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Swain to hire animal control officer, yet still lacks vehicle and shelter

Long-awaited relief for Swain County’s dire animal control problem has finally arrived.

For years, residents had no recourse if a vicious dog or colony of stray cats took up residence on their property. Now, county officials hope to hire their first full-time animal control officer some time in the coming fiscal year.

A $7,900 grant from a private national foundation that has insisted on remaining anonymous will cover the cost of equipment, like traps, poles, gloves and chaps.

Meanwhile, state and federal reimbursements, along with a county match, will pay the new deputy’s $27,000 salary.

County leaders are hoping the Town of Bryson City will pitch in by purchasing a truck or SUV for the new animal control officer. County Manager Kevin King estimates the truck or SUV might cost $23,000.

Town aldermen say they are still waiting on an official contract before making a final decision.

King said if the town doesn’t cooperate in purchasing a vehicle, the animal control officer would only work in the county — not within town limits.

However, since town residents also pay county taxes, they are already contributing to the salary of the new animal control officer — just as much as any other resident of the county — yet would be excluded from a service received by the rest of the county.

At one time, the county contracted with a private animal shelter in another county to swing through Swain once a week and haul off strays reported over the course of the week. But the arrangement was discontinued three years ago.

A local shelter run by the nonprofit, no-kill organization P.A.W.S. (Placing Animals Within Society) has struggled to fill the void, but cannot to keep up with the growing number of strays being dropped off at its doors.

For now, vicious animals are reported to the sheriff’s office, then passed on to the county health director Linda White. The only thing White can do is officially declare the animal “potentially dangerous,” making it mandatory to leash and muzzle the animal every time it’s taken outside a fenced-in area. The designation is pointless if the animal is a stray and doesn’t have an owner, however.

Sheriff Curtis Cochran says his office receives about half a dozen complaints about potentially dangerous animals each week.

“We have a lot of animals that are running unattended,” said Cochran.

Even so, Cochran assures residents that the new animal control officer will not be scouring the county, tracking down stray and dangerous animals.

“This is in no way to penalize the owners of the animals,” said Cochran. “We’re not going to go around and try to spot an animal running loose. That’s not what it’s going to be about.”

Since the county lacks a public animal shelter, it’s unclear exactly what the animal control officer will do with strays once they are picked up. County officials are hoping neighboring shelters in Cherokee or Jackson and Macon counties will accept the animals. Swain is still looking at the option of creating an in-house animal shelter.

“We’re entirely in the crawling stages right now,” said Commissioner Glenn Jones. “Then we’ll walk.”

Jones added that a shelter’s location has to be chosen carefully.

“Nobody wants a building put in their back door,” said Jones. “You have to be very selective when you start this process.”

While officials are hoping to move forward as quickly as possible, an animal control officer will probably not be in place by the beginning of the fiscal year.

“It’s not going to happen July 1,” said Cochran.

Bryson City Town Manager Larry Callicut said the county is hoping to have an animal control officer in place by Jan. 1, 2011.

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