Ten years ago, if you called to report a barking dog or an animal wandering the streets, a local police officer likely would have taken your call.
Now, an animal control officer, who specializes in animal issues, likely would be the one to show up.
The county has grown its animal control department in the past few years, in response to the county’s growing population, director Michael Delp said.
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A decade ago, the county had one full-time animal control officer. Three years ago, the county had three officers. Now, it has six, Delp said.
And those officers are responding to significantly more calls — more than 7,000 so far this year, compared to about 2,600 in 2010, he said.
Having more animal control officers also allows police officers and sheriff’s deputies to spend their time on other duties, such as patrolling neighborhoods or stopping speeders.
For animal control officers, their days are busy with calls that range from animal neglect, such as leaving dogs outside in the heat of summer with no water or in the cold of winter with no shelter, more than 200 animal bite cases each year and dogs running the streets that residents or motorists report, Delp said.
They also get the odd calls, from a snake in a tree to hamsters in a dumpster, a 12-foot boa constrictor found or peacocks lingering near businesses along State Road 135, animal shelter manager Bethany Fulps said.
But the county also is one of few in the area that has the equipment and training to respond when livestock gets loose, such as when a semi overturned on Interstate 65 that was carrying cows. County animal control officers were able to corral the cows to get them away from traffic and help reload them onto a truck, Delp said. And at the county’s animal shelter, they have space to house livestock, including coops for chickens and barns for larger animals, he said.
Delp, who has been director for seven years, has been focused on making sure the county is ready for those situations, including by applying for grants for training and equipment.
At the same time that their calls have been increasing, Delp has also been focusing on lowering the number of animals they keep at the county’s animal shelter, which is located off Graham Road in Franklin.
In past years, dogs and especially cats had to be euthanized when too many animals were being kept at the shelter, but that hasn’t happened since 2010, Delp said.
To lower those numbers, the county has worked to build partnerships with more rescue organizations that can get the animals out of the shelter and into homes.
And in the past few years, the county also started a trap, neuter and release program for stray cats meant to lower the county’s cat population by reducing the number of litters that are born, Delp said. Since starting that program, the county is beginning to see fewer cats being brought into the shelter, he said.
Now, the county is looking at another program to help reduce the number of unwanted animals being born. The proposal the county commissioners are considering would add a new fine for when an animal is found wandering, which would range from $100 to $500. But that amount would be waived if the owner would agree to spay or neuter the animal, Delp said.
The goal is to reduce the number of unwanted litters being born and reduce the number of animals wandering streets and neighborhoods, since about 80 to 90 percent of those animals that are found are not spayed or neutered, Delp said.
Other communities, including Brown County, Indianapolis and Bloomington, have enacted similar rules, and they have been successful in reducing the animal population, Fulps said.
The county commissioners would need to approve the fee.
Here is a look at how Johnson County animal control has changed in recent years:
2006: 1 full-time officer
2016: 6 full-time officers
2016 (so far): 7,211
Animals admitted to the shelter
2016 (so far): 896
Animals adopted from the shelter
2016 (so far): 113
Cats in the new trap, neuter and release program
SOURCE: Johnson County Animal Control