This week, Hill Country Breaking News had the opportunity to sit down with Kerr County Animal Services Director, Reagan Givens and Kerr County Commissioner, Precinct 3 Jonathan Letz. During this meeting, HCBN asked questions important to the public. Mr. Givens and Mr. Letz gave their answers to these questions.
HCBN: Mr. Givens, how long have you been working with Animal Services?
Mr. Givens: I have been with Kerr County since 2011 but our departments merged in 2014.
HCBN: What made you want to be involved with Animal Services?
Mr. Givens: It’s been a good experience for me. It’s rewarding working with animals. What we do in keeping the community safe from the rabies virus and animal control is a rewarding career.
Commissioner Letz: A little bit on the background of the formation. The Commissioners combined the departments a while back. Environmental services, OSSF, septic tanks, solid waste and animal services, altogether. Last year we decided it would be better to split it up again. It seemed disjointed a little bit. Reagan was a constable and did a lot of work with Animal Services. The former director left and the Commissioners Court felt that Reagan was the best choice to take over the managerial position of Animal Services.
Mr. Givens: I gained a lot of knowledge during that time.
Commissioner Letz: This is Reagan’s first managerial position. The way Commissioners are set up, they have a liaison or a couple of liaisons that work very closely with department heads and I am one of the liaisons for Animal Services. So we encourage training, we help them along with any questions. We’re kind of the first line of interactions.
HCBN: Mr. Givens, do you enjoy your job?
Mr. Givens: Absolutely.
HCBN: With Animal Services, are there any changes that you would like to see in the future?
Mr. Givens: The community’s involvement. I would like to get to the point where we have more education going out. Maybe do some more stuff at the schools. Getting everyone to understand what we do and why we do it. Were in a constant state of public education. Every call an officer goes on, they educate that individual with whatever they are specifically dealing with.
Commissioner Letz: Another thing, this year, January 1, we changed the responsibilities of the department a great deal through the interlocal agreement city of Kerrville. The county agreed to give full animal services to the city. We’ve done it before but not on a 24-hour basis. It was more on call, at night, like we did with the rest of the county. I voted for the agreement as long as there was a provision to relook at it, which we are doing right now. That agreement we went from working with 3 animal control officers, 5 days a week and having officers on call the rest of the time, to having 5 officers 24/7. That change has, during the day, reduced the number of officers to 2 per day Monday- Friday. That agreement has really hurt our flexibility.
Commissioner Letz: We have had questions recently, ‘Why can’t you be open on Saturday?’ A lot of it is a staffing issue right now. To be open, we have to have 2 people there. Our current budget does not allow it. A lot of people ask me, ‘Why can’t we make these changes?’ Unfortunately, government moves very slowly. Reagan’s hands are tied on the current budget. We cant change the budget once we set it up and that’s actually the process, right now. So Reagan is fixed with what staffing he has, under a local agreement with the city of Kerrville. We have to be on call 24/7 with animal control officers. That means we have a lot less flexibility on education, and a lot less time we have for adoptions and events. So it’s really caused a problem, in my mind. We are beginning negotiations with the city on revising the agreement. I think the Commissioners Court, as a whole, feels that we would like to get more personnel available during the 8-5, including part of Saturdays and we would like to enhance the adoption side. We can’t make the changes until October 1. I think there will be a lot of changes in October but right now Reagan nor the Commissioners Court has the authority to make changes, financially.
Commissioner Letz: The budget issue is a slow process and people get frustrated that we can’t seem to make significant changes on how we operate but it all comes down to personnel. Reagan is looking at a lot of different staffing solutions and we’re talking with the city of Kerrville about it but it just takes time to get there.
Mr. Givens: And we want to provide the best service possible to the city of Kerrville and the county residences. That’s big.
Commissioner Letz: For an example, we get compared to Kendall County a lot. Which a good comparison, we’re close to them. Kendall County does not do the city of Boerne, at all. Their county is probably, geographically 30% smaller and their population is about 30% less. They have a larger staff than we do. We would love to be like Kendall County but today we aren’t. But I would like to get there.
Commissioner Letz: We have known for some time that our current facility is not adequate. Reagan doesn’t even have an office there. All 5 officers have a small shared office. I think we need a new facility but facilities take money. We’re doing a lot but it appears that we aren’t because it’s a slow process.
HCBN: What does animal services offer to each animal that comes through the doors?
Mr. Givens: Food, water, shelter, and any vet care that we deem that they need. If they come in and they are in pain or have a visible injury or something like that, then we provide vet care for them. We can’t have every animal that comes in be checked out by a vet.
HCBN: What is the adoption/fostering process?
Mr. Givens: You can adopt here from any county. We don’t allow fostering unless you live in Kerr County. We’ve run into some problems before where people have fostered animals that don’t live in the county and if we don’t ever hear back from them. They are harder to track down to make sure those animals are taken care of. We don’t do any type of home inspections, we don’t have the staffing for that. Basically, the criteria really is a drivers license because we have to be able to identify you. There are certain requirements such as vaccinations, sterilization, registration and we want to make sure you follow through with that.
HCBN: What would you say to those who feel you aren’t adequately organized?
Mr. Givens: So when someone calls in to ask about a specific animal, it’s hard for the front desk person to go check for that specific animal because we don’t really know what animal you may be talking about. We do go back and check and try to give the correct answer but we always recommend that people come in and check to see with their own eyes. We don’t want to make a mistake like that. Sometimes it’s very busy in there and our officers are usually busy with other issues. So we just tell people to come in because we want you to come in and visually verify that.
Commissioner Letz: The staffing is so tight out there. We don’t have the flexibility or personnel to check individual animals asked about over the phone. The primary concern of our officers is public safety. Rabies control and public safety is our number one priority.
Mr. Givens: We don’t just deal with dogs and cats. A lot of our calls are about trapped animals. Skunks, possums, raccoons, armadillos, trapped overnight. They call us, our officers take these calls and we try to get these animals out as fast as possible and at the same time people are calling about loose dogs, bites, so our officers stay busy throughout the day.
HCBN: When you catch an armadillo, or skunk, or any other wild animal, what do you do with it?
Mr. Givens: They are moved to another location away from houses and residents and released unless they are displaying any signs of rabies or anything like that, then they are taken for testing.
HCBN: When they shelter gets full, do you lower or waive the adoption fee?
Mr. Givens: We don’t because when people pay that $45 fee, they get a voucher to go to a vet of their choice to get it vaccinated and alter but if we were to waive that fee, the vet would still send us a bill so that $45 is what covers that. If we waive that fee it would be costing us.
Commissioner Letz: And it’s against the law. It’s illegal for the county to spend any public funds on an individual. If you adopt a dog, it’s your dog and we can’t spend money on it. The laws are very strict for using public funds for private purposes.
HCBN: We have gotten reports about KCAS selling euthanized cats to testing facilities, please explain.
Commissioner Letz: A while back, the former manager had a request come in from a lab that does medical testing. They use cats that have been euthanized for medical students and veterinary student for testing. For handling and time, we charged a small fee. The Commissioners Court said this is a great thing. We are helping. An animal that was going to be euthanized anyway, it now has a purpose. Instead of the animal ending up in the landfill, I think it’s much better to get some beneficial use to the public, that’s a positive. We have always felt, as a Commissioners Court, that is a great program. We never euthanize an animal for them to get it. It’s not about making money. The drug to euthanize probably cost more than the amount we are getting and it’s better than an animal ending up in the landfill.
HCBN: How long do you guys hold an animal before euthanizing it?
Mr. Givens: There isn’t really a set time for that. When we get a stray in, cat or dog, we hold them for 48 hours during the business week. Let’s say we get a dog in at 11 AM on a Friday, we don’t allow anyone to adopt or euthanize it until Tuesday. There is no expiration date or time limit. That dog or cat could be in there for a number of months. The only time we euthanize is when we are limited on space. At that point, anything that hasn’t been adopted, been there the longest, that we couldn’t get it out of the facility would be humanely euthanized. It would just be enough to make the necessary room. There is no set amount of time. There is a big misconception that if the “hold” is over, we’re going to euthanize. That hold is just to give the owner time to come in and claim the animal. We also don’t count the weekend during the hold period. We hold them as long as we can until we can’t anymore.
HCBN: About how often does the shelter get full? I know recently it was.
Mr. Givens: Recently, it was full but we were able to get a lot of animals out. Kendall County actually came and got between 5 and 10 dogs from us and took them to their adoption event. The animals holds were up and they were ready to be adopted.
Commissioner Letz: In the first 6 months of 2018, 18 dogs were euthanized. It’s not like we’re euthanizing a ton of animals. Some of these dogs could have been rabies issues, had medical issues, or were hit by a car. Those animals are included in that. Maybe 1 to 2 a month, is that too many? Yes, we would like it to be zero. We go a month without euthanizing dogs.
HCBN: The perception is that twice a week, every week, you guys are in there euthanizing animals.
Mr. Givens: That time is also used to clean the facility. Everything is sterilized, as soon as the animal comes out of an enclosure, that space is cleaned thoroughly before another animal is placed in there.
Commissioner Letz: There are a lot of feral cats in the area. A feral cat is essentially a wild animal. You can’t tame a feral cat unless you start when they are very young. The vast majority of the cats that are euthanized are feral cats. The number of euthanized cats for the first 6 months is 106. Which is still not a huge number.
Mr. Givens: Most of the feral cats we receive are from the public trapping them. Then they call us and want us to do something with them so we have to take them. So when we take them, we hold them for 48 hours, as well. Some cats, when trapped, act wild so that 48 hours gives them a chance to calm down and then we can observe them. If they have calmed down and appear to be domesticated, they are moved to the friendly cat room. With feral cats, it comes down to a safety issue. When they come in wild, you can’t hold and handle them. It’s hard on the animal. If we get full, there are certain incidences that I authorize to euthanize them when it is obviously feral and we have no room to put them. It’s a difficult thing with feral cats, you cant clean their cages. Within 2 days, domesticated cats calm down and it’s obvious they aren’t feral cats.
HCBN: What do you do with ‘tipped ear’ cats?
Mr. Givens: I don’t know how many tipped ear cats we get in. Most tipped ear cats are feral. It’s my understanding that The Bix Fix’s funding got cut so they stopped coming in the get the wild ones. If we have a friendly one, they are called. It’s up to them whether they come to get them. They go through the same process as every other cat.
HCBN: Do yall scan every animal that comes in for a microchip?
Mr. Givens: Yes, but with feral cats, we can’t always do so. We can’t get close to them.
HCBN: Say a cat has calmed down, then would you scan them?
Mr. Givens: Yes, when they are moved to the friendly cat room they are scanned. They may be there a couple of days before they are scanned but when they calm down we will scan them.
HCBN: Is there a record, say online, of the animals you have scanned?
Mr. Givens: No, there is not. It’s a specific case by case. Every call we go on there is an Action Report filled out. When a call or email comes in there is an action report filled out for them. So when the animal is scanned, that information will go on the action report. So yes, there is a public record of it but it’s a case by case basis for if that animal had a chip. Most of the animals that come in are not chipped. Also, not every piece of technology is accurate and we are human beings, we can make mistakes. Everything is scanned but I’m not going to sit here and tell you that I know the specifics of how the scanner picks up. Is there a chance we can miss a microchip? Absolutely. Those chips move, over time the chip drops. We have actually found a chip all the way by the chest.
HCBN: How many cases of parvo have yall had in the last 6 months?
Mr. Givens: There were a couple of puppies that ended up having confirmed parvo after they have left the facility. The puppies were brought to us and there is no way of knowing what they have but they did not get it from our facility. We always recommend the person taking responsibility for the puppy to take the puppy to the vet to get it checked out for any medical issues.
HCBN: You have mentioned in comments in the past that you would like to add an adoption coordinator, are you planning to ask for that salary in the future?
Commissioner Letz: I think the plan is to add a position in agreement to the city of Kerrville and overall budget funding. The public needs to be involved in our budget process. If the public thinks it is important, they are should come to tell us at the budget hearings. The more we hear, the more likely something could get funded. Currently, it is in the budget plan though.
HCBN: You say more people need to be involved. How many people, on average, would you say are physically involved?
Commissioner Letz: I would say zero. When we are doing the budget for animal services, the people need to be there. Come and be respectful and polite. We want to fund everything but we have to prioritize. If people are there representing more budgeting for animal services, we will hear it.
HCBN: What was the feedback from the recent open house event in April, held by KCAS?
Mr. Givens: It went well. We didn’t get the number of animals adopted that I was hoping for but everything went great. We had a good turnout. We had lots of volunteers which I really appreciate. The dogs got a chance to get out and walked around. It went well but we are always wanting more to get adopted out.
HCBN: Do you have plans for any more events like that in the future?
Mr. Givens: Yes, we are trying to get to where we are doing more adoption events on Saturdays and stuff. Again, that’s just been kind of a staffing and training issue. There has been a lot of training going on so we are working on that right now.
Commissioner Letz: We want to improve the facility, our responsiveness, but it takes time. Reagan has to work within a tight budget and we are trying to plan for the future. Our next budget hearing is coming up. People are welcome to come to any budget hearing.
HCBN: Are potential adopters screened for past abuse incidences?
Mr. Givens: No, that isn’t something we do. We would have to get with the Sheriff’s office for that. We do have a “do not adopt” list for anyone that we didn’t like what we saw on a call or someone who has had charges filed for abuse or abandoning animals.
HCBN would like to thank Mr. Givens and Commissioner Letz for taking time to meet with us. We truly appreciate it.