Local police help offenders' pets

Monday, May 6, 2013
Kelly Goff, director of the humane society, poses Wednesday at the Humane Society of Southeast Missouri. (ADAM VOGLER)

When Lassie rescues Timmy from a well, she's a hero. But what happens to the courageous collie if her human companion robs a bank, is busted for running a meth lab or drinks too much and crashes his car?

Fortunately for Lassie, she doesn't have to worry about being charged as an accessory to the crime or frog-marched to the pound in handcuffs -- and police in Southeast Missouri make sure she won't starve in her master's absence, either.

"They can't help it. It's not the dog; it's the owner," said Lt. R.C. Hull of the Cape Girardeau County Sheriff's Department. "We don't just leave the animal there abandoned. ... We need to take care of the animals, because they can't take care of themselves."

Most local law-enforcement agencies contact relatives to pick up pets whose owners get into trouble. If relatives are unavailable, the animals typically are taken to shelters or placed with veterinarians who care for them until a permanent home is found.

Cape Girardeau police transfer pets to the Humane Society of Southeast Missouri, officer Ty Metzger said.

"We'll remove the animal to make sure it gets to a source where it can be taken care of temporarily, but then after that, we're done with it," Metzger said.

Kelly Goff, director of the Humane Society of Southeast Missouri, said animals are held for 10 days to give owners time to retrieve them or make arrangements for their care. After 10 days, the animals are available for adoption, she said.

"It doesn't happen terribly often -- a handful of times a year or so," Goff said.

Lt. Direk Hunt, interim chief of police in Perryville, Mo., said his department takes pets to the city's animal control shelter if no one is available to care for them. The shelter keeps stray animals for 10 days, but owned pets have no set time limit, he said.

"Most people, their animals are like their kids. I know mine are," Hunt said. "We would not want to do anything to cause pain and suffering. ... The animal would be released at the owner of the animal's request to a family member."

In Perry County, Sheriff Gary Schaaf said, officers might let animals stay with owners who are being booked and released on minor offenses or call relatives to pick up pets if their owner is jailed.

If no relatives are available, officers have to improvise, because the county has no animal shelter, he said.

"We're not going to just turn them loose," Schaaf said. "If worse comes to worse, we get ahold of one of the vets and see if there's any way they can house them."

In rural areas, encounters with animals are more frequent than they might be in larger cities, Hull said.

"You think of cop stuff, you think of bad guys and cops … and drugs and shotguns," but in Cape Girardeau County, officers also might field calls about cattle on a roadway, goats eating a neighbor's flowers or other animal-related issues, he said.

A few years ago, officers took a boat into a flooded area of Allenville to transport dogs and cats to a humane shelter, Hull said.

"We sometimes go above and beyond to make sure the animals are taken care of," he said.



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