Animal Rights Advocate Booted From Commissioners Meeting

There was talk of “war” Tuesday between local animal rights advocates and a Kosciusko County commissioner before one advocate was escorted out by courthouse security.

At the July 23 commissioners meeting, longtime county animal control officer Jerry Clase was suspended for five days without pay following a June 19 dog-shooting incident. About five dozen people protested before the meeting, and several spoke to the commissioners against Clase. The commissioners also approved an updated animal control policy regarding abandoned or neglected animals and injured animals.

Etna Green resident Sherry Koser alleged that on June 19 Clase stole her dog, Daisy Mae, from her garage and shot it while she was at work. However, Koser’s landlord gave authorization for Clase to enter the property and take the dog, which was suffering from a ruptured mammary tumor.

Protester Kelly Bolenbaugh spoke at the July 23 meeting, and returned to the commissioners meeting Tuesday.

She began her comments Tuesday by asking the commissioners how they were doing on the animal control ordinance. She said it was still legal for the animal control officer to shoot dogs and she wanted to know how the commissioners were progressing on the ordinance.

County attorney Chad Miner said nothing has changed on the policy since the commissioners updated it at the July 23 meeting.

“The only situation in which we provided for animal euthanization by county animal control officers would be in an emergency type of situation if an animal were suffering or dying. That’s the only situation that currently allows for it,” he told Bolenbaugh.

She asked if the county had a definition for suffering so there was no repeat of the June 19 event. Miner told her an ordinance can’t define it for every situation so the officer has to have discretion.

“So there’s no definition for that term,” Miner said.

Bolenbaugh asked if there was no oversight then for the animal control officer. Miner said he wouldn’t describe it that way at all.

Commissioner Brad Jackson reminded her that the commissioners did change the policy.

“Basically, if there’s a dog laying along the road and it has been hit, and there’s evidence it’s dying, he has to first attempt to contact the owner if there’s a number on it, on the collar. And also he needs to have another officer sign off that he agrees. So there’s accountability there,” Jackson said, noting that was for a domestic animal.

Bolenbaugh said the commissioners said that wouldn’t take effect until they found veterinarians “to bounce euthanasia off of, and get their opinions.” She asked if they’d made any headway with that.

Jackson told her the policy was already in effect, but the county was still searching for veterinarians to partner with.

“One of the things we were trying to figure out was why you all believe the way you do, compared to how we believe,” Bolenbaugh responded.

She then brought up the job description in 1987 of a dog catcher, which Miner said has changed and he didn’t see the relevancy. She said it hasn’t been legal to use a gun on animals, especially domestic animals. State law just changed on euthanizing animals July 1, but Bolenbaugh and Miner began trying to talk over each other about the legality of shooting domestic animals in emergency situations. Bolenbaugh insisted an animal could only be put down by injection of phenobarbital by a veterinarian. Miner told her state statute does provide for euthanisation by “other means” when necessary. Bolenbaugh insisted the July 1 law change says “phenobarbital only.” Miner told her he wasn’t going to debate the law with her.

Jackson asked her, “So what you prefer is if a dog was laying along the road, suffering and death is imminent, you would rather they take the dog, while he’s suffering, let him suffer while he gets transported to the vet, get him to the vet and get him euthanized as opposed to euthanized there on the road?”

“Yes!” Bolenbaugh said without hesitation. “Because it is not the animal control officer’s decision to make. It is a veterinarian’s by state law.”

Jackson said that was cruel to make a dog suffer that long and he couldn’t believe they felt that way.

Commissioners President Cary Groninger reminded Bolenbaugh he encouraged her to sit down with Miner and go over the state laws and county ordinances. She said that Miner wasn’t Clase’s boss and the commissioners were the only ones who could hire or fire Clase and make ordinances.

As Groninger and Bolenbaugh began raising their voices and talking over each other, Commissioner Bob Conley called for a “Point of Order.” He told Bolenbaugh, “We’ve allowed you to speak. Please listen when the chairman is speaking. You’ve interrupted him six times.”

She then said “no” and she and Conley began talking over each other and yelling at each other.

Conley told her she needed to be respectful and follow decorum, “but it appears you only want war.”

She said, “We’re not at war,” and that she was “stating the facts.”

Conley pointed out she was interrupting him again.

“If you’re going to accuse me of starting a war, don’t I have a right to defend myself?” Bolenbaugh asked, pointing out that Conley interrupted speakers seven times at the July 23 meeting.

After Bolenbaugh continued yelling and accusing Clase of breaking the law, Groninger told her enough was enough. He reminded her they had asked her to sit down and talk to Miner about areas she had concern with. She began yelling and talking over Groninger again, and that’s when he called courthouse security to escort her out of the meeting.

As she was being escorted out, Bolenbaugh said, “I’ll just get my attorney.”

Jackson instructed Miner to look into the animal control officer job description and to determine if the ordinances in place mirrored state law. If they don’t, he said Miner should then bring it to the commissioners’ attention and it will be addressed.

Miner said he would do that, but noted he’s already gone through everything once and believes that everything in place now follows state law.

Another protester, Roxanne Coffelt, who is running for a seat on the Warsaw City Council as a Democrat, asked, “If it’s up to the animal control officer to decide if death is imminent, what kind of medical training does he have to determine that?” Miner pointed out that it could be hours before a veterinarian could see an injured or dying animal and the animal would suffer more during that time.

Coffelt said no one wanted an animal to suffer, but the protesters didn’t trust Clase’s judgment as he “obviously has no empathy for animals and he errors on the side of shooting them every single time. I think that’s why they want a vet.”

Jackson said the commissioners tried to “appease all of your guys’ needs” but felt that nothing would ever be good enough for them.

Coffelt said one thing that would be good enough would be to get an animal control officer who actually cared about animals.