Animal control faces dogged task

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On any given day in Fort Stockton, loose dogs and stray cats run rampant, causing frequent calls to animal control.

With just two animal control officers and no local humane society, the city is limited on what it can do for stray and owner-surrendered dogs and cats – especially in finding an animal a permanent homes.

Alexis Olivares is one of the two animal control officers. He has been with animal control for the last five years, and will shortly be making the switch to police officer. Emilio Briones is the other animal control officer.

“It's really hard running animal control, especially being so remote,” he said.

The only local option to drop off a found-animal, or to surrender a pet, are kennels location outside behind the Pecos County Sheriff's Office.

The animal control officers work 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday, and are on call the rest of the time.

On the weekends, they are available for dangerous dogs, emergencies, dead animals and to check on the dogs people have dropped off that are left in the outside kennels.

In May, they have already received over 57 animals.

'Normal' day

A normal day for Olivares starts by setting cat traps that are requested by residents and making his way over to the shelter.

The officers are only able to set two or three per day – as that is the number of traps that they have.

Traps are only set for dogs if they are feral and can't be caught.

The officers then clean the shelter, take care of the dogs and then go out and drive around the streets – answering calls and looking for loose animals.

One volunteer

The animal control officers have the help of only one volunteer, Amy Galvan, who works to get all of the animals transported to other shelters or rescues so they can be adopted.

Galvan has been helping for the last six years and sends pictures to get the animals transported either by car or plane.

Last year, she helped to rescue 500 dogs and has already aided 100 this year.

“If people would spay and neuter it would help tons,” said Galvan.

Her passion for dogs has been with her since she was little, she had her own rescue and now spends her free time trying to save the dogs that animal control brings in.

“It's mainly I just feel bad for the dogs,” said Galvan.

The shelter also has only three cat kennels which they use for kittens or friendly cats that can be transported and adopted out.

Few adoptions

Not many adoptions happen out of the Fort Stockton location though.

By law, Fort Stockton is not required to have an animal shelter since there are less than 100,000 residents, so the one they have is a luxury.

“We don't operate how other animal control offices do,” said Olivares.

In addition to the two officers, there is an Animal Control Advisory Board that meets once or twice a year to discuss intake numbers, issues and the rabies clinic.

All responsibilities fall on the officers who see more than 100 animals a month. This includes cleaning, feeding, capturing and ensuring public safety.

The shelter does euthanize, but only for sick, hurt or vicious animals.

The kennel can fill up in just a few hours.

That's why they rely on the help of Galvan who organizes the transport of the animals.

Loose dogs

One of the biggest issues in the city is dogs running loose, which is against city ordinance.

Many residents do not have their animals secured with a fence, or there is a hole or other way for them to get out, which causes the animals to be a public nuisance.

“Not everyone likes dogs,” said Olivares.

After three days at the shelter, the dog becomes animal control property and they are able to start looking for another home.

In the kennels, a range of dogs are found – from puppies, to dogs with the end of tether they broke loose from still around their neck, to old dogs who were owner-surrendered because they were moving and couldn't take the animal they have had for the last 10 years.

Animal control is also responsible for catching animals that are suspected of having rabies like skunks, coyotes or raccoons.

They work with game wardens and have a special test for rabies so they can figure out if they need to inform the public of an issue.

Education

Olivares said one of the biggest issues in Fort Stockton is the lack of education on caring for animals.

The proper care, vaccines and spaying or neutering are some of the topics in which people are often poorly informed.

“It's sad, I've seen some stuff in Fort Stockton that I didn't think was possible,” he said.

Dogs shot with paintballs, imbedded collars, tick infestation and neglect are some of the problems he faces regularly.

Another problem is that people get puppies for holidays and by January the dog is in the shelter.

In order to get a dog back from the shelter, it is required that they are registered and a $15 microchip is placed so they know who the dogs belongs to in the future.

The animal control officers will also work with people to come to their location if multiple animals need to be microchipped.

Rewarding

While the job is sad at times, Olivares is happy when microchips can reunite owners or when an animal gets picked for transport.

“Its rewarding, it really is,” he said.

While Olivares can issue citations, he is limited in what he can do to owners who refuse to care for their dog properly.

Having a dog park or more resources for dog owners would be beneficial to the city, said Olivares.

The city has budgeted money for the addition of two dog parks – one for large dogs and one for small dogs – as part of an improvement project at Silliman Park at the corners of Railroad Avenue and Highway 385 South. The Economic Development Council has designated $60,000 for the park project, which also includes a new play area for children ages 2 to 5, a T-ball practice area and a new parking area.

The project should be completed by the end of summer.

A low-cost spay and neuter program might help eliminate all the stray dogs he finds as well.

“I love this job but it gets frustrating,” said Olivares.

Volunteering

The animal control officers do what they can to help the dogs, but they also have a full-time job working the streets.

Olivares said that if they had volunteers, they would be able to take over some of the responsibility in the shelter which would allow them to go out and help more animals.

The shelter is responsible for buying their own food and cleaning supplies, where most larger shelters and rescues get help from donations.

Volunteers would be a great asset to assist in soliciting donations enabling animal control to save that cost and apply it elsewhere.

Volunteers would also be able to help with cleaning the kennels, walking the dogs, giving baths and flea medicine.

Galvan wants to warn people that it is not always easy to be a volunteer, but it is needed.

“It's not all fun and games,” she said.

The shelter also accepts old kennels that can be used to help during transport.

New Hire

Animal Control is run through the police department and they will be looking for Olivares' replacement.

Applicants need a high school diploma, no criminal record and they prefer someone with any animal experience.

There will be initial training involved, as well continuing education.

“Your training really never ends,” said Olivares.

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