Heflin police answered a call that summer about a dog that had been attacked by two larger dogs and was badly injured, said Terri Cheatwood Daulton, who was the city clerk then. No one nearby claimed the dog, so the officers called Daulton because she is known to have a soft heart for animals, she said.
“She was really hurt – big gash – had to have 30 staples,” Daulton said. “It was the tipping point I guess you could say.”
Then-Mayor Anna Berry and the Heflin City Council had been discussing creating a leash law and an animal control program to enforce it. But after finding Princess, whom she adopted after the incident, Daulton looked up other cities’ ordinances, wrote one for Heflin with the city attorney and submitted it to the council for review. The new law passed in July 2009, within a few weeks of finding Princess, Daulton said.
Administrators from some small municipalities in Cleburne County said they do not have the resources to deal with stray animals, because Cleburne County doesn’t provide an animal shelter or an animal control officer, although state law requires it to do so.
Fruithurst Mayor James Owens said the city couldn’t enforce a leash law even if it had one. The town of 284 residents hasn’t had a police force since 1977, Owens said.
“I get a lot of complaints,” Owens said. “I refer them to the Sheriff’s Department.”
But he knows that is probably useless. The county doesn’t have a leash law, Owen said.
At a Ranburne City Council meeting last week, the council was approached by a resident having problems with stray dogs about creating a leash law.
Carol Crawford said she couldn’t take her own dog for a walk in her neighborhood because of dogs running loose. But Ranburne Mayor Owen Lowery echoed the Fruithurst mayor’s comments. Although Ranburne has a police force, it has nowhere to take strays if it picks them up. Instead, the council planned to enforce a state law that imposed a fine on pet owners who didn’t keep their pets on their property.
That does nothing to deal with problems of stray dogs or cats, though, and William Chapman, Heflin’s codes enforcement and animal control officer said most animals he picks up each week are strays.
Pet owners are notified when their animals are picked up. Strays are taken to Calhoun County Animal Control Center, Chapman said. The city pays $500 per month for the center to accept its animals, he said. For fiscal year 2014, the city budgeted $53,330 for animal control.
Cleburne County has chosen not to have a leash law and it doesn’t have an animal shelter, said Steve Swafford, county administrator.
“It’s up to the landowner or the resident as to how they choose to handle it,” Swafford said. “It’s essentially a service the county does not provide.”
Swafford said it is not so much a money issue as a priority issue. Funding is always limited so the commissioners have to choose between other demands such as hiring sheriff’s deputies, fixing a leaky roof on the courthouse or having an animal shelter. An animal shelter has not been the highest priority, he said.
“It doesn’t have wide-scale appeal,” Swafford said.
State law though does make it a priority. A section of Alabama’s law dealing with rabie states that “Each county in the state shall provide a suitable county pound and impounding officer for the impoundment of dogs, cats and ferrets found running at large in violation of this chapter.”
However, according to Robert Davis, president of the Alabama Animal Control Association, about a third of Alabama’s 67 counties, including Cleburne, are not in compliance with the law.
Mary Pons, counsel of the Association of County Commissions of Alabama, said counties have come into compliance in a variety of ways. They may make agreements with a local Humane Society or veterinarian to house strays or they have agreements with other counties to shelter animals, she said. Still, she said, she doesn’t believe that all counties comply with the law.
There are no veterinarians or humane society chapters located in Cleburne County, Chapman said.
“No counties are exempt,” Pons said. “But, I don’t think there’s a penalty.”
Swafford said he was aware of the law, but the County Commission during his tenure has chosen not to comply.
Commissioner Laura Cobb said the cost of an animal shelter is prohibitive, but she would not be averse to banding together with other counties to have an animal shelter they could use together.
Today, Princess, the Chihuahua mix Daulton rescued in 2010, is healthy and still lives with the former clerk. That makes the dog far more fortunate than many Cleburne County strays.
“It’s like the story of the man on the shore throwing beached starfish back into the sea,” Daulton said. “There are so many, but it really matters to the ones you give a new life.”
Staff writer Laura Gaddy: 256-235-3544. On Twitter @LJohnson_Star.