Animal rights advocates made their concerns known to the Ketchikan Gateway Borough Assembly on Monday, with speakers offering complaints about the borough’s animal control program.
The issue wasn’t on the Borough Assembly meeting agenda, but public comment and Assembly discussion lasted about two hours.
It all started with a criminal case, in which the borough dropped animal-abuse charges against a woman in exchange for her testimony in a child sex-abuse case. Court records show that Julie Carson had been charged with 25 minor offenses, including 15 for failure to provide humane care to animals. The remaining charges were for failure to obtain animal licenses and failure to immunize.
Borough Attorney Scott Brandt-Erichsen said the borough had planned to prosecute.
“We were contacted by the DA’s office and requested to drop the charges or to somehow facilitate getting testimony that would be necessary to prosecute a serious felony offense,” he said. “We went along with the DA’s office request. I believe it was the proper thing to do in the circumstances. I would do the same were it to occur again.”
Those who spoke during public comment agreed the child-abuse charges were more important, but questioned part of the plea agreement that returned three of the dogs to someone designated by their former owner.
Suzan Thompson of the Ketchikan Humane Society said the designated caregiver could transfer the animals back to the woman, who has moved out of state. Thompson said the borough could keep the dogs in Ketchikan by asking local veterinary clinics to not issue health certificates for the three dogs. Without health certificates, animals can’t fly or cross through Canada.
Thompson said the borough’s animal control ordinances are inadequate. She said she and others have been working with borough officials to improve them.
“If the borough’s attorney cannot find a way to support and enforce even the weak ordinances already in place, how can he possibly hope to have any effectiveness once the more stringent ordinances take effect?” she said. “This has been a disheartening realization, and we are considering withdrawing from the task force and finding other ways to continue our rescue work.”
Laura Attwood said she’s passionate about prosecuting those who hurt animals. She said she was upset the borough returned three dogs to the potential control of the person charged with inhumane treatment. She said 11 dogs were seized by animal control officers.
“They state that the animals had little access to basic essentials, such as food or water, and the home was covered in filth and feces,” she said. “Animals were kept in cages far too small for them to stand up or even turn around in, and appeared to spend significant portions of their day in those cages.”
Brandt-Erichsen said that in addition to the dogs, the borough seized ducks and rabbits from the woman’s home. All but the three dogs in question were forfeited. He agreed that those dogs might end up back in the woman’s care if they left the borough. Brandt-Erichsen said the woman also could obtain other animals, because she no longer is in the borough’s jurisdiction.
Borough Manager Dan Bockhorst said both of Ketchikan’s veterinary offices have agreed to not issue health certificates for the three dogs. However, Ketchikan Veterinary Clinic later told KRBD that it would not refuse to issue a health certificate to the legal owner of any dog.
Borough Animal Protection Director Kelly Ludwig-Johnson said the woman was running a breeding operation out of her home, and had the permit required to own more than five dogs. She said the woman’s home was inspected, but officers weren’t given complete access.
Ludwig-Johnson says that in the future, she will deny permits to those who don’t allow a full inspection. She notes that her department’s budget is restrictive.
“I requested in my budget to have an extra person, so I could be more proactive than reactive, and that was shot down,” she said. “So I have to continue my quest of trying to deal with everything that goes on with three people.”
Ludwig-Johnson said there are four known pet-breeding operations in Ketchikan.
Later in the meeting, the Assembly voted 5 to 1 to increase the Animal Protection Department budget. Assembly Member Glen Thompson voted no.
Also on Monday, the Assembly agreed to introduce an ordinance that would place a $5 million school bonds proposition on the October ballot. A public hearing on the ordinance will take place on Aug. 6.