After Garfield County cuts funding, Rifle Animal Shelter looks to stretch funding
Rifle Animal Shelter Executive Director Heather Grant was asked her thoughts on the cut.
“It was hard to take, because animal welfare is our mission,” she said. “I understand the predicament Garfield County and the sheriff’s department are under. I mean, there’s not enough funding. But I think to completely eliminate the program, it wouldn’t have been the choice I would’ve made… It’s a big risk for our community.”
Garfield County Commissioners on Dec. 7 officially finalized the complete cut of the county’s animal control program. The program had served county residents for 17 years. This means there will be no county agents to track and capture loose pets, livestock and wildlife.
As of Sunday, the county no longer has anyone available to respond to the nearly 2,000 calls per year they regularly answer, according to the Garfield County Sheriff’s Office.
Instead, that responsibility will fall on municipalities, their law enforcers and their animal shelters — that is, if they have one.
“We think that we will see an increase in animal calls and an increase for requests for our services,” said Rifle Police Chief Tommy Klein. “People will be bringing animals to us, since that service is no longer available in the county.”
Garfield County Sheriff Lou Vallario was faced with the tough decision when commissioners told him he needed to cut upwards of $1.04 million from the sheriff’s office 2021 budget.
“He has to make cuts, there’s no doubt about it,” Klein said. “It’s a hard decision. I’m glad I don’t have to make that decision, but I know that it’s a much used, needed service.”
Unlike corrections, investigative and patrol services,, state statute does not require a county sheriff to offer animal control services. That’s why the service — which makes up about $500,000 of the sheriff’s $20 million budget – was eliminated, Vallario said. Now, the sheriff’s department and county will not be responding to certain calls for animal assistance.
“We handle a lot of wildlife calls, and those are going to have to be kicked to parks and wildlife,” Vallario said.
Vallario also acknowledged that eliminating the program, which provided vaccine clinics and vouchers for reduced neutering and spaying costs, could add to the county’s stray animal numbers.
“Hopefully, people won’t not get their animals spayed and neutered because they can’t get the money for the sheriff’s office or Garfield County,” he said. “So, we’re concerned about that.”
The sheriff’s office will:
• Handle calls involving dog bites
• Handle cases of “animal cruelty” etc.
• Work with other agencies in “emergency situations” to protect the health and safety of the public where an immediate threat or danger exists, such as large animals on the Interstate etc.
The sheriff’s office will not:
• Handle lost/found pets
• Trap stray animals, feral cats, etc.
• Provide assistance to spay, neuter, or fund required vaccinations etc.
• Transport animals to either the Rifle Animal Shelter, CARE or any other Animal Shelter.
• Collect or corral wandering livestock.
In addition, the release states, all wildlife calls should go directly to CPW through the Colorado State Patrol Dispatch.
“Livestock related calls wandering cows, goats, horses, etc., should be referred to the brand inspector,” the release states. “If an individual picks up an animal or rescues a stray, they should be prepared to take that animal to an animal shelter.”
The Rifle Animal Shelter and Colorado Animal Rescue shelter in Glenwood Springs still have contracts with the county, said Grant. For this year, the Rifle shelter received a $50,000 grant from the county to help support the organization.
However, Grant said that they’re stretching that money out as best as possible. The shelter, which fostered 1,972 animals last year, will likely see more residents bring in stray animals.
“There’s no agents picking up animals, getting them to owners,” she said. “We’ll be taking those animals and municipalities, they will have to pay for those animals.”
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Officer Haley Walker sat beside her stepmother in a windowless interrogation room just before starting the overnight shift on Thursday evening.