REGION — With the Cochise County’s five animal control officers sometimes traveling over 85 miles one way to transport abandoned, abused or stray animals to a shelter, the Sheriff’s Office is pushing for a new county facility.
At the moment, animal control officers — who work under the Cochise County Sheriff’s Office — must take their charges to the shelters in either Douglas or Willcox, said Sheriff’s spokeswoman Carol Capas. The Sheriff’s Office contracts with both facilities, Capas said, because Cochise County government does not have its own.
And it’s unclear whether one will be built.
Assistant Cochise County Administrator Sharon Gilman, said in an email Thursday that the issue will be discussed at an upcoming work session with the county’s board of supervisors on March 24. But nothing has been solidified on the matter.
Without a solution, the Sheriff’s animal control officers will continue to be taxed with lengthy drives, Capas said.
The majority of the animals the Sheriff’s Office impounds come from near Sierra Vista and Hereford/Palominas areas, and the drive to either Willcox or Douglas is a haul, Capas said. Sierra Vista to Douglas is a 50-mile drive one way, while the trip to Willcox is 70 miles one way. Hereford/Palominas is a bit closer to Douglas at 39 miles one way, but the drive to Willcox is 86 miles one way.
Ideally, animals are taken to the closest shelter, but if that location is full, animal control officers must check with the other facility, then take the animal there.
If both shelters are unavailable, animal control officers must call four other shelters that Cochise County does not contract with to determine if they have room, Capas said.
Those facilities are in Bisbee, Benson, Sierra Vista and Tombstone. But because Cochise County does not contract with those shelters, animals can only stay overnight and must be retrieved the next day, Capas said.
Some of the shelters may keep an animal longer if there are “exigent circumstances,” Capas added.
If no shelter has space, then animal control officers must scramble to find someone who will take the animal, such as a rescue group or an individual, Capas said.
“In 2019, 341 animals were impounded (by our animal control unit),” Capas said. “It’s a huge shame that we have this animal population — whether they’re abandoned, abused or strays — and that we have to take them so far away.”
Capas said she herself found an abandoned dog in the Hereford area a few months ago. The dog, a Chihuahua mix, was inside a crate that looked as if it had been flung from a car. The canine was injured and needed help, Capas said. She called a county animal control officer and none of the shelters had space for the dog.
Several calls were made until finally a rescue group agreed to take the canine, Capas said.
“What would have happened if that rescue group hadn’t taken the dog?” Capas asked rhetorically.
Last year, county officials talked of negotiating for a seven-acre parcel off Taylor Road and near the Bisbee dog park that could possibly serve as a location for an animal shelter. But Ann English, one of three county supervisors, said the idea has not gained much traction. County officials sent a letter to the landowner, Freeport Minerals, a subsidiary of Freeport McMoRan.
“I think it’s on hold, we have not heard back,” English said. ‘We thought it was a good location.”
English said she has received emails in the last two weeks from people expressing the need for a county animal shelter. According to Capas, the issue had been broached on the Sheriff Mark Dannels’ radio show at about the same time.
Gilman said several options are being looked at.
“The county has made no decisions on whether to build a centralized animal shelter,” Gilman wrote in her email. “We continue to work with our municipal partners in Douglas and Willcox to provide current services and we are exploring a number of options with regards to potential future solutions to the current animal shelter challenges. However, the final decision on if and how we proceed will be made by the Board of Supervisors.”