Victory in Alabama – Barbour County Provides Sheltering Services in Response to Animal Legal Defense Fund Lawsuit
“You’re starting from nothing and moving on up.” – Scott Drivas, Barbour County’s animal control officer
Less than a year ago, stray or abandoned dogs and cats in Barbour County, Alabama, did not have a shelter to care for them. But thanks in part to the Animal Legal Defense Fund’s intervention, today Barbour County is fortunate to have both a shelter and a dedicated animal control officer working hard every day to improve the lives of the county’s dogs and cats.
Lack of Sheltering Services Leaves Animals and Humans Vulnerable
Alabama state law mandates that each county maintain a “county pound and an impounding officer” for stray dogs, cats, and ferrets. Yet Barbour County had neither an animal control officer nor an operating shelter, placing the burden of caring for stray and abandoned animals on residents.
In particular, Barbour County residents Renee Klein and Betty Kramer stepped up to rescue, rehabilitate, and rehome abandoned, sick, and injured animals throughout the county. Without any help from the county, Ms. Klein donated her time and personal funds to protecting the animals in Barbour County for 15 years.
At the end of 2016, the Animal Legal Defense Fund filed a lawsuit on behalf of Ms. Klein and Ms. Kramer to compel Barbour County to follow the law and to maintain a county shelter and an animal control officer.
Barbour County began construction of a shelter more than 15 years ago. But at the time of the lawsuit, the shelter still had not opened. Funds and equipment appropriated for the shelter were taken by the County Commission and given to other projects instead. Though Ms. Klein attended every County Commission meeting for years, no funds were allocated to protecting the animals in Barbour County.
As a result of the county’s failure to provide animal control services, countless animals were abandoned to survive on their own. For example in 2016, 11 puppies were found discarded in a garbage bag along with their deceased mother. Rescuers suspected the animals were left because there was no facility for the public to surrender animals.
In another distressing incident, Ms. Klein responded to a call from a public citizen about a dog with a gunshot wound. Despite her best efforts, including documenting the dog’s injuries and notifying law enforcement, the police did not investigate the crime. In fact, law enforcement refused to even make a report of the incident.
The county’s failure to follow the law also jeopardized public safety. During this time, animal abandonment and crimes against animals increased. Animals roamed neighborhoods, sometimes even attacking residents’ other animals. Residents who encountered animals they suspected might have rabies had no one to call.
A New Day for Barbour County’s Dogs and Cats
In response to the lawsuit, Barbour County hired an animal control officer and opened a small shelter. Scott Drivas brings nearly thirty years of experience in law enforcement to his new role as animal control officer. Hired in August 2018, Scott has already made significant improvements to the program.
With support from the Barbour County Humane Society, a private shelter in Clayton, Alabama, Scott responds to calls across the county as well as cares for and finds homes for animals held at the county shelter.
The county shelter can hold up to 24 dogs, and Scott also coordinates with the Barbour County Humane Society, whose facility can hold cats as well as up to 30 dogs. In the future, he’d like to expand the size of the shelter as well as create a larger dog run so dogs can exercise and play.
Where before county residents had no animal shelter which could take in homeless or unwanted animals, now Scott will even drive to people’s homes in some cases to ensure an animal is surrendered to the county and not abandoned. He estimates he’s impounded roughly 60 dogs since August, and with the assistance of several Alabama rescue groups, has found homes for more than 50 of the dogs.
Alabama ranked 38th in the Animal Legal Defense Fund’s 2018 U.S. Animal Protection Laws Rankings Report, due to the state having so few legal protections for animals.
Indeed one of the major hurdles Scott faces is not just a dearth of state protections, but also a lack of local laws protecting animals. He is working closely with the County Commission to identify the most urgent changes needed and enact stronger legislation. Up first is an anti-chaining law that would prohibit people from keeping dogs tethered on metal chains.
Scott is optimistic about the future. Though some might be daunted by starting from scratch, he sees it as a clean slate to develop the best sheltering and animal control program possible. As he says, now Barbour County has the chance “to make it good.”
Because of these changes, the Animal Legal Defense Fund dismissed its lawsuit against Barbour County in October 2018.