Dog and pony show

A small-town uproar follows shooting of two beloved pets

But Mayor Birdwell, a rural mail carrier by profession, reinstated him hours later so the town would have someone to feed dogs at the pound.

Kennedy learned that as an animal control officer, Hart had other options besides killing her dogs. According to a Ferris city ordinance, any dog found running at large within the city is to be captured and impounded by the chief of police or his authorized agent. The penalty for a dog owner whose dog is impounded is a fee of up to $25.

In accounting for his actions that day, Hart wrote a list of procedures he's supposed to follow while apprehending stray animals. According to his own list, if the food lure doesn't work, he could have requested permission to set a live trap, which he did not do. Cottongame, Hart, and Birdwell did not return calls from the Observer.

According to Mary Stewart, director of operations at the Dallas SPCA, plenty of alternatives are available to animal control officers other than shooting strays.

"There are nets, live traps, using more than one person," Stewart says. "There are lots of things to try. But you have to have that equipment." Stewart says many animal control officers also use tranquilizer guns, but they are dangerous and should also be considered a last resort, used only by specially trained officers.

Hart told Kennedy the city would not allow him to have a tranquilizer gun.
Unlike Ferris, most cities send their animal control officer through certification classes given by the Texas Department of Health, Stewart says. The Dallas SPCA encourages cities who don't want to commit the money or manpower to do the job right by themselves to contract with the SPCA for animal-control services.

Dogs can be a danger to horses, Stewart says, spooking them so badly they've been known to run into barbed wire, ripping their legs and hides.

Kennedy says she understands that--but points to pictures she took of the horse the day after her dogs' deaths, which show the horse had no injuries.

Kennedy has appeared at two Ferris City Council meetings after filing a grievance against Hart with the city. The city has allowed Hart to keep his job, and has formed a committee to review its policies and procedures governing animal control.

Kennedy also has discovered that the city pound, which houses an average of 18 dogs in a few dirty, crowded, feces-covered cement cages, violates state codes. Ferris has made arrangements for the animals to be transferred to the Dallas SPCA.

"We're making some progress," Kennedy says. "But it's too little, too late. They [city officials] don't want this to ever happen to anyone else again. But what I want is for them to admit they were wrong, and they're no way close to that.

"If [Hart] had been trained, if the city had provided him the tools he needed, he would have dealt with this differently. They treated me like a person without intelligence--a person who doesn't know right from wrong. What they did was wrong."

Kennedy misses her dogs terribly, she says, trying to fight back tears. She still hasn't put away their food or water bowls. She misses scratching Patrick's back--and the way he sidled up to her wherever she was. She misses hearing them stretch and yawn first thing in the morning, and sleeping with them at night.

"They were my first dogs, my children," she says, wiping her eyes. "I bought a house for them.

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