Thebes effort to control stray dogs falters

Sunday, May 27, 2007
Van Brooks, left, of Thebes, Ill., talked about the problem of dogs being dumped in the Illinois town with his nephew, Terry Biller, center, and his brother, Jack Brooks. Van Brooks, who has several dogs, said roaming dogs are a problem because many people do not keep their dogs chained or fenced like he does. (Kit Doyle)

THEBES, Ill. -- For a week in mid-April, a newspaper advertisement gave a warning to residents of Thebes: "Public Notice. All dogs running at-large in the village of Thebes will be impounded."

The Mississippi River town of about 500 was ready to take action. For several years the village had no dogcatcher. The Cape Girardeau animal shelter wouldn't take strays from Illinois, and after rescuing dogs impounded near the river when the water came up, the city stopped trying to collect strays.

Over time, more than 20 dogs -- some residents estimate perhaps as many as 30 -- have taken up residence in the town but have no home. Some wandered in from outside, Mayor John Kennedy said, but others were left behind when their owners moved out.

"We've got people who moved into town who decide they don't want their dogs," he said. "Then they bring in more dogs and they move out of town and leave them."

At an April meeting of the town's trustees, a dogcatcher was hired. What Tamara Clausen lacked in experience she made up with enthusiasm. She agreed to take $6.50 an hour for the part-time job, plus $10 for each dog captured. Clausen set up pens and kennels at her home in Unity, Ill.

"I've always loved animals," Clausen said in early May while she was waiting for a paperwork tangle to be solved before going to work. "I am more into horses, but I don't have any horses to focus on right now. It is a big problem to me, and it makes me mad that nobody seems to give a damn."

But just as the paperwork issues were clearing, Clausen was promoted to full time at her other job in a grocery store. So after months of searching for a dogcatcher and notifying residents that action would be taken, Thebes is again looking for a dogcatcher.

Kennedy said he was disappointed to discover Clausen had quit. A visit to her home to check out the facilities she had for the dogs was going to be the last step before starting the roundup.

"We're just going to have to find someone else," said Sheila Dodson, village clerk. She estimates the number of stray dogs at about 20.

There are no animal shelters in Alexander County, she noted.

"It is a big problem all over Southern Illinois," Dodson said. "There are not any good solutions when you run into a dog problem."

An incident about a week ago uncovered another dog problem in Thebes when a pit bull got loose and bit a resident. The dog apparently broke free of its chains while the resident was passing through an alley.

The bite wasn't severe, Kennedy said, but a check of village ordinances revealed that pit bulls are banned.

Kennedy, who was elevated from the town board to mayor in December and won a full term in April, said he wasn't aware of the law. "With me just taking over as mayor, there are a lot of things I am finding out," he said.

In the one attempt Clausen made to round up a stray dog, she pulled a litter of puppies out of a crawl space under a house.

The mother wasn't used to human contact, however, and when the rope went on "she went ballistic," Clausen said.

The rope broke, so Clausen tried to use the puppies as bait, putting them into a cage in hopes the mother would settle down. Overnight the mother retrieved her puppies and hid them away.

"They are kind of wild, and you've got to have the right equipment," Clausen said.

When Thebes does hire a dogcatcher, Dodson said, pictures of each dog that is captured will be posted at the village hall. Dogs with identifying tags will be kept seven days, while those with nothing that shows they have owners will be kept three days before they are euthanized.

And the ad, instead of reducing the number of dogs running free, may have actually increased them, Kennedy said. He thinks that people who wanted to get rid of dogs but had no options because of the lack of facilities dumped their dogs on Thebes.

"They are just running everywhere," Kennedy said. "We have strays that people brought in and left. And we've had a couple of dogs show up that nobody has ever seen before. It is just one of those things."

rkeller@semissourian.com

335-6611, extension 126

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