Going the extra mile for lost animals
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Each year, animal control Officer Roy Hayward begins has a goal: Zero dogs get euthanized.
"If we have to reach for a needle, we feel like we've failed," said Mr. Hayward, speaking for himself and the other officers at South Hills Cooperative Animal Control.
The agency provides animal control services to eight South Hills communities: Mt. Lebanon, Castle Shannon, Green Tree, Dormont, Heidelberg, Scott, Upper St. Clair and Whitehall. Mt. Lebanon Police Department administers the program, and the communities are billed based on the services provided.
A project originated by the cooperative's four animal control officers is helping to keep animals alive.
Pet Find Project provides a process to identify lost dogs and cats and reunite them with their owners or find a shelter that will make the animal available for adoption if the owner is not located.
Last year, two dogs in the possession of the cooperative were euthanized, one by court order. But none have had to be euthanized so far this year.
Cats are more difficult than dogs because there are more of them and they often are "feral," or wild. The cooperative, however, tries to find cat owners, too, or get lost cats adopted, Mr. Hayward said.
The group's kennel, called Clair's Kennel, is behind the Upper St. Clair Municipal Building on McLaughlin Road. It holds five dogs and two cats.
The animal control officers keep a log of stray animals that are brought to Clair's, and the animals are scanned with a device to check whether they have a microchip imbedded under their skin that contains owner information.
The officers also notify Allegheny County's 911 center. Many times, the county dispatchers are able to find the owner based on a call that has been made to the dispatch center, Mr. Hayward said.
If an animal doesn't have a microchip or isn't wearing tags, the officers post the animal's picture on www.telephonepole.org, a website for lost and found pets.
After 48 hours, if the owner is not located, the information and photo of the "new guest" -- as Mr. Hayward refers to them -- is forwarded by email to the eight communities, several veterinarian offices and local shelters, which in turn send the information to their lists of supporters or post them on municipal websites.
Mr. Hayward estimated that as many as 10,000 emails can be generated through the process.
If the animal is not claimed within 48 hours, the cooperative has the right to euthanize it. But with the expanded communication through the Pet Find Project, that happens less often.
"The first 48 hours we are there for the owners, and after that, we are worried about the well-being of the animal. If it's adoptable, our main goal at that point is to turn the animal over to a shelter," Mr. Hayward said.
The cooperative will keep the animals at Claire's, if it has space, for up to 10 days.
Miriam McCormick of Animal Friends in Ohio Township receives weekly emails from the cooperative.
"If he has a dog for longer than 48 hours, we make arrangements for the animal to come here, get a physical and behavior evaluation, and if the animal is healthy, we make it available for adoption," Ms. McCormick said.
South Hills cooperative officers also communicate with neighboring communities that have private animal control agencies to locate owners of pets that have "crossed over" from one community to another.
Peggy Buckley of Brookline, who has been involved in animal rescue for 34 years, is on the Pet Find email list, and she forwards the information to those on her own list.
She recalled that the officers helped her locate the owners of a lost collie during the winter two years ago.
"They do the best they can to find the owners," she said. "You can call them, talk to them and ask for their help. This South Hills Animal Control should be the model for all."
In addition to handling dogs and cats, the officers at the cooperative remove dead animals and deal with nuisance animals, such as raccoons, opossums and other wildlife.
Mr. Hayward has some advice for pet owners.
"We believe the microchip is the best thing ... the dog can't slip out or chew it," he said.
He also urges pet owners to know what agencies are out there. Some municipalities hold animals in the community. Most towns have a nonemergency phone number that rings into 911 to notify the authorities of a lost pet. He also suggests notifying the shelters in the region -- the Humane Society, Animal Friends and the Animal Rescue League.
Mr. Hayward urges individuals who find a stray dog or cat to consider what could happen if they take it in.
He recalls several incidences when drivers coaxed a stray dog or cat into their car, for example, and then had to leave the vehicle when the animal became aggressive.
Those who find a stray should communicate with agencies in their community, he said.
"If you take it out of the area, you decrease the odds of getting it back to its owners," he said.
Working with Mr. Hayward at the cooperative are animal control officers Tony Capozzli, Don Cooley and Dave Lehman. The officers have three vehicles and work seven days a week, including holidays. About 100 to 150 dogs stay in the kennel at least 24 hours each year.
The communities that are part of South Hills Cooperative Animal Control have different procedures for reporting lost or stray animals.
In Mt. Lebanon, Dormont, Castle Shannon, Green Tree, Heidelberg and Scott, strays should be reported to 412-279-6911, the county nonemergency number.
In Upper St. Clair and Whitehall, callers should contact those local police departments.
First Published October 11, 2012 5:01 am