City officials said Tuesday that they are on the verge of at least temporarily resolving a problem with stray dogs and cats, though one member of City Council urged a closer look at the issue.
The city has hired a contractor to care for stray animals kept temporarily in City Hall before they can be transported to a shelter with space, said Joseph Kelly, the city’s director of community and economic development.
Bethlehem is also on the verge of reaching an agreement with Christmas City Veterinary Hospital, 1003 W. Broad St., to care for strays until the owners or a more permanent home can be found, Kelly said.
Nonetheless, City Councilwoman Karen Dolan urged Council President Eric Evans to form an ad hoc committee to study what she said is a growing stray animal problem in Bethlehem.
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Among Dolan’s suggestions were fines for pet owners who let their animals run loose and do not have them spayed or neutered. “The problem is being caused by irresponsible dog owners and cat owners,” she said.
The issue came to a head last week when the simultaneously had custody of and were actively trying to find their owners.
Later in the week, two city employees anonymously approached The Express-Times with allegations that stray dogs were being left alone in crates beneath City Hall without food and water.
Kelly and Police Chief Jason Schiffer denied that this had happened. However, Kelly acknowledged that there was some confusion over who in City Hall was caring for the dogs while they were in the city’s custody.
Kelly said he resolved that issue by hiring Loving Your Dog, a Freemansburg contractor, to care for and feed stray dogs while they are in the city’s care. As of Tuesday night, there weren’t any.
Christmas City Veterinary has meanwhile told the city that it has three available dog runs that the city can use, Kelly said. A negotiation for services is under way.
Until early 2011, Bethlehem took stray animals collected by police to the Center for Animal Health & Welfare in Glendon, Williams Township, which for years has served as the de-facto Northampton County pound.
While that arrangement was in place, dogs would be kept in crates in the parking deck for no more than a few hours at a time before an officer could be sent to Glendon to bring the dog in, Schiffer said.
But the city refused to sign another contract with the Center when it tried to impose terms Kelly described as “unacceptable.” Those terms included a fee of $150 per dog for most dog breeds and $300 for accepting pit bulls.
At the same time, the center had stopped accepting dogs from Bethlehem months before the previous contract had run out, Kelly said. He said he could get no guarantee from the Center that there would be a place for the city to take its strays.
Since the city's relationship with the Center broke down, Bethlehem has been left to fend for itself in dealing with its lost dogs. It has been able to place some animals in other shelters when they have space available, Schiffer said. In many other instances, city employees have taken pets home and adopted them.
While the city may be on the verge of resolving its issue with strays, Kelly said he knows other municipalities are dealing with the same issues with a lack of facilities to house lost pets.
“It really is a countywide issue,” he said.