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County restructures animal shelter and operations

Changes reflect best practices in animal welfare and public safety

Grand Rapids, Mich. (June 14, 2022) Kent County will soon restructure its animal shelter and animal control operations. On July 1, the animal shelter will move out from under the Kent County Health Department and will be structured as a stand-alone county department reporting directly to the administration. At the same time, animal control operations will be reassigned to a dedicated, specially trained team at the Kent County Sheriff’s Office.

“Best practices in animal welfare and animal control are Kent County’s top priority in restructuring these operations,” said Kent County Administrator Al Vanderberg. “We consulted subject matter experts and community members and commissioned extensive research into county-level animal shelter and animal control operations before recommending these changes. These decisions are data-driven and reflect nationwide best practices in animal welfare, as well as public safety.”

Kent County Animal Control

Animal control will be reassigned to the Sheriff’s Office because these operations are largely a function of law enforcement. The team will be led by certified law enforcement officers including a KCSO Enforcement Division lieutenant and two Enforcement Division sergeants who will oversee daily operations and staff. Staff will include a civilian animal control supervisor and civilian special deputies who will be supported by community outreach, media relations and training staff already at the Sheriff’s Office.

At a meeting on June 9, the Kent County Board of Commissioners unanimously approved recommendations from its Legislative and Human Resources Committee and Finance and Physical Resources Committee to create and fund the three full-time animal control unit supervisors at the Sheriff’s Office.

“For years, KCSO officers have worked cooperatively with Kent County animal control officers in response to calls and to carry out the law enforcement aspects of these operations,” said Kent County Sheriff Michelle LaJoye-Young. “With these changes, animal control operations will be led by sworn law enforcement officers trained to provide oversight and to protect due process in rapidly unfolding legal and civil rights matters.”

While the animal control officers will be civilian positions and will not have arresting authority, the certified Sheriff’s deputies in the animal control unit will have authority to make arrests when there is cause to believe a crime has been committed.

To prepare for these changes, the Sheriff’s Office is developing a new Kent County Animal Control Ordinance to replace the Kent County Health Department Animal Control Regulations that have been on the books for over 20 years. Starting July 1, the new ordinance will apply anywhere in the county where local city, township or village ordinances are not already in place. Existing local ordinances will supersede the Kent County Animal Control Ordinance.

How and When to Contact Animal Control

If a Kent County resident encounters an animal emergency—an animal is attacking a person, or a pet is in immediate danger—they should call 911. Otherwise, residents should call the Kent County Sheriff’s Department dispatch at (616) 632-7310 if they encounter a stray dog, in the case of a dog bite, or to report a suspected case of animal cruelty or neglect.

Kent County Animal Shelter

With the restructuring announced today, the Kent County Animal Shelter will maintain primary responsibility for the care, shelter and feeding of lost and abandoned animals in Kent County. The change in reporting directly to the administration will allow the Kent County Health Department to focus more exclusively on human health.

“Our mission hasn’t changed. We remain keenly focused on reuniting pets with their families and finding safe and loving new homes for animals when needed,” said Kent County Animal Shelter Director Angela Hollinshead. “We value the assistance that many community leaders and animal welfare agencies have provided in support of that mission and of the animals in our care over the past several years. We look forward to working with these leaders and organizations to formalize and increase community support in the months ahead.”

Following the restructuring, County administration and the animal shelter will explore the possibility of establishing a foundation and “friends group” to increase financial and volunteer support for the shelter.

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