County officials scrutinize contract with BCARL

ST. CLAIRSVILLE – Belmont County Commissioners are reexamining their contract with the Belmont County Rescue League in the wake of a controversial incident that has gained attention throughout the county in recent weeks.

Brent Conaway of the Willow Grove Road area outside of St. Clairsville attended Wednesday’s board of commissioners meeting along with friend Bruce Seabright II. Commissioners were already familiar with the issue at hand.

Conaway’s family dog had gone missing in February, but was located after the family found the dog listed on a website for the Belmont County Animal Shelter. However, the dog was not returned to the family, and on Wednesday, officials learned that the pet had been adopted out to another family, despite pleas from the Conaways and county officials, as well.

The dog named Annie accidentally got away on a day toward the end of February and didn’t return home, Conaway said. The family posted flyers and searched for the dog for weeks to no avail. Conaway said they contacted the Belmont County Animal Shelter later that week, but was told there were no new dogs brought to the shelter then.

It wasn’t until a week ago Tuesday when Conaway said his wife found Annie on BCARL’s Facebook website. The dog was listed under the name “Zoey.”

“They won’t give it back,” he said, noting that despite showing numerous pictures of the pet with the family, officials at the animal shelter would not return the dog to them. “They won’t give us a reason. It’s not like she’s outside on a chain all the time. She’s an inside dog.”

Conaway said they got a mixed bag of responses from individuals at the animal shelter since last week, with one individual telling them the dog had already been adopted and another telling them that they knew for a fact that the dog had not been adopted.

“She was there last Wednesday,” said Conaway, who indicated that the dog was taken out of sight of its owners because it was making a fuss to reunite with them. “They claimed it was not there on Saturday.”

One individual at the animal shelter began yelling at them at one point, Conaway claimed.

Commissioner Chuck Probst said he had talked with BCARL officials and got the same treatment.

Probst said he had a conversation with BCARL President Judy Geimer, who said they had the dog for more than two months. Typically, a stray animal can be euthanized after 3-5 days, but they decided to try to find the animal a good home instead.

“I asked for them to give it back,” said Probst. “I understand they have a very tough job to do out there. The Belmont County Animal Rescue League has done a lot of good things in the past, but I think it’s ridiculous not to return a dog to its rightful owner. We just can’t get a straight story either.”

Probst said there are obviously rules that should be followed, but noted that every circumstance is different. The Conaways continued looking for their dog until it was found at the shelter, he noted.

“All we’re trying to do is work out a compromise,” said Probst, who indicated that BCARL officials threatened to defend any dispute with legal means and would fill the commissioners’ chambers with their supporters. “This is just not right. There needs to be some changes. Our hands are somewhat tied until some of the language in their contract can be changed..”

Officials said the county’s contract with BCARL was forwarded to the county prosecutor for his review and recommendation.

During Wednesday’s meeting, Commissioner Matt Coffland contacted Dog Warden Verna Painter and was given a breakdown of the events leading to the dog’s adoption to a new home. According to the conversation, the dog was received on Feb. 24. They kept the dog for the three-day period, and two additional days before euthanization was considered, but they instead tried to have the dog adopted. On March 6, the dog was listed online, but they heard nothing. On April 21, it was finally adopted to a new home, and on April 24 the new owner came to the shelter to claim the dog.

One key problem was the fact that the dog was not registered by the Conaways, officials said. The family was willing to pay any fees to the shelter to get the dog back, but apparently found the dog at the shelter too late. Officials at the animal shelter said they had the dog for 62 days. Those in attendance at Wednesday’s commissioners meeting questioned why the adoption process continued despite the family coming forward to claim their dog.

“This could happen to anybody,” said Seabright.

“I just don’t think it’s in the best interest to have a dog adopted out to another family,” said Commissioner Ginny Favede. “It’s not fair to the original owners and it’s not fair to the new family, either.”

Attempts to contact the Belmont County Animal Rescue League following Wednesday’s meeting were unsuccessful.

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