Supervisors introduced to new animal control program

Donna Rescorla

White Mountain Independent


HOLBROOK – A revamped animal control program was presented to supervisors at their Feb. 9 meeting.

Deputy Director of Fleet Operations Montana Slack was selected to work with the program and he made the presentation. Animal control was initially the responsibility of the sheriff's department. It was then assigned to the the health district before becoming the responsibility of public works.

Slack said two animal control officer positions were filled and the new officers, Richard Kitelinger and Joshua Smith, finished two weeks of training with NACA (National Animal Control Association) Level 1 and Level 2. Level 3 training will be scheduled within the next six months, Slack said. Kitelinger, the more experienced officer, will conduct the officer training program. Newly retired Sheriff's Chief Deputy Bernard Huser has been hired as the Animal Control Program Manager.

“He has been serving for 28 years with the sheriff's office and I'm thrilled to have him on board,” Slack said. “The next 90 days will be dedicated to a field training officer program where the new officers will ride with the more experienced officer and supervisor.” During that training period, officers will operate Monday through Friday with emergency coverage for nights and weekends on a rotational basis. By May 1, they hope to have all officers “confident and competent” to be on their own, Slack said, adding that after that time, they will be operating on a six-day Monday through Saturday schedule with emergency coverage for nights and Sunday on a rotational basis.

“The four emergency callout criteria are animal bites, animal attacks, animal injuries or any rabies related incident.” he said. “We are in the process of working with Keith Payne in the sheriff's office to develop a module within the Spillman system which would allow us access to only animal control related calls through dispatch. “We will be going to a 100 percent live sheriff dispatch for all animal control calls so every citizen will be able to talk to a live person and not just have to leave a voice mail message to be returned sometime in the future.”

As part of an ongoing process of development and refinement, the new program staff has implemented applications within NCIS (National Crime Information System) to document and track all animal control calls and complaints. They have also implemented infield access to those applications so all officers are now able to access these databases from their vehicles in the field. Slack said, “We are in the process of conducting a survey of all county animal control best practices to develop an SOP (standard operating procedure) which incorporates the best most efficient and cost effective best practices.”

Besides reviewing the county's current contract with the White Mountain Humane Society , they intend to pursue MOUs (Memoranda of Understanding) with municipal animal control facilities and shelters throughout the county, Slack said. Speaking of Huser, Kitelinger and Smith, he said, “These are the men who are going to take the Navajo County Animal Control Division to a new level of professionalism and service. Our goal individually and collectively is to become the best animal control division in the state; then in the country.”

Supervisor Jonathan Nez asked if the officers could go to Indian Wells or Dilcon. Assistant County Attorney Lance Payette said the program was just for areas off reservation. Nez then asked if they could respond if a non-native were bitten by a dog on the reservation. Payette said it would be up to the sheriff's office to respond, that if a person responds to an incident, he would be required to have police certification. With the changes being made, Supervisor J.R. DeSpain said, he hoped they had the equipment and funds they needed to do their job. “The first thing people say is don't mess with my kids and then they say don't mess with my dogs,” he said. “I don't think a dog that bites should be left alive.

“I want to compliment the department. When they first started, there were lots of dogs running loose but now there aren't so many. There is still a lot of backyard problems. I hope they know we have an ordinance. We want to make sure these animals don't endanger the public. You have my support.” “I thank you for your support,” Slack said. “We cannot do our job without it. It's a big job but we're going to get it done.”