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Forum editorial: Love dogs until they cost money

The good folks of the Red River Valley region say they love dogs, but they don't. Law enforcement officials say they are doing their best to deal with strays and abandoned dogs, but they aren't. "We're not a bunch of inhumane people," says a councilman from a small Minnesota town, but they are.

Those are the conclusions any reasonable person would make after assessing the methods used to deal with strays in small towns in Minnesota and North Dakota. While laws differ in both states, enforcement is at best spotty. And when law enforcement itself is charged with rounding up and disposing of strays, common practices have little resemblance to the law.

It's a question of resources, small-town and rural county officials say in their defense. For example, the cost of euthanizing a dog is about $100. It's cheaper and the result is the same by having a deputy shoot a dog. That's been done more often than any of us would like to believe.

The cost of a properly managed kennel apparently is too much for at least one area small town to bear. Ada, Minn., city leaders rejected a $5,000 expenditure for a kennel a couple of years ago. No kennel often means the animals are tied to a light pole at a public works building and then taken out and shot - all apparently legal, by the way.

In nearby Halstad, a city official said - with a straight face, we assume - the city doesn't have a stray dog problem. The two towns have been unable to come to an agreement to share the cost of a kennel. But hey, if there's no stray dog problem in Halstad ...

Oh, and to further darken the picture, state-mandated record-keeping regarding disposition of strays looks to be incomplete, if done at all.

To be fair, Ada and Halstad are not alone when it comes to handling stray dogs in ways city officials would rather not talk about. Rural communities up and down the Red River Valley have similar problems and deal with them similarly, which means strays are routinely mistreated and disposed of by shooting them.

While it sounds harsh, it really is a matter of priorities for the towns. A kennel costing $5,000 might not sound like a big bill for Fargo or Moorhead, but in Ada or Halstad it's a significant chunk of money. Leaders of those towns respond to their constituents. If the voters demanded the city spend taxpayer dollars on a humane kennel and euthanasia done by a veterinarian, it would happen. Clearly, the residents of those cities want limited dollars spent elsewhere - streets, snowplowing, water systems, parks, etc.

When municipal or county priorities are perused, stray dogs are far down the list, if listed at all. Which pretty much confirms that when folks say they love dogs, it doesn't mean they love 'em enough to pay for humane treatment of strays.