Investigating Animal Control operations in Waterloo - KWWL - Eastern Iowa Breaking News, Weather, Closings

Investigating Animal Control operations in Waterloo

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WATERLOO (KWWL) -

The Iowa Department of Agriculture is investigating the animal control operations in the City of Waterloo.

Three months ago, the city decided to share the responsibilities with Cedar Bend Humane Society -- including overnight and weekend emergency calls, and stray animal pickup. It is saving the city money -- but some people are concerned the agreement is putting animals at risk.

Since 1996, the Cedar Bend Humane Society has handled Waterloo's animal control services. In that time, the budget was only increased once -- to $17,000 per month. This summer, Cedar Bend asked for another increase. Instead, the city decided to cut $50,000 from its annual budget.

"Animal Control barely is self-sustaining. At times not, depending on what we bring in for animals. So for us that was pretty detrimental. The services we provide for the community, we were not able to continue to do the same amount of services for that cut," said Kristy Gardner, co-director of the Cedar Bend Humane Society

"I understand Animal Control's costs keep going up. I understand that. So do ours," noted Buck Clark, Mayor of Waterloo.

To save money, the city of Waterloo opted to take on some of the responsibilities -- including stray animal pick-up and evening and weekend emergency calls. And they decided to house it out of the traffic operations department.

"Things are really working very well," said Sandie Greco, Superintendent of Waterloo Traffic Operations.

Greco oversees the animal control functions, but another Waterloo employee actually goes out on all the calls.

"During the day, she's a code enforcement officer. And then at 5:00 at night, she's on call for animal control services," said Greco.

To be clear, the employee once worked for Cedar Bend Humane Society. But the amount of work she is taking on now concerns Black Hawk County Animal Control officer Gail Donovan.

"I kind of feel like this is a full-time job all by itself," said Donovan.

Greco says, it's a manageable load.

"She goes in morning, afternoon, and evening and feeds them, waters them, takes them out individually. And cleans their kennels," said Greco.

We asked when the employee, who works 40 hours a week as a code enforcement officer, is able to sleep -- considering she is on-call every evening and weekend.

Greco replied "At night... She's not called out late at night or anything. Unless, maybe... she really hasn't been."

Clark said, initially he had concerns as well.

"The amount of time she is spending on it seems to be working out really well. Lots of people work overtime," he said.

Donovan believes some of the services Waterloo was enlisted to provide are being overlooked. For instance, stray dog pick up.

"We know, at least from my experience, they have not been going to pick them up. So that means nobody is picking them up," said Donovan.

Clark said, that's just not true -- the city is holding up their end of the deal.

"Folks that are being critical about what we're operating and the way we're treating our animals don't know the ladies that are working with them. These two ladies are committed," he said.

Gardner said, there are other concerns surrounding the conditions in which the animals are kept. The city is housing overnight and on weekends in a formerly-vacant building at the Wastewater Treatment Plant. A Black Hawk County Animal Control officer picks up the animals each morning and brings them to Cedar Bend Humane Society.

"I think holding them at a humane society versus a waste management plant is kind of a no-brainer in my book," said Donovan.

Donovan said she found a homemade litter box in one of the pet taxis. It was constructed from an old acetone can, and still has cat hair stuck in the corners.

"Even trying to bend the edges and stuff, there were sharp places on it. It wasn't a good deal," she said.

Clark said -- the Cedar Bend Humane Society is exaggerating what they saw.

"It didn't have any sharp edges on it. They're all covered with tape. Unless it's pulled off. I saw those. They were all taped up. There were no sharp edges on them," said Clark.

The Cedar Bend Humane Society also questions the care of injured animals who are held by the city overnight.

"On one call, we picked up a cat that was very badly injured, and very ill," Donovan recalled.

They had to immediately euthanize that cat.

Greco admits, her department can't administer medicine. But they did everything they could to keep that cat comfortable.

"We tried to get a hold of an officer that night, and we couldn't get a hold of anybody. So actually our officer took it home and kept it at home," said Greco.

The issue is -- it's not clear whether or not the building or the animal control operations are up to state code. That's because the city did not, initially, obtain a pound license.

"We knew we would probably have to, even though we don't board animals and we don't kennel them, and we don't adopt them out. We hold them for, the most would be three days," Greco explained.

Greco said she got verbal approval to operate for 90 days on a trial basis. But an Iowa Department of Agriculture spokesperson said his director knew nothing about a "90 day trial." He confirmed Waterloo needed a pound license before starting operations. They were recently alerted to the city's operations, and are now investigating.

Clark stood by what Greco said, but told us the city is doing everything it can to cooperate.

"We have ceased operations. We're not putting any animals in there for the time being because of this... inquiry. And we will have our license before we put any other animals in there. And I expect to have that by the end of the week," said Clark.

With all of this said, the city believes the arrangement is working out -- and they are saving money.

"Over the last three months, and it doesn't sound like a lot, but we've saved four hundred, five hundred, six hundred dollars," said Greco.

Ultimately, it's up to the community to decide whether the savings are paying off for residents, and for the city's animals.

"I think the public needs to be aware and kind of follow -- are they still paying for service that they're not getting? I think that could be the case," said Donovan.

Clark says, taxpayers are getting what they pay for...and more.

"Absolutely. At least during our watch from 5:00 on. Absolutely they're getting their money's worth," he said.

The City of Waterloo has also taken over dead animal clean up, and is disposing of the animals at the city landfill. The Iowa Department of Natural Resources is overseeing that process, and, in that case, the city is complying with state code.

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