Kitty corner

By Gretchen Cochran

Conditions may soon improve for the lost and abused animals of Eaton County after the Board of Commissioners last week adopted a host of recommendations from a group that studied the animal shelter.

But the changes will be limited unless Eaton County Sheriff Mike Raines releases control of the shelter, says Judy Oisten, a member of the county’s Animal Control Task Force.

Raines, a Republican,
said this week that he’s been maligned for political reasons, and that
he’s doing the best he can with a shrinking budget.

At its
meeting last Wednesday, the Eaton County commissioners, which is
controlled by Democrats, adopted the task force’s recommendations,
including an external review of the Animal Control Shelter, which is in
Charlotte, the creation of an advisory board and allowing volunteers to
work at the shelter. Another recommendation suggested putting the
shelter directly under the control of the county commissioners, rather
than the sheriff ’s, which would be similar to Ingham County’s

Raines said he would cooperate with such a
change. But he added that if the shelter were taken out of his control,
so would the legal powers of animal control officers.

"It is only at my discretion that any person is sworn in as a special deputy in Eaton County,” he told the commissioners.

I would have no control over the employees working for Animal Control,
I would be forced to rescind their special deputy status." Animal
control officers need the authority of the law, said Capt. Robert
Wessels of the Eaton County Sheriff ’s Department.

example, removing a vicious dog from its owner can be a difficult event
requiring legal backing. The county’s Public Safety Committee will take
up the sheriff ’s animal control role at its Dec. 4 meeting.

more than a year, members of the Friends of Ingham County Animal
Shelter and others have been trying to guide the Eaton County facility
toward what they call more humane practices. Foremost in the group’s
concerns was that the shelter was selling dogs and cats to researchers
and breeders. In 2007, 164 dogs and 69 cats went to researchers,
according to, an animal activism blog. The Friends
mobilized animal rights activists from Lansing to Charlotte last May
and convinced the sheriff to terminate the practice.

Raines said that he had objected to the practice when the county commissioners began the practice as a moneymaking venture.

further concerns voiced by the volunteers led the county commissioners
to convene the task force. Despite the ongoing policy ping-pong,
members of the Friends of the Ingham County Animal Shelter made a
friendmaking gesture Nov. 14, delivering 24 dog beds and announcing
arrangements for delivery of 2,400 pounds of cat litter.

Raines in the past has denied access to volunteers, fearing the
practice would interfere with union contracts, he said. Topping the
task force’s list was an external review of the department’s operations
and facilities. Raines said he couldn’t afford such a study. Several
recommendations involved mechanisms for increasing adoptions, including
extending shelter hours past 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. weekdays (which staffing
cuts won’t allow, Raines said), and providing Internet options for
those seeking their lost pets (which has been done). Of 734 incoming
dogs, 263 were returned to owners, but 126 were killed in 2007,
MichiganAnimals reported. Cats fared worse: Of 957 that came to the
shelter, 682 were killed.

In their research, the volunteers
noted that dogs slept on cold floors and cats were given shredded
newspaper in the corners of their cages for elimination.

cat litter and dog beds will improve conditions for the shelter’s
animals said Holly Souve, one of the donors and a volunteer at the
Ingham County Animal Shelter.

"The dogs had no beds, no
blankies, nothing" to ease their stay, she said. Larry Green, the Eaton
County shelter director, received the beds and litter graciously, Souve
said. Further, she emphasized that her surprise visit revealed a
spotless animal area. Green did not return calls for comment, but
Wessels said the staff was trying to be "green" by using shredded
paper, and in fact, feral cats preferred the paper to kitty litter.

hope is that Green and Raines will say to themselves, ’Hey, volunteers
aren’t so bad’," Souve said. "And now, some doggies are sleeping