Lack of animal shelter prompts lawsuit against Barbour County - WDAM-TV 7-News, Weather, Sports-Hattiesburg, MS

Lack of animal shelter prompts lawsuit against Barbour County

(Source: WSFA 12 News) (Source: WSFA 12 News)
(Source: WSFA 12 News) (Source: WSFA 12 News)
(Source: WSFA 12 News) (Source: WSFA 12 News)
A shelter was built in the county, but never opened. (Source: WSFA 12 News) A shelter was built in the county, but never opened. (Source: WSFA 12 News)
Puppies found with their dead mother inside a tied bag back in April. (Source: WSFA 12 News) Puppies found with their dead mother inside a tied bag back in April. (Source: WSFA 12 News)

Frustrations over the lack of an animal shelter in Barbour County have reached a boiling point amidst growing safety concerns.

A group of residents has sued the county, accusing local leadership of breaking the law.

The Animal Legal Defense Fund, a national legal advocacy organization for animals, is representing the concerned citizens who filed a lawsuit Thursday in Barbour County Circuit Court against the county and the commission for alleged "failure to follow Alabama state law by maintaining a county pound and impounding officer."

With no shelter, local animal rescuers have been trying to deal with an exploding stray population and help wounded, sick and unwanted animals, but it's become too overwhelming.

Betty Kramer is one of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit. She is currently caring for at least 40 cats and 11 dogs at her home in Eufaula.

"We’ve been trying for a long time to get them to do the right thing and open a shelter and get an animal control officer in the county because all of the rescue people are taking the calls that should be going to them," she said. "They say they have no money in the budget to run the shelter or have an animal control officer but that is mandated by state law."

A shelter was built near the county landfill 14 years ago, but it never opened and has been deteriorating.

The county commission has repeatedly taken funds and equipment specifically appropriated for the shelter services and put them towards other projects, according to the ALDF.

“Egregious acts of animal cruelty, well-known to be a precursor to violent crimes against people, occur with impunity,” says Animal Legal Defense Fund Executive Director Stephen Wells. “After sustaining injuries from cars, dead and dying animals suffer by the side of the county’s roads, with no one designated to help them or even pick them up.”

The ALDF notes in the release an April incident in which 11 puppies were found inside a trash bag, along with their dead mother. ALDF says this is likely due to the absence in a location the public can use to surrender animals.  

The release notes other incidents where a resident represented in the lawsuit, attempted to report animal cruelty cases to law enforcement and officials declined to make a report or investigate. The lawsuit also alleges a serious public safety concern because of the growing number of free roaming animals.

It has left residents like Betty Kramer to step in and deal with some sad situations.

"We find animals dead on the side of the road. We find animals tied up that need water and housing. People move off and just leave them in their yard. The animals have no one but the local rescues to take care of them or do anything for them," she said. "We’re having to pay out of our pockets to treat these animals and to do what’s right for the animals. We’ve gone to county commission meetings and we’ve tried to talk to them and we get nowhere. The only way we felt we could be heard is if we filed the lawsuit."

She works closely with Renee Klein, who is also one of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit.

Klein been going before the county commission for 14 years, when she moved to Barbour County, to address the lack of a shelter.

"We’ve seen animals used as bait dogs with wounds down to the bone and we’ve nursed them back to health. Dogs that have been shot and hit by cars have been brought to us and others that have been attacked by other dogs running feral in the county. This is all preventable," she said.

Five years ago she formed PAL (Pet Assistance League) of Barbour County.

She says the stray population so bad in some areas, that children are scared to ride their bikes and some people are afraid to come out of their homes.

"This is something that breaks your heart every single phone call you get and we’ve tried everything. We’ve begged them for help," Klein said of the county commission. "We don’t enjoy doing this and filing a lawsuit against them but it seems to be the only we’re going to get their attention to do what they’re supposed to be doing."

 Walter Calton, attorney for the Barbour County Commission, could not be reached for a response to the lawsuit.

Barbour County Commissioner Trip Horne said he did not know a lawsuit had been filed Thursday but stressed that the county “is doing everything they can to comply with the law.”

The ALDF pointed out that in one recent incident, in the City of Eufaula, a resident found a dead bat that tested positive for rabies. Eufaula issued a public health warning advising citizens to notify their local animal control officer if they see an animal they suspect to have rabies.

"However, outside of Eufaula, which has its own animal control services, Barbour County residents have no one to call," the ALDF stated.

"We hope the county will do right by the animals and open a shelter and hire a qualified animal control officer and do what law mandates," Kramer said.

"They’re not doing what they’re supposed to be doing according to the law and for the safety of the public," Klein added. "They need to do what is humanly and ethically correct for the animals of Barbour County and for the citizens of Barbour County."

Copyright 2016 WSFA 12 News. All rights reserved.

Powered by Frankly