Kyle Troutman: Civil and reasoned debate needed in Cassville dog issue
In certain instances, an unfortunate incident can open up people's eyes to a problem that has been staring them the face for years, leading to a call to action.
This was the case for Cassville resident Tracy Youngblood recently, whose chihuahua, Molly, was severely injured in an unprovoked attacked by a pit bull owned by the family of Cindy Carr, Cassville councilwoman. Due to the extent of the injuries, Youngblood opted to put Molly down, citing ongoing suffering and a drastic diminishing of Molly's quality of life. Such a decision is not easy for any dog owner.
Since the Cassville Democrat reported the incident, and the initiation of Youngblood's campaign to get a leash law in Cassville, emotions have run high.
Those calling for Carr's resignation from the council are misguided. Carr and her family deserve credit for owning up to the incident, paying Youngblood's vet bill and sincerely apologizing. On the other side, Youngblood deserves credit for being understanding about the matter and opting to push for positive change instead of threatening legal action.
To both sides directly involved -- kudos. They have each shown the small-town kindness and humanity that make Cassville great.
However, as Youngblood has indicated, burying our heads in the sand about the dog issue in Cassville does nothing to solve the larger problem, which includes stray dogs and loose dogs running free across the city.
Carr did not cause the dog problem in Cassville, but her now first-hand experience with it is an opportunity to push for change, and what better place to implement change than from a city council seat.
Youngblood, eloquently and with great respect for Carr following such an incident, addressed the city council last week, saying that according to her research, the leash law conversation has been brought before the council 12 times in the last 10 years. Funding and enforcement have been the roadblocks to any new ordinances in the past, and early indications are that the same issues will be problems again.
In an interview with a TV news station that ran a story after the Cassville Democrat article came out, Carr said, "We can't spend millions of tax dollars just because of this one incident."
While initiating animal control in Cassville will certainly not be chump change, spending even $1 million would be excessive.
The city of Monett has a full-time animal control officer. He earns a salary of $30,480, and another $12,386 is spent on benefits. A division of the city's police department, the budget for animal control is $17,500 for the year, which pays for food, water and building maintenance. But, City Administrator Dennis Pyle said there's no reason for it to be that high, as the city averages only about $8,000 in expenses annually.
On the more expensive side of animal control are the facilities and equipment. Monett is in the beginning stages of building a $150,000 facility to house animals, and between $130,000 and $140,000 of that cost has already been raised through donations. The animal control truck, including the box needed to transport animals, was purchased six years ago at a total cost of $28,988.
Add this all up, excluding private donations, and animal control initiation costs would run somewhere between $200,000 and $250,000.
The larger question monetarily revolves around strays. I have personally seen numerous dogs at large on the Greenway trail. If there is ever an instance where a stray dog bites, severely injures or -- God forbid -- kills a child, the cost of a lawsuit against the city would immediately total much more than the cost of implementing animal control.
After the flooding in July of last year, when the FEMA disaster team came to assess damages to homes, a loose dog on Fair Street followed the federal crew up and down the street. That dog was all bark and no bite, but the nuisance and unpredictability of the animal made me embarrassed for the city. That animal seemed to be owned by a resident living on Fair Street, and responsible ownership, like putting the animal on a leash, on a run or in a kennel, would have prevented it from harassing people who came to the city to help us.
As Youngblood told the city council last week, "What's right isn't always popular, and what's popular isn't always right."
Emotions surrounding this issue will taper off over time. Until then, a call for civility is in order, and this debate needs to be had.
Kyle Troutman is the editor of The Cassville Democrat. He can be reached at email@example.com, or 417-847-2610.