After months without animal control, Nome has a temporary solution for loose dogs

Crates for loose animals at the local Nome animal shelter in 2017.( Davis Hovey, KNOM )

After seven months without a designated animal control officer, the City of Nome announced this week that they have begun contracting with an animal control officer again. That could reduce the number of animals at the local pound, however city officials caution this is only a trial period.

During Monday’s City Council meeting, City Manager Glenn Steckman explained the nature of the new agreement between Nome and ACO Emily Stotts.

“She is, on a temporary basis, through June 30th to see how it works. If we decide to enter into a multi-year (agreement)…She’s not an employee, she’s an agent of the City.”

Stotts is also the president and chief volunteer for People for Animal Welfare and Safety (PAWS) of Nome, which is a nonprofit organization focused on surrendered dogs and sometimes cats. On many occasions over the last several months, while the ACO position was vacant, Stotts says she was personally responding to calls for loose dogs within city limits.

“When I respond to calls that’s not as a PAWS volunteer, that’s as Emily, (out of) the kindness of my heart. I’m an advocate for animals and for poor, innocent people who are just trying to help get those animals safe.”

Options for what to do with those picked-up animals continue to be limited though, especially when there isn’t an animal control officer in Nome. The Nome Animal House can board pets temporarily, but they don’t perform ACO duties. PAWS as a nonprofit, does not have the legal authority to pick-up loose dogs unless, Vice President Chrystie Salesky says, Nome Police or an ACO respond to the call.

“We’re really hoping in the future that we can advocate enough and build enough partnerships to get those animals into better conditions, if they’re not and have someone with authority who can take them. Because animals have no voice, we want to be their voice, but we can only do so much as a volunteer group.”

That leaves the city pound, and according to Stotts, sometimes even taking an animal to the pound is not an option.

“Unfortunately I’ve been turned away from the pound. This last dog I tried to take to the pound, I called before I arrived and said I am bringing this dog. And they said ‘no, you can’t bring it, the pound is full.’ So, I said what do I do with this dog? And they said ‘let it back loose or hold on to it.’”

Interim Police Chief Mike Heintzelman confirms that the pound has reached max capacity in the last couple of months. City ordinances stipulate that after an animal has been impounded for more than ten days, an officer enforcing animal control can destroy the animal. There is no evidence that an animal from the pound has been destroyed recently, however, Heintzelman acknowledges that some dogs did sit at the pound for several weeks.

In order to ease some of the burden, Heintzelman says one community service officer has been caring for the animals at the local pound since former ACO Dawn Ubelaker left in June of 2019.

“We’ve had one of our CSOs, Bryan Piercy step up to the plate and Bryan is a great lover of animals. So, in the absence of the animal control position, Bryan Piercy has been coming here three times a day, whether he’s working or not.”

The chief said that there is currently a lack of infrastructure in place for relocating and housing loose dogs in Nome. Salesky of PAWS agrees and says there are larger issues with animal control in Nome that have not been addressed. 

Now that the ACO position is filled, temporarily, it is unclear what changes will be made to address the number of loose animals being impounded locally.