In response to public pressure, McKeesport council voted this month to replace its animal control service provider of 15 years, Ferree Kennels. The council voted to hire Triangle Pet Control at a higher cost.
A number of people had become vocal critics of the current dog catcher. Ken Ferree, complaining that he mistreated stray animals while capturing them and routinely destroyed some dogs and cats at his McKeesport-based kennels, using a method of euthanasia involving carbon monoxide that they say is inhumane.
Mr. Ferree confirmed that he used carbon monoxide for euthanasia but denied it is inhumane and noted that it is legal in Pennsylvania.
Asked about mistreating strays he said, "We do what the law allows us and permits us to do to apprehend a dog."
Mr. Ferree said his losing the contract was the result of "slanderous accusations that [have been] thrown about by this poisonous pet brigade" and his refusal to bow to pressure from city officials,
Critics of the dogcatcher presented the council with a petition this fall containing almost 1,200 signatures asking that the city hire a new animal control agency when Mr. Ferree's contract expires at the end of the year.
At a meeting two weeks ago, McKeesport Mayor Jim Brewster announced that the city would hire the McKees Rocks-based Triangle Pet Control at a cost of $800 a month, rather than rehire Mr. Ferree, who charged $600 a month. Mr. Brewster said the decision was made with the interests of the public and animals in mind.
"We bid the contract out every year," Mr. Brewster said. "We had a number of issues that surfaced that we were not able to resolve amicably with the current provider, so we went with another provider."
Carolyn Leitzell, of Versailles, one of the dog catcher's critics who helped organize the petition, said she supported the action.
Ms. Leitzell is in the process of forming an animal advocacy group called Paws-itively for Dogs/Cats, Etc. to promote state animal law reform issues and find homes for lost and stray animals in the Mon Valley.
"I'm glad Jim Brewster took a stand," she said, "I'd like to applaud him and council."
Ms. Leitzell believes animals that have to be destroyed will get better treatment at the hands of agents from Triangle Pet.
Triangle Pet injects animals with a euthanasia drug when they have to be destroyed and never has used carbon monoxide, according to the company.
The method used at Ferree Kennels, whereby animals in an airtight chamber are asphyxiated by carbon monoxide exhaust from a connected gas engine, is antiquated and should be made illegal in Pennsylvania, Ms. Leitzell said.
Mr. Ferree defended the carbon monoxide method of euthanasia for its legality, effectiveness and cost-efficiency.
"It's an approved system," he said. As to people who would protest, he said, "Don't kill the messenger. Go back to the laws and have them repealed.
"This is an approved method that's used by people who commit suicide," Mr. Ferree said, noting that some people kill themselves by shutting themselves in a garage with a running automobile engine until the fumes overtake them.
He said going to an injection method of animal euthanasia would be more expensive and would increase his operating costs to the point where he couldn't afford to stay in business.
Mr. Ferree said that, on some occasions, city officials had asked him to return collection fees he rightfully earned capturing animals after the owners of the pets complained.
He was skeptical that Triangle Pet Control, which is based in McKees Rocks, would be able to respond to incidents involving attacks by vicious animals on humans as quickly as he has been able to from his base in McKeesport.
Triangle Pet Control President Bernie Dudash said response time wouldn't be an issue as the company, which operates in 70 communities in Allegheny, Beaver and Washington counties, has five trucks on the road at all times.
Mr. Ferree said losing the contract with McKeesport would allow him to offer better service to the 30 communities in the Mon Valley that employ him.
Eric Slagle is a freelance writer.