Commissioners, shelter discuss animal control and cruelty costs; filming at courthouse a no-go
The Sullivan County Commissioners continued to look into ways to reduce costs in cruelty-to-animal cases during its most recent monthly meeting.
At their previous meeting, county council president Duane Wampler expressed concern The Humane Society of Sullivan County had “used over $30,000 in just one current court case.”
He added that would use up the county’s annual shelter funding of $50,000 in a hurry.
Fast forward two weeks, shelter manager Tina Baker told the commissioners THSSC veterinarian Allen Lueking and his wife Shirley, a shelter board member, attended a conference recently on animal control in Indianapolis.
Baker also gave the commissioners a copy of an Indiana enforcement code for animal impoundment.
“Other counties kind of abide by this (Indiana) code,” Baker said. “And I’m not sure if it is up-to-date, but it is what we found.”
She mentioned two animals brought in from Dugger that have been in the shelter for six months for an investigation.
According to this code, Baker said these animal owners would be required to pay a bond within the first 10 days and every 30 days going forward for their costs of care
“If they are unable to pay that bond, then they would relinquish all rights to those animals,” she noted. “(The Luekings) just went to this conference … which led us to reading up on it. See if we can figure out where we can get these funds to take care of these animals while these cases are pending.”
Commissioners attorney Terry Modesitt said on a quick look at the code that evening, it appeared to be current as of 2017. He noted initial questions raised to him would be if these people don’t have the money to pay the bond, are elderly, have a mental health issue or drug problem.
Baker said Allen County uses this code, noting, if the bond is not paid, they relinquish their rights to the animals.
“So therefore we’re not there holding this animal for month, after month, after month and we could prep it for adoption,” she said. “Or if it’s injured, in pain or suffering, we have the right to euthanize it at that point.”
Modesitt said he would review the code to see if it is good law, adding he would also give the local judges a copy “and have them look at it.”
Baker went on to say the local shelter handled 151 cats and 224 dogs in 2018, for a total medical cost of about $32,000. She said there were 71 animal control calls in rural areas of the county, noting some of those were multiple callouts.
“We went to that home in Dugger three or four times, but that was all in one case number,” she said, adding the cost of the animal calls was $2,200.
Modesitt asked if the shelter tries to recoup costs from the court cases.
“We do file for restitution,” Baker replied. “We submit all of our court costs if it goes to court. All of our costs are kept on a spreadsheet we send to the prosecutor’s office … probably monthly.
“All of cases are now entered in our computer so they can be looked at to see how many times we went to a residence,” she added.
Commissioner Ray McCammon asked if $30,000 was a high number quoted in their previous meeting
Baker said yes, but noted the “Paxton case was over $22,000 and involved 47 animals.”
Earlier in the meeting, Modesitt said he had talked to Sullivan County Prosecutor Ann Mischler about the animal cases and their related expenses.
“One thing she posed was what do you do with them in the meantime with all the cases pending, the animals been neglected or abused and you can’t return them to the person that has charges pending against them,” he said. “She was going to look into some things and get back with me on it. She was very receptive to take a look to see if there were any alternatives.”
In other business:
• The commissioners denied an independent filmmaker’s request to film scenes of a movie inside the Sullivan County Courthouse.
In early March, Carmel-based Meleeka Clary had received the commissioners’ permission for filming, pending the local judges’ approval, for her upcoming movie “Three Corners of Deception.” The filming was planned for April 13 and 14.
Modesitt informed the commissioners that the two local judges, Superior Court Judge Hugh Hunt and Circuit Court Judge Robert Hunley, had talked with one of the Superior Court judges in Vigo County and found out a similar request had already been made up there to use their courthouse and it had been denied.
“They asked for an opinion from the (Indiana) Supreme Court and basically told them that there’s ethical considerations,” Modesitt said. “It would be an ethical violation. You should not allow courtrooms be used for filming a movie — the courtroom should be used for court only, not filming.”
McCammon restated his original motion to allow the filming was pending the local judges’ approval.
The commissioners voted 3-0 to deny the request and Modesitt said he would inform Clary of their decision.