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News / Clark County News

Firings leave Clark County Animal Control short-handed

By Jake Thomas, Columbian political reporter
Published: July 1, 2018, 6:01am

Paul Scarpelli, the ousted Clark County Animal Control manager, recalled being chronically understaffed as his agency attempted to respond to calls of loose livestock, missing pets, vicious dogs and others beastly issues facing residents.

Now, Clark County is even more understaffed going into the Fourth of July, which, along with the summer months, is typically the busiest time for animal control.

In May, the county suddenly fired Scarpelli for having what he said was an off-the-clock beer where he discussed dog parks. The next month, the county fired three of its five animal control officers along with two office staff and a code enforcement officer. The cause for the firing, records show, was a work-day gathering with the recently deposed Scarpelli at a restaurant where employees, some of whom had called in sick, drank alcohol.

Clark County now has two full-time animal control officers as well as Critter Gitter, a Portland company it’s long contracted with for after-hours calls, to cover an area of over 600 square miles with 459,000 residents.

“I had five officers and that was not enough,” Scarpelli said. When asked if he thought the county’s animal control services are adequately staffed, he responded, “I believe the math speaks for itself.”

Calling it a public safety issue, members of the animal welfare community have been alarmed at the sudden termination of animal control staff. In June, Dr. Elizabeth Grauer, a veterinarian in Battle Ground, said she resigned her position on the Animal Protection and Control Advisory Board. Current and former members of the board sent a letter to county officials registering their consternation.

“It just seems like there could have been a better way to temporarily handle it through this busy part of the year,” Pat Vichas, chair of the Animal Protection and Control Advisory Board, told The Columbian.

And last month, civic leader Pat Jollota and Denise Lukins, a local attorney who previously served as a county hearings examiner for animal control issues, went before the county council to express their concern at the situation.

A county press release issued in June said that the county was “coping with an unexpected, temporary reduction” in animal protection services, which it hoped to restore by August. The press release was scant on details.

In response to a question about hiring temporary staff, Community Development Director Mitch Nickolds, who oversees animal control, said in an email on Friday that approximately one week ago the county started two temporary staff members for administrative support in animal control dispatch and licensing activities.

Nickolds said both had been interviewed by interim Animal Protection and Control and Code Enforcement program manager Bob Bergquist to “verify they had appropriate skills, knowledge and ability to perform the administrative support tasks and duties at the time of hire.”

“I want to assure all concerned that Clark County is continuing to provide animal control and protection services with two animal control officers and a dispatcher, and our after-hour contract service, inclusive of the Independence Day holiday; and working diligently to restore service to previous levels,” wrote Nickolds, who has otherwise refused to comment on personnel matters.

Little information about Critter Gitter is available online. But Nickolds provided The Columbian with a phone number for the company.

When reached by phone, Becky McClintock said that she runs the company out of Portland with her husband Larry. She said that the company doesn’t provide the same services as Clark County animal control and only covers night time emergencies, which she said can involve sick, injured or vicious animals. She said the county contacts them with a pager.

She didn’t have details on how the company bills the county, which she said they’ve contracted with for over two decades. She said that the county hasn’t approached them about expanding their services. She also knew that county animal control services was undergoing some sort of a transition but wasn’t aware of the details.

“Nothing’s really changed for us,” she said.

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Columbian political reporter