NEWLAND — The Avery County Board of Commissioners are considering a request made by Sheriff Kevin Frye to install a dedicated animal services officer as part of the Avery County Sheriff’s Office to handle animal complaints and animal-related 911 calls across the county.
The request comes after a private donor volunteered to provide the money needed to fund the position for a year. The funds would cover the officer’s salary, benefits and the needed equipment, all of which would weigh in at approximately $75,000, according to Frye. Although the commissioners have yet to approve the final budget for the upcoming fiscal year, it does not appear likely that they will accept the funds.
“There’s a lot of people, including a lot of mothers, who are trying to get an animal services officer for Avery County to handle all of the animal calls we’re getting. We’re getting killed with it. There’s an opportunity for it to be fully funded for a year to see if it would be something that they would want to fund,” Frye said.
Frye said that the position would be within the ACSO, and he would be directly responsible for hiring and firing, if necessary, the individual who would potentially be employed in the position. Frye said that the ACSO is already responding to animal-related 911 calls, in addition to the general increases in calls they are already receiving. However, the response to these calls is delegated to the various deputies, since there is not a dedicated position solely responsible for handling animal-related calls and responding to them in a specified manner.
“Every officer does things a little bit different. None of the officers have specialized training in it. If we have to seize an animal, we won’t have any more animals to be seized with this position than we currently do. Nothing changes as far as seizing an animal or anything like that. This is not that kind of position,” Frye said. “It’s to help us follow up and follow through on all these animal calls that we’re getting, and to educate them if they’re not treating their animals right and get them on the right page, as well as to educate people who aren’t from around here on what the state law requires.”
Frye added that a dedicated animal services officer would also allow the ACSO to follow up on cases where an animal has been deemed dangerous and enforce laws that require the owners to keep the animal away from the public.
“We’re not dog catchers. We’re not going to become dog catchers, but what we do need is for when we have instances where an animal is abused or neglected. Quite honestly, 90 percent of those come from our drug addicts that we have in Avery County who don’t take care of themselves, much less their animals,” Frye said.
Avery County Manager Phillip Barrier said that although an individual has offered to fund the position for a year, questions still remain on whether or not there is enough of a need present in the county for taxpayer dollars to go toward funding a dedicated animal services position over a long period of time.
“What about six years from now? Who’s going to buy the car? Who’s going to pay the insurance? Who’s going to fund the position? Who’s going to pay the 401K?” Barrier said. “Once government starts a service, it’s really difficult to ever take it back. (For example), once we have someone designated to domestic violence, and we fund that position, you can’t cut it back. Once you start something like children’s services, you can’t cut it back. You’ve got to be careful and make sure that this is forever.”
Meanwhile, Barrier said that while there is someone who is interesting in funding the position, it would be worthwhile to assess the need for animal services in the county.
“The good take is that someone is willing to fund this. We can look at some research, but my predecessor always said it’s the juice versus the squeeze. What do we want to accomplish by having a funded position in the sheriff’s office,” Barrier said.
The Avery County Board of Commissioners will likely make a final decision on the issue ahead of its yearly budget approval at the next regular meeting on Monday, June 7.