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Swain at last makes foray into animal control

Swain County Manager Kevin King has an ambitious idea for finally addressing the years-old issue of animal control, or lack thereof, in the county.

King would like to set aside some money to hire an animal control officer to handle the most serious calls and to possibly share a new facility for animal control with PAWS, a nonprofit that runs a no-kill shelter in Bryson City.

“We get a call at least three or four times a week concerning animal issues,” said King at Monday’s Swain County Commissioners meeting.

The county currently has no animal shelter other than the nonprofit PAWS, which is perpetually full. It also has no animal control officer to collect strays. The county had contracted with a private agency to make weekly rounds through the county to pick up strays, but the $20,000 arrangement was terminated.

Although the county is cash-strapped, King said the county could spare $10,000 for a 10-hour a week in-house position.

For now the lack of any attempt by the county to provide animal control has left PAWS to shoulder the entire burden of stray animals, overwhelming the small nonprofit shelter that relies solely on donations.

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King said he has explored a diverse slew of options and is recommending a joint venture with PAWS to run an animal shelter. PAWS could house an adoption center on one side with county animal control on the other. King estimates that it would take at least $100,000 to get everything off the ground on the new facility. Although King has searched high and low for two years to find grants to fund the project, he said they simply are not out there.

King emphasized that the county should get moving on the animal control issue since the matter has been left in its hands indefinitely.

County Commissioner Phil Carson agreed with King.

“We have to start somewhere,” Carson said.

While the county has no leash law, people who meet up with a vicious dog outside the owner’s property can address a letter to Linda White, health director for Swain County. If White deems the animal potentially dangerous, it must be confined or kept on a leash and muzzled when taken outside. White said she makes routine visits to these dog owners’ households just to make sure that the guidelines are being followed. She also administers rabies vaccinations every time there’s a bite or a complaint.

“There’s a lot of dangerous dogs in Swain County,” White said. “It’s a very time-consuming effort.”

King suggested the new animal control officer could report to a seven-member board that would include the sheriff, the health director, a veterinarian, and others. The commissioners have asked King to keep refining the plan and report back to them at the next meeting.

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