LEPANTO, AR (KAIT) -- The city of Lepanto in Poinsett County is in the process of hiring an animal control officer to handle the growing number of stray dogs, running around streets, back alleys and sifting through garbage cans. Mayor Steve Jernigan said city council members voted to create a new position using additional funds generated through water bills.
"Every meeting I've been to where we have city officials meet, the first topic of conversation is stray dogs. I mean I've been to Hot Springs. I've been to Little Rock and Jonesboro," said Jernigan. "We have a lot of people the feed them. We have some of the fattest strays you've ever seen."
Jernigan believes the strays are being dropped off in the county, and they come to the city looking for food. He said most animals are not aggressive, although city hall has taken calls of vicious dogs.
"If they live outside the city limits where there's no ordinance controlling animals, they just kind of let them do what they want to and then when they get overwhelmed. I don't know if they're bringing them from the country and dropping them off in town," said Jernigan. "They're looking for food and that's normal and they'll go to restaurants. They'll go to the school, wherever they think they can smell food. That's where they're going to go and people do feel sorry for them and they'll feed them. Next thing you know, they've had a litter of pups and you've got half a dozen more."
Jernigan said the city will hire an officer to catch the stray dogs on a part-time basis, with a $12,000 annual salary. Residents will pay an additional $1.25 each month on water bills to help pay for the position, Jernigan said.
"We don't have a city dog catcher. We didn't have the money to hire one until this last session of the city council. They voted to add $1.25 to the water bill to hire a dog catcher. I'm in the process of hiring one right now," said Jernigan. "We're just beginning to get started. We hope here in the next few months to have the money to start having them taken care of."
Jernigan said he's concerned for the safety of the animals and residents.
"We got a lot of stray dogs around and they seem to multiply faster than you can take care of them," said Jernigan. "They'll crawl up under some building or a vacant building or old house or something, they're up underneath there and have a litter of pups."
Residents like Tammy Brown were happy the city is moving to take action on the strays.
"If you have a pet, I think you should put it up or come out to the park with it and if you don't want it, give it to the right people instead of just bringing it to the park or rock roads and dropping them off," said Brown. "The dogs are a concern when me and my son go to the park. He's afraid to go off to different parts of the park because of the stray dogs."