Township Council Postpones Shelter Contract Decision
On Dec. 7, Lower Saucon Township Council members were told the township has few options other than renewing its animal control services agreement with the Center for Animal Health and Welfare.
Lower Saucon Township officials are unhappy with the terms of the Center for Animal Health and Welfare's proposed 2012 animal control services agreement, but say options are limited for finding a more cost effective plan for dealing with strays before the end of the year.
The township's current agreement with the center expires Dec. 31, and Township Manager Jack Cahalan reiterated his earlier concerns about the proposed terms of the 2012 agreement at township council's Dec. 7 meeting.
"The cost of dropping off the animals is increasing, which is understandable with the economy and with the problems that they're having with fundraising at the center," he said.
However, the fact that the township would no longer be able to "restrict drop-offs to just dogs" and another caveat that would permit residents to drop off "all companionable animals" at the township's expense could prove costly, Cahalan said.
Over the past several years, the fees Lower Saucon Township has paid to the Williams Township no-kill shelter have averaged about $1,400 per year, but under the terms of the new contract they could escalate to $6,000 to $8,000 per year, he estimated.
Cahalan told council he had sent a letter to the center in an attempt to negotiate terms that would allow the township to drop off only dogs and restrict drop-offs to police officers, but said that as of Dec. 7 he had not received a response.
An investigation into alternative providers of animal services has turned up few options, he said.
"The nearest facility that we have been in contact with is in Lehigh County, and they have been trying to obtain needed licensing from the state to accept stray dogs from Northampton County," he explained. "That has not happened yet."
Councilwoman Sandra Yerger asserted that the Lehigh County facility Cahalan referenced is a "kill shelter," which euthanizes pets that aren't adopted within a certain period of time.
"My daughter was just there," she said. "I know they're in the same bind financially (as the Center for Animal Health and Welfare)."
Cahalan said he also planned to submit requests-for-proposal (RFPs) to Saucon Valley animal hospitals to determine if they might be able to house stray dogs for a period of up to 48 hours, and council unanimously approved a motion allowing him to do so.
Under PA dog law, he said, unlicensed dogs in the care of a municipality must be kept for 48 hours before being given over to a humane society.
Years ago, Cahalan indicated, the township maintained its own kennels for this purpose "by the public works garage."
That facility was at some point dismantled, but it's possible that the township could once again construct kennels to temporarily care for unlicensed dogs, he said.
"That type of situation would probably require having someone like an animal control officer to care for the dogs," he noted.
With licensed dogs, "the majority of owners will pick them up as soon as they are identified," Cahalan said, adding that the township could charge the owner of the dog a $50 fee upon pick-up.
Dogs that are licensed but are not claimed can be turned over to a shelter after five days.
To aid in the identification of licensed dogs, which are often microchipped, council unanimously approved the purchase of a scanner capable of reading the identification information found on a dog's microchip.
Yerger said that all dogs adopted from local shelters are typically microchipped.
The cost of the scanner was estimated to be about $300, and council vice president Tom Maxfield raised the idea of the township promoting a microchipping program for dogs in the future.
"The township could consider providing a one-time incentive to residents to do that," Cahalan agreed.
The typical cost to microchip a pet is $20 to $50, plus a registration fee, he said.
Regardless, council will need to address its immediate problem of what to do with strays as of the end of this year. And depending on the response to the RFP he receives from local animal shelters, Cahalan said, "I may be back here on the 21st (of December) asking you to sign the agreement (with the Center for Animal Health and Welfare)."