During the past year, more than 1,000 abandoned animals were picked up by animal control officers in St. Francois County.
The problem forces cities to use taxpayer money to control the animals and, while many abandoned animals end up dying from starvation or vehicle accidents, some good Samaritans are able to help many others find a good home.
Desloge Animal Control Officer Danny Ray Chappell impounded 181 animals last year alone, including one parrot. Of those, 82 were destroyed while only 54 were adopted.
“I could make a career of animal control if I wanted to, believe me,” Chappell said, who also works for the Desloge Street Department.
Chappell believes people need to understand what state law says about abandoned animals. It is a Class D felony for second degree animal neglect.
According to Chappell, state law says someone who feeds and shelters an animal for three days or more can be considered the animal’s owner.
The Desloge City Code lists a person guilty of abandonment “when he/she has knowingly abandoned an animal in any place without making provisions for its adequate care.”
The problem for Chappell, as with most animal control officers, is those who dump animals are rarely caught. Even if someone is seen abandoning a pet, Chappell is rarely given a license plate number from which he can identify the person.
It costs Chappell $25 or more to destroy an animal, plus the time it takes to bring the animal to a veterinarian for the procedure.
“When we put down a dog or cat, it costs the city money,” Chappell said.
The Desloge City Pound charges a fee for an owner to retrieve an animal from the pound. The fee helps pay for food, water and electricity. Adoption is free
The pound covers the cost of exterminating the animal, if it is not adopted.
When an animal is adopted, state law requires the pound to spay or neuter the animal and to make sure it has up-to-date rabies shots.
Farmington Animal Control Officer Cheryla Boyd picked up 943 dogs and cats last year, with 572 being adopted and 102 claimed by owners. Boyd works with the Society of St. Francois to help get many of the animals she receives adopted to good homes.
Diana Blackwell first started caring for abandoned animals as a child, promising her godmother she would take care of animals when she grew up. Thirty-one years later, Blackwell runs the Society of St. Francois, an organization dedicated to the caring of abandoned animals.
Each Sunday Blackwell loads up dogs and cats and takes them to Petsmart on Manchester Road in St. Louis County, where the store allows people to come in and adopt the animals.
“It’s their last, best hope,” Blackwell said.
A team of volunteers awaits Blackwell’s arrival to help handle the pets and guide people through the adoption process.
Each potential adopter is given an interview to make sure the animal will be cared for and loved. The adopters sign a legally binding contract stating they will take care of the animal. They are given six-feet of coupons from Petsmart for items such as food and treats.
“So we do the best we can to safeguard them (animals),” Blackwell said.
The animals are microchipped, given current shots and, if old enough, spayed or neutered. If the animal is too young, the adopters are given a voucher for a discount on having the animal fixed. State law requires that to be done within six months.
To cover the costs of adoption, the society charges $110 for dogs and $85 for cats.
Blackwell said she has tried to get the county to hire an animal control officer, but her attempts have failed.
Sher Pirtle is president of the Humane Society of the Ozarks in Farmington, the place where many of the county’s abandoned animals end up.
The Humane Society charges $25 to take in a pet, but Pirtle said “people who care” willingly bring in abandoned animals. According to Pirtle, the society receives 10 to 15 animals per week. At least half of those were dumped.
Pirtle estimates anywhere between three to 12 animals are adopted from the society each week. She lists smaller dogs as the ones most likely to find a home.
Pirtle said her society is a “no-kill” facility, only putting down those animals which are aggressive or deathly sick.
“We do not euthanize healthy, happy animals,” Pirtle said.
Along with abandoned animals, Pirtle hears numerous stories about people who have had their pets stolen.
“It’s a growing problem,” she said. “It has been growing the past few years.”
Pirtle said pet-theft is a multi-million dollar business, with 2 million or more pets stolen each year nationwide. Only 10 percent of stolen pets are returned to their owners, while most are used for puppy mills, illegal fighting, medical research and sadistic worship.
“And to stop that you need to be aware of what’s going on around you,” Pirtle said.
Pirtle suggests not allowing your pets to roam outside alone. She tells of one person whose pet was stolen from a screened-in porch within the amount of time it took for them to get a cup of coffee from their kitchen.
“They can snatch them in seconds,” Pirtle said. “By the time those dogs are reported stolen, they’re in another state.”