By Robbie Ward
TUPELO – Days remain numbered for Tupelo-Lee Humane Society employees to respond to city calls about animal control, duties likely added to police.
Leaders with the local nonprofit animal organization have convinced the City Council to let the group to focus on caring for animals needing adoption and securing resources for a new facility.
City leaders crafting the 2015 fiscal year budget and those holding the purse-strings plan to add all animal control services to law enforcement.
“I’m in complete support to move it to the police department,” said Ward 1 Councilman Markel Whittington after a work session Thursday related to animal control issues.
Nelson Gravatt, board of directors president for the humane society, said employees hired as animal control officers face risks better suited for police officers to handle when called out to investigate animal mistreatment or other situations.
“They’ll never have the level of respect of someone in a uniform,” he said prior to the meeting.
Tupelo Police Chief Bart Aguirre said his department can meet increased expectations for responding to stray, dangerous, loose or otherwise menacing or distressed animals. But it will take additional resources.
“To do it right, we need to have two additional officers,” Aguirre said after the work session. “I need three full-time animal control officers.”
Mayor Jason Shelton said the city will likely add one other animal control officer, not two.
Currently, the city budgets $40,800 annually for a police officer devoted to animal control, mostly related to animal cruelty and other animal-related law enforcement matters. The shelter employs a full-time employee and another who works part time.
The local humane society has provided animal control for the city since the organization started in 1969, but shrinking funds prompted a change. Tupelo’s contract with the animal shelter has remained at $175,000 for six years, a period when general increases in prices jumped nearly 10 percent. Adjusting for inflation, the shelter has $18,727 less buying power compared to 2008.
Taxpayer money not covering animal control expenses leaves the shelter with a $66,400 shortfall, made up through donations and other sources board members would rather spend for animal care and the new building fund.
Increased volume of dogs, cats and other animals dropped off at the South Gloster Street location has further cramped the tight space, keeping 300 animals in space ideal for half as many or fewer.
Tupelo-Lee Humane Society has eyed a new shelter facility for dozens of years and has already secured land on property near the corner of Cliff Gookin Boulevard and Thomas Street. However, the sign announcing the future location looks neglected, faded and tired of waiting.
“My goal is by the end of the year to break ground on the new shelter,” Gravatt told the Daily Journal. “We’re so damn busy putting Band-Aids on our wounds we can’t get them to ever heal.”