ALTON – Citizens and business owners are expressing serious concerns over the Alton City Council’s decision to eliminate the city’s animal control.
At the June 24 meeting, the Alton City Council voted to approve the budget proposal with the cut. Until Aug. 1, animal control officer Steve Bosaw will continue to be available. After that, the position could be eliminated.
“I have worked in communities where they have done away with animal control, and it is not safe,” area dog rescue volunteer Betsy Clayton said at the meeting. “There are packs of feral animals living on the street that nobody wants anything to do with, in their yards, in the parks, tearing up Dumpsters. Getting rid of animal control will jeopardize public safety.”
Clayton also said an alderman told her that without an animal control officer, Alton police have been told to shoot pets that show any type of aggression. Mayor Brant Walker denied that claim, saying it was speculation and rumor, and added, “I am working closely with Bob Barnhart, the public works director, to come up with a solution so that the citizens will hopefully not notice as much of a reduction in services. We will partner and figure out what we can do and try and maintain a certain level of animal control.”
Walker said that a $1 million increase in pension funds and the governor’s proposal to decrease the funds the city receives through the Local Government Distributive Fund have forced the city to reduce expenditures. In a recent statement, he said that he has not taken the decision to make cuts lightly.
After the meeting, Clayton said she and a friend heard dogs barking on the riverfront and saw a dog running loose down the middle of Broadway, a possible harbinger of things to come.
Since the meeting, area residents have begun working together to try and save Bosaw’s position. Clayton, Club Paws owner Jackie Spiker, and other concerned citizens involved in animal rescues have begun a Facebook page called “Save Alton Animal Control” and created a petition on change.org that generated more than 500 signatures in the first day of its existence.
Spiker, who owns doggy day care and boarding facility Club Paws, said of the City Council meeting, “I understand budget cuts, and I understand that there are tough decisions to make. I own a business. But the city needs to look after its citizens.”
Clayton explained that Bosaw has worked tirelessly to ensure that animals are spayed, neutered and vaccinated, and that without his help, the feral animal population could skyrocket, and that nuisance animals like raccoons will be unchecked and can infect residents’ pets with distemper.
Both women foresee area businesses and residences alike being negatively affected.
“It’s irresponsible,” Spiker said. “You’re going to have more dog bites, more dogs being born, more cats being born, more rabies cases … and they can cause a lot of damage to property. And who is going to want to move here?”
Clayton, who volunteers at three area rescue organizations, said, “People are coming to Alton to shop, but if it’s not safe, people aren’t going to come. That’s the beauty of Broadway — walking up and down the street, trying the restaurants … and all of this effort (from) the RiverBend Growth Association, Main Street, it’s all going to be done in vain. Nobody’s going to want to sit outside on a patio where dog packs are running or cats are digging through Dumpsters.”
“East St. Louis and Washington Park have no animal control,” Spiker said. “They have the highest number of dog bites, the highest number of dog packs. I don’t want that here. Property value is all going to go down if we have stray animals running around. Nobody is going to want to move here.”
Spiker concluded, “If Alton closes animal control down, (they are) putting the burden of animal control on every resident in the city. We’re not trained, and we shouldn’t be burdened by that.”
Clayton encourages those who want to help save the position to contact the mayor and their aldermen and make their voices heard, saying, “We have to get enough (Alton) residents to care.”
In a phone interview on Friday afternoon, Walker stated, “Rest assured, we’re going to have animal control. And nothing’s going to change until August. I’m working with Bob Barnhart and Steve Bosaw, and we’re deciding how we’re going to proceed. We’re determining that some of the animal pickups Public Works can do, and we’re hoping the police department (will be involved) … over the next couple of weeks, you’ll see us putting (a plan) together.”
Fred Pollard contributed to this article.