ACO suggests fines for loose animals

By Dawn De Busk

Staff Writer

NAPLES — When someone is arrested for an OUI (operating a motor vehicle while under the influence) and there is a dog in the vehicle at the time, the local animal control officer (ACO) is dispatched.

When someone dies and that person lives alone with their pet or pets, the town relies on the ACO to retrieve those animals.

When a barking dog wakes up a newborn and its exhausted mother in the wee hours of the morning, the ACO is also woken up.

“Saturday morning, I woke up and took care of a dog at large that was barking and waking up someone’s newborn. I have been trying to cut back” on responding to calls that happen at odd hours if they can hold off until the next day, ACO Jessica Jackson said.

When the person on the other end of the phone said it was dog barking in the middle of the night, Jackson told the man it was not an emergency. After he explained it was a newborn that being woken up, she decided it was an emergency.

“Here I am at 5:30 a.m. You guys are paying me to get into my uniform and work for 1½ to 2 hours,” she said.

Jackson, the part-time ACO for the towns of Raymond, Casco and Naples, sometimes wishes that she could have dinner out with her husband without an interruption, but she is on call 24/7.

That could change next year.

“The goal is, starting July 1 of next year, a formal agreement” between the towns of Naples, Casco and Raymond “will include Jessica as a full-timer and a backup person,” according to Naples Town Manager John Hawley.

“This is still budget-contingent,” Hawley said.

The Naples Board of Selectmen heard from ACO Jackson. She supplied a log of how her hours were spent; talked about the difficulty of being on call around the clock as well as the terrible things she sees; and described what a godsend her new work vehicle has been.

The change that is being discussed: In 2019 Jackson would become a full-time employee shared by the three towns.

Jackson brought up another change that might be worth pursuing for the town.

She suggested that the Town of Naples set up fines for people whose animals get loose. Also, she recommended the town opt to contract with a shelter that has a better track record of collecting those fines from the public.

She told the board that establishing fee schedules was a good way “to build a revenue stream.”

“The Animal Refuge in Westbrook — they are great at collecting the fees for an animal at large and reimbursing the town,” she said.

Simply to avoid the cost of mileage, she typically does not release animals to Harvest Hills Animal Shelter in Fryeburg.

“It saves me time running up there when the owner gets back in one or two hours,” she said.

She has been “looking for a space to kennel dogs on the Fourth of July when” the number of runaway or lost dogs increases.

Chairman Jim Grattelo commented on the information that the board needed to put together a financial picture of the Animal Control department.

“One of the numbers that you need is what the town gets reimbursed. Find out what our revenue rebates are,” he said.

“We need to take a look at the ordinance and increase the fees because our ACO costs are going up,” Grattelo said.

Selectman Jim Turpin continued along that vein.

“The population in Naples is on the increase. So, the population of runaway animals is on the increase,” Turpin said.

Jackson referred to the statistics she keeps.

“Dogs in hot vehicles are down. Animal bites are up. Dogs at large are up,” she said.

She cited the in two years, the number of animal-related calls to Cumberland County dispatch is: 570 for Casco, 544 for Naples and 529 for Raymond.

“Casco and Raymond have been trying to get together for a quite some time. I am working a part-time job — full-time. I was using my own vehicle and paying repairs costs at a rate that I cannot keep up with a mileage check. The towns had tried to get Naples on board for quite a while,” Jackson said.

“The towns of Gray, New Gloucester and Harrison have approached me, offering a rate of $16 an hour, and with backups,” she said.

So, she approached the towns where she was already employed.

“I see horrible things just like fire and rescue. It is stressful. I am building something from it. I am building a community,” Jackson said, adding her coverage area is about 125 square miles

Summers keep her very busy.

“In the winter, it drops down to nothing. So, I have to figure out how to supplement that income. That is why I have three towns,” she said.

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