At a two-and-a-half-hour meeting of the Van Buren Township Public Safety Committee on Sept. 1, a wide variety of topics were discussed, with emphasis again coming back to the perceived failings of the animal control service run by the police department.
Phyllis McLenon of Bak Road asked the committee to recommend to the township board the closing of the animal shelter until all violations have been corrected “and future procedures can be verified and put in place, with well-trained officers and employees.”
She said while Public Safety Director Carl McClanahan brushed off her written statement about the animal control officer euthanizing a dog in an incorrect manner, leaving the dog to die in agony before five witnesses, with Director McClanahan saying it was several years ago.
McLenon said it was in fact just over a year ago.
McClanahan said animal control officer Bob Queener has had eight hours of training in euthanasia since then. He also has more than 100 hours of training as an animal control officer, McClanahan added.
Board vice chairperson Diane Madigan gave a report that concluded: “As an animal lover, I continue to support the ongoing investigation of the Animal Shelter, having an open ear to concerns in this community and a voice for our animals.
“Should we discover that we can provide more humane and better service at a fraction of the $105,000 annual cost, I fully support closing the shelter.
“If we decide to keep it open, we need to do so much better for our animals and our attempts to return them to their owners.
“Over a year ago I suggested that we place photos on our website of all dogs brought to our shelter, also placing the photos with descriptions on PetFinder.com for adoption, which was a common practice until 2005,” Madigan said.
“We know better. We need to do better,” she concluded.
Public Safety Committee chairman Michael Miazga said he took a trip to the animal shelter and spoke to Queener, “and he was very open.”
“I’m a pet lover,” Miazga said. “… I will not be supporting closing of any shelter … our administrative staff is moving forward…”
Committee member Raymond Bailey said, “I support your position … closing is damn sure not the answer.” His remarks were met with applause from the audience.
“It doesn’t matter what the findings are; they can be fixed,” Bailey said.
Madigan said Huron Valley Humane Society charges $35 per day to handle a dog and presently VBT’s cost is $700, which she called, “quite expensive.”
“We can’t jump ahead until we know what we’re dealing with,” said committee member Regina Miller.
Committeeman Richard Wardwell said whenever he has asked McClanahan anything, he has given the information and “There’s no reason for me to doubt he’s involved in this investigation …”
McClanahan had assured the committee in a past meeting that he was investigating the animal control situation and would issue a report within 30 days.
During his police report, McClanahan read a mission statement for animal control which, he said, was written two weeks ago by Captain Greg Laurain, whose duties include oversight of animal control.
McClanahan said, “In a short period of time we will fulfill our mission statement … It’s our direction for the future.”
Miller asked with the shelter costing $95,000 a year to run this year, is McClanahan considering sub-contracting?
“We’re considering a number of things. We’re looking at everything,” he replied.
Later he emphasized, “We’re looking at everything, from A to Z.”
McClanahan reported that revisions have been made to animal control in the areas of disposal (to comply with Michigan Public Act 239), animal shelter reports, case logs, drug usage reports, tranquilizer and euthanasia reports, and daily activity reports.
“We’ve made great progress in a short period of time,” McClanahan said.
“What do we do about cats?” Miller asked.
“That operation ended one-and-a-half years ago. I have no idea why,” McClanahan replied.
Supervisor Paul White said that happened before this current administration.
Madigan said the shelter was put together as a dog pound.
McClanahan said his department went to Van Buren Estates and found that the problem wasn’t feral cats, but domestic cats that are cared for and fed by residents in violation of mobile home park rules.
He said Van Buren Estates is a private property and Queener offered the township’s help.
McClanahan said he suggested the management first get the residents to follow the park rules.
“It’s an isolated incident?” Miller asked of the Van Buren Estates situation. “We do not have a cat problem?”
“Not to my knowledge,” McClanahan replied.
Don Schellenbarger of Harmony Lane said he feeds the birds and, “There is something about cat lovers who think they can do anything they want. They try to snatch my bird,” he said of the cats. He said eight to ten cats a week are in his yard and he is considering live traps.
“I love cats, but I don’t have any,” Schellenbarger said.
Committeeman Ramone Crowe said if cats become a big issue, something should be done. Miller suggested including cats in an ordinance and McClanahan said that was not a bad idea.
“I don’t think there’s a person in the audience who can catch a cat who doesn’t wish to be caught,” said Supervisor White.
Resident Chris Wisner waved a story from the Independent around and said she wanted to know why some residents are able to go into the animal shelter when it is closed. She asked if that wasn’t trespassing and McClanahan said it was.
“My nose trespassed,” said Pam Ruff, who said she lives next door to the animal shelter and smelled the dead dog decomposing in the dumpster.
“I could smell it, something rotting,” Ruff said, adding the gate is open a lot of the time.
Wisner, who is Captain Kenneth Brooks’ mother-in-law, said she goes past the animal shelter a lot and it’s always locked.
Later in the meeting, Kevin Golden of 10666 Van Buren Lane said Officer Queener was very valuable in solving a problem of too many dogs at his neighbor’s house at 10655 Buchanan. He said others said they needed a warrant to enter the house, but Queener got in and took 114 dogs from the home, plus eight cats.
“I still to this day smell feces and ammonia from that home,” Golden said.
He praised Queener and demanded the township pass an ordinance on the number of dogs allowed on a property.
Madigan said the township has ordinances on odor and licensing dogs and all it would have taken was one phone call to get action on this problem.
“I will personally look into to this and find a way to make everyone happy,” Miazga said. Miller said she will assist him.
“It’s not a number-of-dogs problem,” said Supervisor White. “It’s an owner problem. We need to enforce the current laws.”
Golden said he got a letter from the former township supervisor that said the township couldn’t come to an agreement on how many pets to allow under a proposed ordinance, that was never passed.
Wisner said she is an animal lover but she would like the committee to put the emphasis on public safety, instead of animal control.
In other business at the Sept. 1 meeting, the committee:
* Heard monthly reports from the police, fire, and community policing departments;
* Heard Supervisor White and Trustee Phil Hart argue over the township budget – especially cuts to the police department — with White saying the figures aren’t solid yet on certain items, so it’s too soon to be presenting it to the committee. Public budget hearings are expected in October, he said;
* Heard Schellenbarger ask about whether police officers are allowed to take personal cell phone calls while on duty (they are) and complain that McClanahan didn’t follow through on the Freedom of Speech violation he filed against Supervisor White for taking some free recall publications that had Schellenbarger’s comments in it. “I did an investigation … and it is not my responsibility to gather information for you to sue the township,” McClanahan replied;
* Also heard Schellenbarger state he has filed a citizen complaint against a VBT police officer he did not name as a result of a “domestic violence” situation at his home between Schellenbarger and his grown son. He said the situation was handled improperly by the officer. But, he praised Officer Matt Raschke as “a superb officer” stating, “He needs a commendation. He handled a very volatile situation very well.” Schellenbarger, an ex-Detroit police officer, said he has been a volunteer in a domestic abuse shelter and on the speakers bureau, so he has experience in the field;
* Heard Miazga say he’s working on a truancy ordinance with McClanahan. He said 34th District Court Judge Brian Oakley said he was willing to give a presentation on the subject to the township board or the public safety committee. McClanahan said he would like it to be a committee-wide discussion and he would like to get the point of view of the general public. Trustee Jeff Jahr had objected to the ordinance language and so the township board did not act upon the proposed ordinance. The question seems to be of civil rights and whether juveniles have the right to walk around (and possible get into trouble) during the hours they should be in school; and
* Heard McLenon report that several days previously a white car on Bak Road contained a man looking into everyone’s yard, while the children were out. She asked him who he was and he said he was from the township working on improving water drainage on the road. There were maps in the car, but he had no ID. “This is kinda creepy, looking into people’s yards,” McLenon said, adding a pedophile could put maps in his car. McClanahan said all VBT employees have IDs and she should have called police non-emergency to check him out.