Tupelo-Lee Humane Society says more staff needed if dangerous dog ordinance becomes law

By Emily Le Coz/NEMS Daily Journal

TUPELO – A tough, new dangerous dog ordinance could strain already bare-bones enforcement by the Tupelo-Lee Humane Society, unless the mandate includes additional staffing.
The ordinance could come before the City Council next month.
TLHS currently controls the city’s animal population with one full-time and one part-time officer, both paid in part with municipal dollars. But TLHS Director Debbie Hood said it’ll take more manpower to enforce the law she and city leaders envision.
Hood and a group of City Council members want to beef up Tupelo’s existing dangerous dog ordinance – which they called weak and ineffective – to require annual registration of pit bulls, Rottweilers, German Shepherds and Doberman Pinschers.
They also want to strengthen the city’s leash law and housing requirements for dangerous dogs, and they want to increase the fines for those who violate the rules.
Currently, Tupelo does instruct owners of dangerous pets to register their animals with the city and pay a one-time $50 fee. It also requires them to confine those pets behind a four-foot-high fence when outside the house. But the ordinance isn’t widely known and rarely is enforced.
“People don’t do it like they should,” said Hood, whose agency handles the registration process.
She said most pets become registered only after an animal control officer responds to a complaint about it. And the agency has a hard time tracking what happens to the animal – whether it moves, breeds or dies – after it’s logged into the system.
Hood didn’t immediately know how many dangerous pets are registered in the city.
An annual registration renewal would allow the TLHS to better track dangerous animals, as well as generate revenue for more enforcement. Hood said her agency needs at least one additional full-time officer to patrol the streets and one administrative position to manage registration and records.
Each position pays about $21,000 annually.
“Anyone using common sense can see that one person working the entire city is really an impossibility,” said Ward 5 Councilman Jonny Davis, who is leading the effort to pass tougher laws. “We’re hoping the ordinance will help that person a great deal and will improve a lot of the complaints we receive, but if a second person is needed, we need to fill that position.”
The city allocates $175,000 annually to the Tupelo-Lee Humane Society for animal-control services, utilities, maintenance and operating assistance. The agency also is housed, rent-free, in a building owned by the city.
It’s unclear if the city would be able to immediately provide additional funds. The council this month passed a lean budget with little wiggle room for additional expenditures. Its own full-time employees barely squeaked by with a 3 percent raise – their first in at least three years.
But if the new measure passes, pet registration fees could offset the cost of additional TLHS staff, said city Chief Operations Officer Darrell Smith.
Smith called the ordinance among Tupelo’s top priorities, saying 98 percent of the calls he fields from residents involve pit bulls.
“This should have been done a long time ago,” he said.
emily.lecoz@journalinc.com

TLHS calendars
The Tupelo-Lee Humane Society’s success story 2012 calendar is now available. Calendars are $15 each and can be purchased at the shelter on South Gloster Street or at several businesses around town. For information, call the shelter at (662) 841-6500.