Wednesday, July 12, 2000

Suit filed on behalf of animals

Inhumane pound treatment, state's record on control cited

By Karen Samples
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Fed up with the shooting of stray dogs and the pathetic condition of some dog pounds, Kentucky humane societies this week filed a class-action lawsuit to force change.

        It's the most aggressive attack yet on Kentucky's record of animal control, which national experts consider among the worst in the country.

        Named in the suit are Kentucky Agriculture Commissioner Billy Ray Smith, who is accused of failing to enforce the licensing of Kentucky dogs, as well as the judge-executives and magistrates of 70 counties.

        These include officials of Henry County, whose practice of shooting strays was the subject of an Enquirer story last month.

        Through a secretary, Henry County Judge-executive Tommy Bryant declined to comment on the lawsuit.

        Mark Farrow, staff attorney for Kentucky's agriculture com missioner, said the department has done all it could with virtually no money and a sketchy law.

        “We have enforced the laws as we have interpreted them,” Mr. Farrow said.

        Also named in the lawsuit are Gallatin and Trimble counties, which send their stray dogs to Henry County.

        Kentucky law requires every county to have a dog warden and a dog shelter, or share in the cost of a regional shelter.

        It does not, however, establish minimum standards for shelters or wardens. This means counties can claim compliance even when their efforts are a joke, says Randy Skaggs, the activist who spearheaded the lawsuit.

        “You would not believe what they call a dog pound in some parts of Kentucky. It's pathetic — pieces of crates and pallets put together,” says Mr. Skaggs, who runs the nonprofit Trixie Foundation in Elliott County.

        The lawsuit was filed Monday in Franklin County Circuit Court. Besides the Trixie Foundation, plaintiffs include six Kentucky humane societies, 12 individual residents and two national organizations.

        Mr. Skaggs gathered documents from all 120 counties. Seven reported shooting dogs as a method of euthanasia, Mr. Skaggs says. He was unable to name those counties Tuesday.

        To determine whether coun ties were in “sham compliance,” he looked at the amounts they spent each year, he said.

        Lawrence County, one of the defendants, paid $752 to its dog warden in the 1998-99 fiscal year, according to his records. That's a sham, Mr. Skaggs says, though he notes that the county had a “real” dog warden as of Jan. 27.

        Residents of Lawrence County say it has been overrun with strays for years. On June 2, an 11-year-old girl was attacked and critically injured by three dogs.

        Mr. Skaggs says he hopes the lawsuit forces counties to crack down on irresponsible dog owners, who are the root of the problem.

        “This is a primitive culture, here in Appalachia and rural Kentucky,” he said.

        “That's not to say people aren't good and don't have the ability to change. But they've never been told that they have to.”


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