It’s up to voters to determine if there’s more that we, as a community, should do.

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