Mount Carmel has embarked on a reasonable, cost-effective plan to handle animal control by eliminating operation of a shelter as well as a full-time position, although it appears the latter was not well-handled.
Animals will be taken by a part-time animal control officer to the Hawkins County Humane Society shelter at Rogersville, reducing the budget expenditure for animal control from $60,000 annually to $39,000.
At a public hearing on the subject, most residents supported keeping a dilapidated shelter, which needs at least $40,000 in repairs and which the public can’t access, as well as a full-time animal control officer.
That said, the reason City Manager Mike Housewright gave for the firing of full-time animal control officer Sherry Sexton is rather lame.
Sexton was fired May 6 after which former Church Hill animal control officer Fred Castle was hired on a part-time basis. It seems clear that she was terminated as part of the new approach to animal control. But when we asked Housewright for the reason, he said Sexton was fired after she posted on Facebook about a litter of kittens being abandoned at the shelter, one of which died, rather than reporting the case of animal cruelty to the police department for investigation.
Investigation of what? As Sexton replied, “I was not fired for not reporting animal cruelty. Everybody dumps animals there. That’s not a cruelty case. Kittens were dumped out. That’s not cruelty. That’s abandonment.”
Sexton, according to most public hearing attendees, has done a good job. Dave Moore, who resides on Valley Crest Drive, said animal control services were reliable under Sexton.
“We had an animal control officer that we could call,” Moore said. “She was doing an excellent job as far as I know. Had that personal touch. Somebody you could call and you didn’t have to go through four channels to get her.”
Moore added, “I don’t understand why, if the shelter is in that bad of condition, why it hasn’t come up before. It seems like if it was in that bad of shape we’d heard about it in the past year or the past 18 months, and we’d had this discussion of, ‘OK we need to do something about the animal control program.’ But it went from no discussion whatsoever to we’re getting rid of it.”
Sexton, too, disputed the condition of the shelter.
“There wasn’t nothing wrong with animal control, and there wasn’t nothing wrong with the building,” Sexton said. “Nobody ever said anything about the building until you all came, and you (Mayor Pat Stilwell) and you (Housewright) were after me for personal reasons.”
But based on the number of animals picked up last year and the first several months of this year, the Mount Carmel animal control officer handles an average of five animals per month. That simply does not justify a full-time animal control officer, much less a shelter.