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Without a formal institution to address animal control, the job is left up to citizens, police officers and the Internet

PMG FILE PHOTO - Stray dogs found in Newberg can end up at the local animal shelter and can be put up for adoption.

If you live in Newberg and go on Facebook, you've seen posts like this in local citizens' groups before: "Dog found on (insert road name here), no collar, no tag, seems friendly." The ensuing comments and shares on the photo typically become a desperate search to find the pup's owner, until eventually someone comes forward.

Those posts are an almost daily occurrence in Newberg and Yamhill County, but it wasn't always this way. Up until a few years ago, formal institutions existed on a local level with the sole job of conducting animal control services. That is no longer the case.

The job is now left to local police officers as an extension of their other duties, along with concerned citizens and volunteers that often communicate online.

Newberg Animal Shelter at the center of a whirlwind

Five years ago, the Newberg Animal Shelter on Sandoz Road was completed to take in stray animals found locally. A volunteer group called Newberg Animal Shelter Friends helped fundraise for the building and patrolled the kennel-filled halls, working with an animal control officer hired by the city of Newberg to manage animal control operations out of the shelter.

But budget cuts at the city led to the elimination of a dedicated animal control officer at the Newberg-Dundee Police Department. At the time, shelter president Rick Lipinski and other members of the animal shelter friends took over management of the shelter under the impression that issues of animal control would be handled by Yamhill County while they focused primarily on animal adoptions.

That lasted for about 18 months, Lipinski said, before the county cut its animal control program as well.

"That left us with volunteer citizens responsible for posting online about lost and found animals, trying to corral them and sometimes bringing them to us," he said. "Since then, we have done our best to take care of the strays that the police department brings to us and the ones citizens do."

Local police officers still conduct animal control operations in Newberg, but there isn't a dedicated, trained person to do the job. Officers often have to pick up animals or answer noise complaints in addition to their other duties serving the community.

While the animal shelter now owns its own building outright, the city still works in conjunction with shelter employees and volunteers when a stray is found.

"We have a kennel at the animal shelter dedicated to the city that is open to them 24 hours a day, seven days a week," Lipinski said. "That is one kennel with a five-day hold period for owners to come forward, and if that doesn't happen we or another shelter can end up with that animal. We do the best we can to adopt them out in those cases."

Citizens play an important role

Police aren't always called about every lost or injured animal, and logistically they can't handle them all. Much of the action involving animal control in Newberg is undertaken by citizens who post on local lost dog Facebook groups or citizens' information pages. Some people have taken it upon themselves to dedicate volunteer hours to the endeavor, scouring the area for lost or wayward animals.

The new system – or lack thereof – isn't reliable, Lipinski said. Without an official animal control presence at the county or city level, people aren't sure where to turn when they lose their dog or find one wandering in their neighborhood.

Volunteers can become overzealous in their efforts to save animals, too, causing friction that can devolve into legal disputes.

"God bless the volunteers who do their best to help re-home animals, but a volunteer is just that," Lipinski said. "Sometimes things slip through the cracks or conflicts occur about ownership or otherwise, and the animals themselves are property so there needs to be a mediating party in place that can help sort this out. For police to have to step in is a byproduct of this whole situation."

The animal shelter reports a steady increase in the number of strays over the past few years. That is partly due to Newberg's growth as a community, but Lipinski said a lack of animal control might play a factor in the increase as well.

'People just don't know who to call'

If someone in Newberg finds a lost or injured animal, they are encouraged to call the NDPD's non-emergency number at 503-538-8321. Most people don't know that, Lipinski said, and the shelter is often inundated with calls from people asking what they should do.

Lipinski said people are also generally unaware of the various restrictions in place, such as the fact that the Newberg Animal Shelter can't take a lost animal unless it is found within city limits.

If a formal institution existed on the county or city level, these issues might not be bubbling up as they currently are, he said.

"I would like to see a little more cooperation between the city, county and all the stakeholders in this," Lipinski said. "If there was a line of communication between all these parties for various situations, things would run a lot smoother. We just need to sit down together and hash something out, because people just don't know who to call."

With no animal control apparatus at the county to keep track of things, it is up to local police to enforce licensing laws along with animal control duties that go beyond just picking up a lost puppy on the side of the road. When an animal is found in Yamhill County, but is from another county, or vice versa, the lack of institution locally can make it difficult for the stakeholders involved to follow proper protocol.

There is undoubtedly a vacuum in animal control that is being filled with concerned citizens and police officers with plenty of other duties on their plates. Right now, Facebook feeds flooded with photos of lost animals are proof it isn't working, Lipinski noted.

"With the present situation, one of my biggest concerns is the lack of enforcement," Lipinski said. "There are a lot of people who don't bother to license or vaccinate their dogs because there isn't really that enforcement aspect of animal control, and the potential issue down the road could be one of public health. There are a lot of factors at play here."

If an animal is deemed dangerous or is attacking someone, citizens should call 9-1-1.

If you are someone looking for a lost animal in the area, visit the Facebook pages for the Newberg-Dundee Citizens Info Group, Lost and Found Pets of Yamhill County, and Lost and Found Pets of Newberg-Dundee. If you are interested in adopting a dog or cat, visit the Newberg Animal Shelter website at www.newberganimals.com.


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