Cairo has become home to a strong population of wild dogs and it seems there is no one around to help.
The City of Cairo has not had dogcatcher in two years despite the growing need for one. Mayor Tyrone Coleman said the stray dog problem has been keenly on his mind. He said he has watched even in his own neighborhood as an abandoned house has been overrun with stray animals. He said he intends to do something about it, however he is not sure how.
Cairo’s animal control program was shut down by the state in early 2011 because its dog kennels were not up to code according to state laws. Instead of repairing the pens, the City had to shut down the operation entirely because they simply did not have the funds to make the necessary updates to meet state code.
City Council member and Cairo police commissioner Richard Pitcher said that the fact there is no one designated to handle the stray dog problem puts stress on his police officers.
“It’s an added workload for our officers that are already stretched pretty thin,” he said. Pitcher said despite their heavy workload, his officers have to take each stray dog call seriously.
“It is not something you can just dismiss or take lightly because some of these animals can be vicious,” he explained. “The last thing you want is for one to get a hold of a kid.”
Courtney Wilson agrees.
Wilson, a mother of three and a resident of 35th St. said she has had to take real precautions when letting her kids go outside because of the stray dog problem. She said the dogs in her neighborhood have killed other animals and even have come after her and her kids. She said she wishes there was someone to come and collect the animals, but does not see that happening anytime soon because of the City’s finances. She is not far off the mark. In numerous City Council meetings, the issue of hiring a dog catcher has come up, but the measure is always shut down because of the City’s dire financial state. They simply cannot afford one.
To read the State Statute on animal control, it could be inferred that dogcatching is the County’s responsibility.
“The County Board Chairman with the consent of the County Board shall appoint an Administrator. Appointments shall be made as necessary to keep this position filled at all times … The Board shall provide necessary personnel, training, equipment, supplies, and facilities, and shall operate pounds or contract for their operation as necessary to effectuate the program,” section 3 of part 510 of the Illinois Compiled Statutes states. However, Alexander County state’s attorney Jeff Farris said this does not help Cairo. He said because it is incorporated and has its own book of city codes and regulations, the County is not responsible for Cairo’s dog problems.
Coleman does not see it this way. He said based on part 24 of the statute, the City may hire and use its own dog catcher, but the County is still required to have it’s own animal control that serves all of the incorporated and unincorporated parts of the county.
Because the Cairo and the Alexander County read the law differently does not mean they cannot work together.
Coleman said he hopes that by working with the County something can be done to resolve the City’s problem. The County board has given nearly $2,000 to the City to build six doghouses as well as provide new water and feed bowls, which will at least provide a place for captured dogs to be taken. Alexander County Board chairman Harold McNelly said if the county could do more to help Cairo with its stray dogs, it would.
“Does it need it,” McNelly asked. “Badly.” However, he said the County is just as bad off as Cairo financially and for the time being, paying for the kennels is all they can do.
These new pens are a start, however. Pitcher said right now, even if officers were to catch a dog in town they would have no place to take it which means, short of finding its owner, there is very little the police can do with calls regarding stray dogs at this point.
Building new kennels is part of the battle, though there is still the matter of finding the funds to hire someone to actually catch the dogs. Coleman explained the position does not stop at catching a stray, there is also keeping the dogs fed and their pens clean as well as filling out all the paperwork involved, of which there is a lot. He said there would need to be someone on full time or a series of people hired part time to fill the position. Coleman said this next step is an expensive one and the City is still trying to figure out how to make it.
Until the time comes when Cairo finds a way to employ a dogcatcher, Coleman said he will continue to hope the City’s luck holds out and that no one gets hurt. He said in the time since they disbanded their animal control program two years ago, there have been very few reported incidents where people have been hurt by stray dogs.
“We’ve been blessed,” Coleman said.
–Isaac Smith can be reached at (618)-734-4242