Written by John Plestina
After months of canines having free run of Wolf Point’s streets, sidewalks, schoolyards and lawns, a new animal control officer is on the job, a move the police department hopes will curtail the problem.
J.T. Szymanski began working Thursday, April 3.
Originally from Wolf Point, Szymanski recently moved back after working in the oil fields in the Williston, N.D., area for seven years. He said he wanted to move back to Wolf Point to spend more time with his children, two boys and a girl.
Szymanski said he likes his new job, an hour after his third work day began. Monday started with two stray dogs caught and delivered to the pound during his first hour on the job.
The problem of loose, and sometimes nuisance, dogs has compounded since the city’s last animal control officer resigned in October 2013. Efforts to hire a qualified individual had been unsuccessful until Szymanski applied.
With the absence of the blue animal control pickup truck patrolling Wolf Point’s streets during recent months, the volume of dogs allowed by owners to run loose has multiplied. The police have had to address dog complaints every week and several reported bitings.
Police Chief Jeff Harada assigned blame on dog owners.
Harada said unrestrained dogs frequently leave their owners’ properties to follow children to school and then roam the city throughout the day. Many also roam at night.
“That’s been a heck of a problem,” he said.
“They (dogs) use the sidewalks like a pedestrian,” Harada said
He said fewer than 10 percent of the dogs that have been running the streets in Wolf Point are homeless strays and many of the uncollared canines that are loose belong to people.
“A collarless dog, I would say, 90 percent of the time has an owner,” Harada said.
“The loose dog problem has nothing to do with the dog problem. It’s irresponsible owners,” he said.
“We understand dogs get loose and we also understand that it’s been excessive, especially the last few months,” Harada said.
“It irritates me because people don’t take care of their animals and let them run,” Szymanski said.
“As soon as they (dogs) see that (animal control) pickup, they’re gone,” Szymanski said.
There are potential downfalls to being the one person the city employs that some people call the “dog catcher.”
“I’m sure I’ll get bit sometime,” Szymanski said. “I never turn my back on a dog.”
He added, “One of the things I don’t tolerate is a biting dog, especially with kids walking to school.”
The pound has a six-day hold and many dogs are euthanized because the city cannot hold them.
Wolf Point Pound Puppies took four dogs out of the pound over then last weekend and transported them out of town for adoption.
There are consequences for dog owners if the city locks up their dogs. It’s not cheap for owners to get their dogs back once they are caught and taken to the pound. There is a $10 impound fee plus $15 per day. If they leave their dogs beyond six days, there is a risk they could be euthanized or adopted. If that is the case, they cannot get them back.
There are city and tribal ordinances in place that require pet owners (dogs and cats) to leash or maintain their pets on their own property. The city requires dog licenses that are available for $5 for one year.
The Fort Peck Tribes holds rabies shot clinics in Wolf Point and Poplar.
Harada said it is the responsibility of pet owners to have their animals vaccinated.