Branch County’s sole animal control officer runs the shelter

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It’s National Animal Control Week. Branch County Deputy Sheriff Ernie Baker is the one-man show for Branch County and home to stray dogs for Hillsdale County.

Budget cuts in 2011 left Baker as the sole full-time animal cases officer. Baker also tends to the shelter on weekdays from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. In the afternoon he sets out to enforce animal laws.

Baker gets help from two jailers from the jail next door every day.

“They clean and feed the dogs,” he said. “They are doing a really good job. They come every day. That makes it nice, so I don’t have to worry about the weekends. I know it will be done.”

The trustees also walk the dogs.

Built in 2017, the new emergency shelter replaced the former on Ray-Quincy Road, which was partially damaged by a fire in May 2015.

Hillsdale County entrusts Branch County with housing its stray dogs. Hillsdale County Commissioners agreed to pay $30,000 per year for three years to cover capital costs on the 10-year contract. It is $10 per day per dog.

The $591,000 facility has 20 kennels for up to 40 dogs and 20 cages for cats.

Baker said the number of imported dogs has stayed about the same over the past five years.

“We average about 240 a year,” he said. “I think there’s 80 to 100 dogs coming out of Hillsdale County. It’s pretty much the same since we had to sign a deal with them.”

The difference is fewer dogs are being reclaimed from Hillsdale County.

“I’d love to see their numbers increase,” Baker said.

Owners can call the Hillsdale County Sheriff’s Department about lost dogs.

“They run their website and they have pictures of a dog that they pick up,” Baker said. “We’ve done that in the past. All we got was people on the internet being rude and mean. But we might do that again so all citizens can see their dog.”

In January 2016, Branch County became the last animal shelter in the state to close its euthanasia gas chamber. The county became a no-kill animal shelter, but will still only euthanize animals if they are too sick to recover or found to be too dangerous. Then lethal injections are used.

Baker said only one or two dogs have been euthanized in recent years.

Under state law, stray dogs are held at the shelter for four business days to give the owner an opportunity to reclaim them. The “Release Date” is when the dog is available for adoption, rescue, or transfer.

If there are medical or behavioral issues, reasons why the dog cannot be adopted, it will be marked “Owner Pickup Only”.

For dogs that have not been reclaimed: “I have a really good relationship with the Humane Society with Jan Nageldinger, Animal Aid of Branch County, and Erin’s Angels. They look at the dog and work really hard to find a home for it, or put it into a system where it can find a home. They also assess each dog before they are euthanized.

Michigan law states that any animal adopted from an animal shelter must be spayed or neutered.

Michigan law also states that all dogs without exception must be licensed and the license must be on the dog. Approximately 60% of dogs brought to shelters wear an unlicensed collar. The remaining 40% have no collar.

4,000 to 5,000 dog licenses are sold in Branch County. Given the number of households, there should be around 10,000 dogs. With only one officer, it is difficult to enforce the licensing law.

Baker said the sheriff and new county treasurer Steve Rutz are looking into selling dog licenses online.

It is against Michigan law to give up an animal anywhere in the state, even to an animal shelter after it has closed.

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