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Mary Burger 'doggedly' seeks to improve County Animal Control

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“My love was with the animals so I wanted to be back with them and it’s been wonderful,” Burger said.

Hutto said that the county’s Animal Control Department had been operated more as a “side department” by Bill Arnold, director of the county landfill. During his campaign, Hutto made the need for a full-time Animal Control director a top priority.

“There was a big push in the community that we needed to do more with animal control, and I believe we found the right person for the job,” Hutto said.

Upon taking the job, Burger worked diligently with fellow Animal Control Officers Paula Heird and Nick Forbes to wrangle pets that had lost their way or not been taken care of properly. Since Jan. 3, Burger said they’ve found 197 dogs at-large. A dog with a collar and proper tags, Burger said, can be returned to its owner in as little as one hour.

That’s the reality of operating a department with little space and state laws that dictate any dog without a collar only has to be held for three days before euthanizing is permitted, and any dog with a collar only has to be kept for five days.

However, Burger’s love for the animals the department rounds up has caused her to fill the department’s facility to the brim at times, holding onto dogs for as long as possible before having to make what is without a doubt a regrettable and unfortunate decision.

“We try to hold onto them as long as we can, if I had the choice, I’d keep them forever,” Burger said, knowing that space and cost make keeping dogs indefinitely nearly impossible.

Burger said her goal is always to find the dogs’ owners and return the pets to their families. Right now, the department only deals with dogs due to space and limits in personnel, but Burger is hoping to expand their capabilities.

“We’re starting out with just dogs. We’re trying to get up and running, and we do a lot of running,” Burger said.

In the process is the new webpage, which is a part of the county government’s website that has been steadily improving since Hutto’s election and the local government’s efforts to have more information available to citizens.

Burger hopes the webpage will reunite more dogs with their rightful owners and help educate citizens on laws regarding their pets. They’re currently adding pictures of every dog that is being held at their facility in an effort to give people a chance to see if their dog is being housed by the department.

“We’ve wanted this website since day one,” Burger said. “I told the mayor it would help find more owners.”

Along with pictures of all the dogs currently at their facility, the department’s website contains the full text of state laws regarding dogs running at-large and the law for giving dogs yearly rabies vaccinations.

Burger said almost all of the dogs that they find roaming at-large in the county do not have the proper rabies vaccinations, a very troubling fact. She said hopefully the website will inform pet owners about the laws and how to abide by them.

“People can go on there and see the laws and hopefully abide by them,” she said.

Dogs are required to be vaccinated for rabies at least by the age of 6 months and must have vaccinations each year, and are required to wear tags showing they have had rabies shots.

For dogs at the department’s facility without tags for rabies vaccinations, when the owner comes to pick them up, they have to show proof the dog has had the vaccine. If the dog has not, the department cannot release them, but takes the animal to a veterinarian to get the vaccine at the owner’s expense.

Also on Burger’s agenda is a vicious or dangerous dog ordinance to add to the county’s laws to protect the people of Wilson County. While she did not want to discuss the details of the ordinance, she did say she had a meeting scheduled with County Attorney Mike Jennings to go over the ordinance.

Burger hopes that within a month, the ordinance will be on the agenda of the Wilson County Commission for their approval. She said that there have been a few cases of dog bites since January, and said the severity of the bite and whether a dog has a history of biting people will determine whether it’s a dangerous animal.

“We’re going to try and be fair with everybody, that’s why we’re having the attorney take a look at it,” Burger said of the ordinance.

In the future, Burger said they hope to have adoption services that the department currently does not have, although they do partner with other adoption organizations such as New Leash on Life and Country K9 Rescue.

“She’s made great strides there in collaborating with other animal control agencies across the county,” Hutto said of Burger.

Burger said when people call about their missing pets, if the county Animal Control facility does not have them, she’ll tell them to call the City of Lebanon or Mt. Juliet Animal Control departments to also check there as well as the adoption shelters across the county.

While there are no plans in the works as of now, Burger said she’d like to see the department’s facilities expand to hold more dogs if needed and to include other pets besides dogs that may have gone missing.

In the meantime, she and her staff will continue to find missing pets and their owners, while also working to inform the public about the relevant laws and procedures for caring for their pets.

“We’ve had numerous compliments, and I’m very happy about that because we are here for the people,” Burger said.

You may visit the Animal Control Department’s webpage at www.wilsoncountytn.com/Animal%20Control.htm or call the department at 444-9775. The department is open from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m., and for emergencies after hours you may call 489-3383.

Staff Writer Patrick Hall may be contacted at phall@wilsonpost.com.

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