LEBANON, Ind. – After three years of work and planning, Boone County Sheriff Mike Nielsen will get his wish. County council members voted to add the role of animal control officer to the county's budget, which will begin working in January of 2018.
Right now, Nielsen's office has tabbed Deputy Hannah Fisher as the department's liaison for animal-related runs. Fisher will step down at the end of the year to become the official animal control officer for the county.
“Not only is it going to be an animal control position, I’ll still be a sworn officer who will have law enforcement capabilities," Fisher said. "It’s different than a lot of the other counties and other organizations. I can still enforce things. I can still make arrests but my biggest role will be responding to animal-related calls.”
Fisher had been tallying animal-related calls her department has made in recent years. It's on pace to surpass 1,000 for 2017. It was a little under the four-digit plateau last year.
Nielsen gave a lot of credit to Fisher for doing a lot of work and studying to help his staff with the issues, and thinks it will only help her in her new role next year.
"The particular challenge is that we have urban areas and rural areas in the county," said Nielsen. "There’s a whole mix of different types of calls we deal with and I don’t think we’ve done a good job with handling those calls.”
Fisher will be in a vehicle marked for Boone County animal control. Animals she picks up would go to the Humane Society for Boone County which recently purchased a building to house animals, and is working to make more animals fit into that space.
“We should be able to have 17 to 19 dogs and cats, it just depends on how many of those critters can get along with each other," said Susan Austin, the Humane Society's director of animal welfare and fundraising.
Right now, animals taken in have to go to foster families that are tied to the Humane Society.
"If we didn’t have the building, we would have no place for those animals to go," Austin said. "We will be able to have a place for animal control to bring an animal in and not be calling a volunteer at 3 am to respond to a crime scene to come pick up an animal.”
Austin said the Humane Society completely runs on donations and receives no government money, which will likely change for one moment.
Nielsen said Boone County officials, along with the City of Zionsville and the Town of Whitestown have all agreed to give $10,000 to the Humane Society to help with the additional number of animals coming through its doors. Nielsen also plans to talk to Lebanon officials about contributing, too.
“That’s $40,000 that we can use towards the Humane Society in any way that we need to investigate things or pay them to house animals, vaccinate animals," the sheriff said.
Fishers said the most of the issuing facing the sheriff's department right now mostly deals with loose animals - pets such as dogs and livestock, such as cows that escape their fence. She thinks that will change once she gets settled into her new role and animal safety will become the main focus of her job.
“With the development of this position, we are going to see that might have gone unreported starting to come to a head because people know there is a resource out there to handle it," Fisher said.
Fisher and Nielsen have also begun drafting new ordinances that pertain to animal protections in the county. While the two have been working on this for quite some time, news to why it could come in handy recently spread across the county. Earlier in September, a tortoise was shot and killed after escaping from its owner's home.
Fisher added that state laws protect typical house pets, but not all animals fall under those laws. She said with the variety of animals that live in the county, a new ordinance is needed at the local level to protect any kind of animal a Boone County resident owns.
“Ours is a little more open and inclusive basically saying, if you do live with humans or have then you’re a domesticated animal," said Fishers. “It won’t be the misdemeanor or felony crimes because those are states laws, but we’ll have infractions and we’ll have the ability to issue fines in violations of our county ordinances.”
The new ordinances, which according to the writers of the rough draft are already 10 pages long, would likely come to the desk of Boone County Commissioners within the next 30 days.