Jessica Cejnar Andrews / Wednesday, Dec. 22, 2021 @ 2:44 p.m. / Animals, Community, Crime

Dogs Killing Cats in the Fort Dick Area As County Animal Control Remains Short Staffed

A pack of three dogs is responsible for killing at least five pet cats in the Fort Dick area, residents say.

But, while an officer has provided traps and is now working with residents to determine where the dogs come from, residents are frustrated with what they say has been a slow response from Del Norte County Animal Control.

Director Justin Riggs, who is also the county’s agricultural commissioner and sealer of weights and measures, says that slow response is due to a staffing shortage that’s been plaguing Animal Control for about eight years.

“We’re below 50 percent staffing, so that’s a real problem,” he told the Wild Rivers Outpost on Tuesday. “We’re lucky to get an officer in the field. Our animal control officer has to spend, in most cases, a majority of her time on animal care.”

Krystol Berry, who lives on Quail Lane, said her security cameras picked up footage of the dogs in her yard about four weeks ago. One is a large black “German shepherd-type dog,” and the other two may be Doberman mixes — they both have long tails and have dark and tan coats, she said. All three wore matching reflective harnesses, leading Berry to believe they belonged to the same person.

Berry said the dogs didn’t worry her until her neighbor found his cat dead the night after noticing large footprints in some wet paint near his garage roughly three weeks ago.

On Dec. 11, Berry’s security cameras captured the dogs on her porch harassing her cats. She said the dogs flushed both cats out of their bed and chased them off. The dogs returned three hours later and, though the cats weren’t around, tossed their bed and “threw everything around,” she said.

One cat came back home about two days later, Berry said. The other is still missing.

The dogs keep coming back, usually between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m., getting onto the porch, going to the corner where the cat bed was and sniffing around, she said.

They’ve also been spotted at homes on the east side of Lake Earl Drive near Kings Valley Road, Berry said.

“There are a few cats that have been missing that haven’t come back,” she told the Outpost on Tuesday. “A friend on Haley (Lane) behind Fort Dick Bible Church witnessed them coming onto their porch and saw them grabbing after their cat. They found the cat dead the next day on the side of the house.”

Berry said the dogs have killed five cats that she’s aware of — the latest death occurring Wednesday morning. There are at least five cats missing, she said.

Meanwhile, Berry says her experience with Animal Control, up until lately, had been unhelpful. She said she called last week and was told if she couldn’t tell them where the dogs came from, there wasn’t much they could do.

Berry said she asked them to send an officer to look around the neighborhood and to check the dog license database, pointing out that the dogs probably belong to the same owner.

According to Berry, Riggs told her Animal Control’s dog license database wouldn’t help narrow down who owns those dogs and even if it did, they’re probably not registered.

“It was frustrating,” Berry said. “And, again, my husband said, ‘If we don’t have any options, if we can’t catch them, either we’re going to have to shoot them or somebody else will end up shooting them. (Riggs) said, ‘Do what you got to do.’”

Berry said after multiple calls and requests for a trap to capture the dogs, the county’s Animal Control officer finally visited her home, bringing two traps.

“There’s a lot of dissatisfaction,” she said, adding that she’s posted security camera footage of the dogs on the Facebook page Crescent Critters… The Sequel and has posted flyers in her neighborhood. “Everybody’s saying call Animal Control. I did and they won’t do anything. And that reflects poorly on the officer and the kennel assistant, and it shouldn’t reflect on them if it’s not their decision. I don’t want them looking like bad guys if their hands are tied.”

When dogs are running around a neighborhood and no one knows where they come from, solving that problem is difficult for Animal Control, Riggs said. If an officer patrols the area, the likelihood they’ll find the dogs is remote, he said, speaking from experience.

Animal Control is previewing software that would allow dog licenses to be searched by breed and by neighborhood, Riggs said. But if an owner is allowing his animals to run loose, they’re probably not registered with the county, he told the Outpost.

Meanwhile, the assistant department head position has been vacant for years, Riggs said. The county has been actively recruiting for that position for months, but since it requires a science degree and nine professional licenses, finding someone locally isn’t likely to happen, he said.

Del Norte County is also recruiting for part-time help to staff the animal shelter — Riggs said he’s already selected two candidates.

“We should be bringing those people on board, which will help quite a bit in freeing up our officer’s time to get out to the field,” he said.

Riggs said he’s also hoping to convert the assistant department head position into a management position that oversees his department’s animal services division.

“I’m the only manager in the department and it’s not remotely sustainable,” he said.

According to Riggs, many rural animal control agencies only have an officer or two to respond to calls. They often rely on law enforcement to fill the Animal Control role. In Del Norte County, that means working with the sheriff’s office, Riggs said.

“We work with them a lot of times serving warrants or if we need to seize an animal or conduct an inspection related to neglect or abuse,” he said. “We certain do come to accident scenes or if someone is deceased and they need a dog removed. We just don’t have the people to provide that assistance tot hem 24-7, but we do our best.”

On Wednesday, Berry told the Outpost that the dogs had visited her home overnight again, but evaded the traps she set out. They also went to a home on Hillcrest Drive and killed a cat on its porch, she said.

Berry said she’s sent letters to the Del Norte County Board of Supervisors and got a response from District 4 Supervisor Gerry Hemmingsen and District 2 Supervisor Valerie Starkey, who said she’d be in touch after the holiday.

Berry said she’d likely follow up with their colleagues later this week. On Facebook, she urged her neighbors to contact county supervisors as well.

“At this point it’s just wait and see if they get trapped and if they do, Animal Control will pick them up,” Berry told the Outpost. “Anybody that’s affected by this, Animal Control asked them to come by the office and file a complaint. They need as much against (the owners) as possible to charge them with whatever.”

Recently, however, Berry has noticed that the dogs were missing their reflective harnesses. Since the flyers she has posted in her neighborhood show the animals wearing those harnesses, she said it’s odd that they weren’t wearing them during the most recent visit.

“I don’t want to think the owners know and don’t care, but it doesn’t look good,” she said.


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