Next time you see a stray dog on the road, visualize a hand in your wallet.
It is not just the $340,000 or so Kenai Peninsula residents pay to catch strays, quiet barking dogs and dispose of abandoned animals.
"I've been to calls where people swerved to miss a dog and got into an accident," said Soldotna Animal Control Officer Marianne Clark. "I've had kids fall off bikes being chased by dogs. I had one woman who tried to back off of a small dog chasing her, and broke her hip."
Loose dogs scratch cars, dig up gardens and pull the laundry off clothes lines. Clark said one pulled the cover off a snowmachine and chewed up the seats.
She produced the photograph of a toddler who still looked bruised and disfigured a year after being bitten in the face. The city of Soldotna investigated 17 animal bites last year. Six occurred on the animal owner's property, the rest were inflicted by loose dogs, dogs whose chains reached public sidewalks and dogs in the backs of pickup trucks in public parking lots.
The city of Kenai investigated 20 bites last year, said Bill Godek, chief animal control officer. The majority were inflicted by animals at large.
"We don't have the cure. We're just the Band Aid," he said. "This is a social problem. It's not a dog problem. The people who are irresponsible with their pets usually have problems in other parts of their lives. The people I'm involved with, the police are involved with, the child welfare people are involved with."
Godek estimated that more than half his business comes from repeat offenders -- dogs that bark incessantly and dogs repeatedly turned loose to roam the city streets.
"One animal I picked up 15 times within a year for running loose," Clark agreed.
Some cities subsidize spaying and neutering, he said, and those programs probably pay for themselves (See related story, page A-1). Spayed and neutered dogs tend not to roam, he said, and they are much less likely to bite. However, some question government subsidies for pet care.
"I'm not sure that would fly here," he said.
Kenai budgeted $195,000 this year to operate its animal control program and expects roughly $5,000 in license and shelter fees.
Rural residents share the remaining cost, which the city funds from sales and property taxes, state revenue sharing and other general fund revenues, said Larry Semmens, city finance director.
Homer budgeted $47,600 for animal control this year and expects about $5,500 in license and shelter fees. Seward budgeted $59,000 for animal control and expects $5,900 from licenses and shelter fees.
"I've never seen an animal control program yet that made money," Godek said.
However, he said, the goal is public safety.
Soldotna budgeted $89,000 for animal control and $5,500 for animal shelter maintenance. Officials project revenues of about $14,000 from licenses and shelter fees. Again, city sales and property taxes, state revenue sharing and other general fund revenues pay the remaining cost.
Soldotna charges $25 to dispose of an animal from outside its limits. Kenai charges $15, Godek said, if the owner can afford it. However, he said, the people who dispose of animals at the pound often cannot afford to pay.
"What do you do?" he said. "They're going to run down the street and let them go. Are you going to spend all that time chasing them down?"
Clark said someone called about leaving a team of sled dogs.
"I advised him that would cost $25 each," she said. "He said he couldn't afford that. The next morning, there were 14 sled dogs just loose in the parking lot."
It took her three months to catch them all.
Three lively puppies were among her charges at the Soldotna shelter Thursday.
"Each one was found in a different parking lot," she said. "When people went shopping, they came back and found them in their cars -- one at Lamont's, one at Fred Meyer and one at Safeway. I just thought that was a poor way for people to get rid of their dogs."
Godek said 20 to 30 percent of the people who leave animals at the Kenai shelter admit bringing them from out of town. Clark said out-of-towners often claim animals they bring to the Soldotna shelter are strays they found at Fred Meyer or Safeway.
She and Godek said they can keep up with the cities' animal problems. However, Clark said, she thinks the borough should provide some animal control for rural residents, particularly those who find strays in their yards. For an out-of-towner, dropping a litter of puppies at the Soldotna shelter could cost $250.
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