Bethlehem Wrestles with Stray Dog Problem

City hires lost pet caretaker while it negotiates for animal shelter space. Councilwoman wants to form committee to find solution for growing numbers of strays.


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.

Do you agree that there is a growing problem with stray dogs and cats in Bethlehem? Tell us in the comments.

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.

Dana Grubb June 20, 2012 at 12:23 PM
Daryl, While there may be a growing problem with stray dogs, for at least fifteen years there have been issues with stray cats in some southside neighborhoods. I heard complaints from residents in the general area around Yosko Park in the late 1990s, many of whom believed that Lehigh students kept cats in their apartments during the school year and then would release them when they left to return home for the summer months. That we were never able to determine as true or not. At one point there was a catch/spay or neuter/release program for feral cats being conducted, the hope being that it would combat a growing population of feral cats. I don't know if that program still exists. From what I've read elsewhere there seems to be an attitude amongst some people that pets are disposable property, and others attribute the development of that attitude on difficult economic conditions. At the end of the day, it may be more of an issue of limited resources to handle the problem than that of a growing problem, but as I said last night the issue as published in the E-T originally seemed to center around the humane treatment of those animals that were in the city's care. And, for that they must be held accountable and improve those conditions, which they appear to be doing.
Mary Anne Looby June 20, 2012 at 12:25 PM
How does one hire a lost pet caretaker if said caretaker is lost? CITY HIRES CARETAKER FOR LOST PETS.......see the difference?? I mean no offense, just reqesting a little clarity.
Jim Gregory June 20, 2012 at 12:33 PM
I agree with Karen. More needs to be done..The city needs to consider a spay/nueter program for cats. In my opinion they should have continued working with the animal shelter. Everyone thinks the price is too steep until they have to deal with the problem..Then they realize it isnt as easy as they thought.
Sunday June 20, 2012 at 01:35 PM
I agree with Dana Grubb. I do not live in the southside of Bethlehem, I live in Bethlehem TWP, but there are so many stray cats here I can't even count them. Some of the cats are feral, but a lot of them are owned by people who allow them to roam outdoors. I just don't understand why anyone would think that it's ok to allow their cat to roam the streets of the neighborhood! Talk about inconsiderate - both to the cat and neighbors who have to clean up their flower beds and gardens after them because they use them as litter boxes. These are the same cats who hunt and kill the birds at my bird feeders and kill the little chipmunks that I feed (by hand) every day. Sorry to vent about this - it's just that nothing ticks me off more than to see this happen all because the pet owners think their cat is much happier outdoors. At night, we can hear the cats fighting with each other - another horrible thing they do!
Carmen June 20, 2012 at 08:23 PM
I don't understand why cat owners believe cats need to be let outside-my cat has never been outside a day in her life, she is 17 years old and very happy and healthy-if I had let her outside over the years she may have been hurt, pickesd up a disease or even worse killed-neuter/spay your cat and they will less likely want to spend time roaming outdoors.
Dana Grubb June 20, 2012 at 09:03 PM
I absolutely agree with you Carmen. My cat has never been left out to roam since I adopted him. He's neutered, knows he's the boss, and he's safe and healthy.
Daryl Nerl (Editor) June 20, 2012 at 09:50 PM
I absolutely agree. Indoor cats live longer, healthier lives and are not unhappy to be there as long as you pay them some attention. I have neighbors who let their cat outside and it came up with fleas that they are now having trouble getting rid of. Keep the cats indoors.
Jennifer June 24, 2012 at 02:21 PM
Mr. Nerl, I saw your post on The Center's Facebook page and posted this there as well. Please contact The Center's manager or myself if you have any further questions. Bethlehem's 2011 contract with The Center was honored for several months in 2012 while we attempted to come to an agreement on the 2012 contract. Bethlehem was offered several extensions, but negotiations appeared to break down when we asked for a City contact to be available to approve or deny citizen drop-offs and to act as a citizen liaison. The statement that we have stopped accepting dogs from The City of Bethlehem is untrue; since January 2012, we have taken in 21 cats, 19 dogs, and one rat from The City of Bethlehem; however, we sometimes simply run out of room. Bethlehem pet owners should note the blog on which Bethlehem posts stray animals. If you are a Bethlehem resident who loses or finds an animal in the City, you must call the Bethlehem Police Department before calling The Center. Jennifer L. Gray--President, The Center for Animal Health & Welfare
Jennifer June 24, 2012 at 03:11 PM
Mr. Nerl, Also, thank you for speaking with our shelter manager and board vice president on Thursday. Allowing readers to see the issue from our perspective is appreciated. For readers following this thread, I felt it important to respond here as well. Sincerely, Jennifer L. Gray


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