Dog catching, sweet and simple

By: 
JENNY GESSAMAN
Reporter

Old, a 6-year-old border collie mix, impatiently sits by Pet Assistance League volunteer Shannon Maxwell at the Lewistown Police Department Shelter. PAL tries to break bad habits of the strays they shelter, including Old’s overexcited jumping.

Photo by Jenny Gessaman

Is there a hole under your fence and a Fido heading for freedom? You might want to check in with Lewistown’s “dog catchers,” the police department’s animal control officers.

Anne Hauser is a full-time animal control and code enforcement officer. She makes sure residents stick to the City’s non-criminal laws, including the ones on animals.

Lost or free-roaming dogs have a specific name under City code, according to Hauser: animals at large. It’s a situation she does encounter, but not too often. When they do spot them, Hauser and her part-time coworker usually don’t have trouble catching wandering dogs.

“Most dogs are good dogs,” she said. “Sometimes, we have a hard time. You can’t catch them if they don’t want to be caught.”

Good or not, many of the dogs caught by Hauser have owners. After relocating animals to the Lewistown Police Department Shelter, animal control officers track down and contact their caretakers. For an owner, picking up their pet can be a mixed bag: Hauser can cite people for animals at large.

“It depends a lot on the situation, but yeah, owners are cited pretty much every time,” she said.

Owners can also be cited if their dog isn’t wearing City and rabies tags. The citations can be paid, or residents can show up in Lewistown City Court in front of Judge Kelly Mantooth. It isn’t common, but he does see a few animal at large citations on his docket.

“Some do [come to court],” he added. “Everybody’s got a story to tell.”

Mantooth has even seen repeat offenders, a potentially expensive venture. The City code has what he describes as “progressive enforcement,” or penalties that get worse for each successive violation. For unfixed dogs, a $75 first offense jumps to $150 for any subsequent violations.

Mantooth pointed out it’s a little better for fixed pets: $50 and $100. He’s found sometimes repeat offenders are just suffering from a pet mismatch.

“We’ve had a couple [cases] where people have adopted an animal on a test basis, and they cannot control the animal,” he said.

A worst-case scenario results in an order to remove the dog from the city, but Mantooth describes the outcome as rare. In general, he doesn’t see dogs at large as a large problem for Lewistown.

“I think the officers do a fairly good job finding the correct owners,” he said.

For Hauser and her coworker, there are some unhappy owners who dislike receiving a few citations with their returned pet. For the most part, though, she sees happy reunions.

“More people are appreciative,” she said.

 

Additional responsibilities

According to 6-2-3 (B) of the City ordinances concerning animals running at large:

“Owner or trainer is hereby responsible for the disposal of any fecal material left by the animal.”

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