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County has yet to approve new system, local nonprofit offering to step up to help with issue in Newberg

As the Yamhill County Sheriff Office prepares to largely wash its hands of dog control in the county at the end of the week, officials and organizations are working to establish a new system. PMG FILE - In the future Yamhill County will concentrate on reuniting owners with their pets rather than on issuing licenses and enforcement.

Although county officials are still working out a new solution, the sheriff's office is recommending that the county enact a new system focused on reuniting lost pets with their owners over licensing enforcement and turning over licensing to area organizations and nonprofits, according to Capt. Chris Ray.

Cities in Yamhill County could opt into this system or fall back on whatever ordinances they have on the books, though Ray noted that some cities already have had to do this for the past several months.

"Ultimately, since after July 1 we will no longer have dog control personnel ... a lot of that is going to have to shift to the municipalities to whatever their policy is going to be for handling dog control issues in their city," Ray said.

The sheriff's office announced several months ago that it intended to end its longstanding dog control system, which historically has financially supported itself through licensing fees and citations. However, Ray noted that the system is no longer able to sustain itself as personnel costs far outpace those traditional revenue sources.

Newberg began relying on that program in 2014, when it cut its own animal control officer position to save up to $90,000 per year. The county has since largely handled dog control while the Newberg Animal Shelter Friends took over the local shelter.

As of July 1, the sheriff's office will no longer have staff or funding for dog control, though the records keeper for the program will remain with the sheriff's office and be available to assist the entities that take over licensing in the future.

The problem with that plan is that county ordinance currently prohibits county agencies from sharing information with the nonprofit organizations that would now take the lead.

Although Ray hoped a new ordinance would be approved by July 1, the Yamhill County Board of Commissioners was not slated to take up such a proposal within that time frame as of press time. Meanwhile, Ray said the county has extended its contract for 10 kennels at Pet Stop Inn in McMinnville through September.

Newberg city staff did not respond to a request for an interview by press time on how the city plans to handle dog control in the future.

Local organizations to fill role

The plan envisioned by the sheriff's office, modeled after a system in Deschutes County, would rely on local organizations and nonprofits to handle licensing and focus on getting lost dogs back to their owners rather than enforcing dog control with citations. The sheriff's office would still handle dogs that pose safety issues for the areas of the county that it serves.

In practical terms, that means that no one is currently responsible for picking up a stray dog when a resident finds one, according to Rebecca Wallis, president of Family Pet Partners – a nonprofit most visible in the county for operating three "Lost and Found Pets" Facebook pages in the county, including one serving the Newberg, Dundee and Dayton areas: www.facebook.com/lafpondo/.

With the sheriff's office vacating that roll, Wallis said her organization is planning to fill in with volunteers able to respond to reports of found dogs and able to use the nonprofit's various snares, traps and microchip readers to get dogs back to their owners – a process that often takes minutes , she said, and rarely more than 24 hours.

While Wallis said the group primarily has been offering support to return lost pets to owners and help financially struggling pet owners keep their pets, the group is now proposing to take the lead on dog control and licensing in various areas of the county, including in Newberg.

She said this plan would take pressure off of police departments that neither have the funding or staff to suddenly take custody of the issue.

"We have to do this," she said. Family Pet Partners has to be able and capable of doing licensing, doing the lost and found pick-up of dogs, so that way we don't have to rely on the police department to do it."

She said the group is specifically proposing that the city post Family Pet Partners' contact information, website and social media pages on its website as the place where residents should go for dog control assistance.

In addition, Wallis has proposed that Family Pet Partners take over licensing under the supervision of the Newberg-Dundee Police Department, which would allow the city to keep the revenue for licensing with some funds being used to support Family Pet Partners' operations.

While Ray said veterinary clinics have been doing some licensing and hoped they would continue doing so, Wallis envisioned that Family Pet Partners would have a staff member available to offer licensing at regular hours as well as "amnesty events" that will allow dog owners to license their dogs and get the required vaccinations without the normal fees.

She said the group has volunteers who can house dogs with kennels at their homes, but they may call on local shelters as needed.

Newberg Animal Shelter Friends President Crista Eberle provided an emailed statement that did not specifically detail the role the shelter would play in the new system, but cited the shelter's growing role in connecting pets with owners since 2015, including 100 pets reunited with owners last year.

"We are actively discussing with county and city officials how we can best serve our community as dog control processes evolve," she said. "Our mission as a no-kill shelter is to provide a caring environment for homeless animals, and to find them nurturing homes." She invited Newberg pet owners to attend an open house at the shelter – located at 1591 S. Sandoz Road – from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. July 8, where volunteers will be on hand to give tours, answer questions and offer $10 microchipping along with other activities. More information is available at https://newberganimals.com/.

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