Written by John Plestina
Dave and Tina Bets His Medicine with Barney on the examination table at Wolf Point Veterinary Clinic as veterinarian Robin Jordan [not pictured] examines the canine before a road trip to Bozeman for adoption with Tina Bets His Medicine and several other canines. Barney is one of between 35 and 40 dogs animal control officer J.T. Szymanski has picked up running at large each month since he started earlier this year. (Photos by John Plestina)
The Wolf Point Police Department’s animal control officer, J.T. Szymanski, uses a meaty bone he placed on the ground as an enticement to get a dog he had picked up out from under his truck at the pound Friday, June 6.
Now that J.T. Szymanski has been on the job as Wolf Point’s animal control officer for over two months, the numbers of dogs freely running the streets has significantly decreased.
The city hired Szymanski at the beginning of April. He filled a void that was created when the last animal control officer left in October 2013.
With the absence of the blue animal control pickup truck patrolling the streets during that six-month period, the amount of dogs that owners allowed to run loose had multiplied. The police had to address dog complaints every week, including several reported biting incidents, some involving children.
“It seems to be working well,” police chief Jeff Harada said Monday, June 9.
He added that there have been numerous compliments from the public.
“People in the community have already said they have seen a decrease in the loose animal population,” Harada said.
“He’s [Szymanski] diligent, hard working, dependable, devoted to doing a good job. He cares about the welfare and wellbeing of our citizens and he truly cares about the animals,” he said.
Szymanski impounded 40 dogs during his first month on the job. He released 21 to the owners, after they paid the required fees. The impoundment fees he collected for the city totaled $438 for the 18 dogs. There is a $10 impound fee plus $15 per day. Of the 19 dogs not claimed by owners, 18 were adopted out to new homes by Wolf Point Pound Puppies. One dog was euthanized during April.
Dogs remaining in the pound beyond six days are at risk of being be euthanized or adopted. If that is the case, owners that did not claim them cannot get them back.
Dog licenses are required and unlicensed canines must be licensed before owners may retrieve them from the pound. During April, Szymanski licensed 19 dogs and collected $95 in license fees.
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.
Harada assigned blame on owners for what had been a high number of freely-roaming dogs when there was no animal control officer.
“There are no bad pets, just bad owners,” Harada said.
“One of the most problematic issues is owners allowing their dogs to follow their children to school,” he said, adding that it creates safety issues, especially when several loose dogs congregate into a pack on the grounds of a school.
Harada cited one recent incident at Southside Elementary School when Szymanski was called to the school at 7:30 a.m. Six dogs were running together on the school grounds and had become aggressive. Szymanski caught one and the others disbursed.
“Thank God it wasn’t 20 minutes later,” Harada said of the scenario of children present with aggressive dogs running loose on the school grounds.
“Six incompetent pet owners who allowed their doge to follow their children to school,” he said.
Harada said there were three separate school-related dog incidents where Szymanski was placed at risk.
Harada estimated during the week Szymanski began working in April that fewer than 10 percent of the dogs that had been running the streets were homeless strays. He said many of the uncollared canines that had been loose belong to people.
“During the summer months, the animal control officer will be working a variety of shifts for those pet owners who deem it necessary to let their dogs out after 5 p.m.
Tina (formerly Speed) Bets His Medicine, Mary Vine and other volunteers have kept the nonprofit Wolf Point Pound Puppies going for over two years, funding much of the costs themselves.
The city’s pound has a six-day hold and many dogs have been euthanized because the city cannot keep them beyond the six days. Few are put down now because Pound Puppies takes as many dogs that have reached the six-day limit as they can accommodate at their homes or can find foster homes for. They have saved over 150 dogs and a few cats from being euthanized in a little over two years.
A no-kill shelter is something Speed said she would like to have.
Finding homes for the dogs is a priority. While some are adopted locally, a majority are placed in Billings, Bozeman and other areas of Montana.
Cash donations are needed to offset veterinarian bills and to purchase dog food. Bets His Medicine has paid much of the costs out of her own pocket. Donations for Wolf Point Pound Puppies may be made at First Community Bank. The organization has state nonprofit status.