Former volunteers challenge new Summit Animal Control policies

by Wendy Turrell

A group of concerned pet advocates, some of them former Summit County Animal Control shelter volunteers, have organized under the name “Save Summit Strays.” They are collecting signatures to get a proposal on the November ballot for a county ordinance to regulate the shelter.

Jody Owens and Cathy Soles are spearheading the effort. Soles volunteered at Summit Animal Control before the pandemic. Owens has volunteered at other shelters and wants to volunteer at the SCAC, if volunteer hours were expanded outside of weekdays.

Many of the group’s complaints center around the change in SCAC operations following the COVID-19 shutdown.

Soles said before the shutdown, volunteers were allowed a flexible schedule and had more freedom in their interactions with the dogs. They were permitted to take the dogs on walks, to the park or other outlets to exercise and socialize beyond the outdoor cages and runs on SCAC grounds.

She also said the SCAC shelter delayed reopening its doors to volunteers until people protested at county council meetings. Additionally, when the facility reopened, criteria changed so that volunteers are required to have over 40 hours of training and commit to a set schedule.

Soles and Owens said they believe the new rules and restrictions interfere with the best interests of the animals. Owens said, “If SCAC could partner with their volunteers and allow them to socialize and exercise the animals, they would be more adoptable, thus moving animals to homes to allow SCAC to continue taking more animals off the street.”

Save Summit Strays also takes issue with what it views as SCAC’s more restrictive public access policy, fearing that the lack of spontaneous public access may lead to cages not being regularly cleaned, animals being held too long in restricted quarters and other possible abuses. During the pandemic, members of the public had to call the SCAC facility and make an appointment to look for their lost dogs, or to see dogs for adoption. The SCAC website currently states that adoption appointments are encouraged, but not required, and gives days and hours for public access.

Director of Communication and Assistant Chief of Staff Greta Johnson from the Summit County Executive’s Office said changes following the SCAC reopening were introduced to make it safer for volunteers, staff, the public and the animals.

She explained, “When we began researching other agencies and facilities, it became clear we were the only facility not requiring training and not requiring scheduling.

“More structured schedules try to ensure that volunteers are spread out evenly throughout the day and week. Additional training was added to ensure volunteer safety,” she continued. “And training was made virtual for easy access from home.”

As for the fears that animals at the facility are not being as cared for without spontaneous public and volunteer access, Johnson said, “[There were] no changes to the treatment or processing, but we have increased our capabilities in socializing the dogs with play groups.”

Johnson added that members of the public are welcome during business hours to look for lost pets, but a staff member must accompany them. She cited public safety and keeping animals calm as the reasoning behind this policy.

According to Johnson, stray animals are always checked for microchips. “All efforts are exhausted to reunite a pet with a microchip to their owner,” she said.

Johnson said the Summit County Animal Control department has a comprehensive manual of policies and procedures for dealing with animals, which are the same as they were pre-COVID. As for the charge of a lack of public transparency in how the facility is run, Johnson said, “Every public record request we receive regarding SCAC or any other division, is fulfilled. We are subject to all sunshine laws and comply regularly and timely with requests made by all individuals.”

Owens said that, although SCAC often affects good outcomes for the animals, putting detailed regulations into an ordinance would ensure consistent accountability within the department. “By putting this in writing and changing this ordinance, we hope it will help enforce that all animals are treated humanely every time.”

Save Summit Strays’ ballot petition details 13 points it would like to codify. A full text is available at ∞