Animal control in Lyon needs new boss, new direction

SILVER SPRINGS - Just as Lyon County's first animal control supervisor leaves for a new job, the County Commission likely will take a serious look at the future of animal control.

Many this year have questioned whether animal control should stay in the Sheriff's Department or be shifted to another department. The commission in summer acknowledged that as the county grows animal control will become more of a pressing issue.

"Animal control has been a problem," Commissioner Bob Milz said. "It will continue to be one until we address the issue. I guarantee we will be addressing it."

Milz said that could be as soon as January as the commission starts budget discussions. Lyon County Manager Steve Snyder said the overall animal control matter may be handled as the county seeks a new animal control supervisor.

"It may be an opportunity for the county to revisit that subject," Snyder said. "It has come up before."

Outgoing animal control supervisor Mike Wellington is credited with building a substantial program from next to nothing when he started four years ago. Complaints haven't been directed at him; the animal control facilities and policies can't adequately deal with the spread-out nature of Lyon County.

The county has only four animal control officers to cover Yerington, Smith Valley, Silver Springs, Dayton, Mound House, Fernley and all points in between. Sheriff Sid Smith reportedly has a reputation of having little interest in enforcing animal regulations.

Smith earlier this year discounted the views of people who say he's not tough on stray cats.

"As for cats, we don't have facilities to deal with the cat issue," Smith said. "More importantly, there is no ordinance to control cats. My personal belief is they are tough to control in a county like ours."

Smith this week said he believes animal control should remain with his department for now.

"I did talk to the county manager about this briefly (this week)," the sheriff said. "I heard from one commissioner that he is interested in creating a new department. Some day that is probably something the county should look at. I don't think the county is big enough now."

Milz said animal control needs more funding.

"We probably need to put it in a different department," Milz said. "I would say Public Works. I think it is a proper time to address the issue."

Wellington will leave the animal shelter in Silver Springs on Dec. 17 to become the animal regulation manager in Lane County, Ore.

"In the beginning, this was basically a little dumpy building that nobody wanted to come to," Wellington said.

Wellington added that when he started, animal control sold about 10 or 15 dog licenses a month, a number that has soared beyond a 100 a month.

"We installed a licensing program that was friendly to use," Wellington said.

Wellington established a lost-and-found program, built up a volunteer corps from zero to 10 active volunteers and set up a notice program. He worked to resolve animal problems without having to involve the courts.

"Before, all it was was citation, citation, citation," Wellington said. "I made a pledge to the district attorney that my department would not waste the DA's time."

Pam Spinner, a former Lyon County Animal Control Advisory Board member, said animal control went from nearly non-existent to a functional, though undersized, program.

"Before Mike, there was no order to it," Spinner said. "Now there is a source to call if you have a problem with your pet or a neighbor's pet causes a problem. You will have an animal control officer come to your door."

The sheriff praised Wellington for finding people to donate dog food to the shelter.

"He's done a phenomenal job," Smith said. "Since he took over the shelter, I can't remember ever having to buy dog food."


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