By Chris Edwards
IVANHOE – The city of Ivanhoe has faced a dangerous and escalating situation involving a pack of feral dogs on a resident’s property. Mayor Cathy Bennett has faced criticism for the steps taken thus far to address the problem but said she and the city have become involved out of necessity, as it amounts to a matter of public safety.
“I would have preferred that this issue was not blown out of proportion,” Bennett said. After the resident, Michael Gray, approached the city on May 16 and informed her that the dogs could be a danger to the public and demanding the city get rid of them, Bennett said it was necessary to step in to protect the citizens.
“We are looking for a solution and working very hard toward finding a solution,” she said.
Bennett made a public service announcement concerning the situation last week, which was issued to media and posted to Ivanhoe-related Facebook sites and the city’s official webpage. When it was published to the Tyler County Booster Facebook page, it elicited a barrage of criticism.
Bennett issued the announcement to make the public aware of the situation and to warn them in advance of Memorial Day weekend. “We will be having an influx of people here in Ivanhoe enjoying the beautiful surroundings,” the notice read. It went on to state that anyone visiting Ivanhoe and/or residents who would be walking around the city or riding in golf carts to not go near the 200 block of Sir Henry Drive. The dogs are behind a fence, but Bennett said they can possibly get out or even push down the fence.
The city’s involvement in the situation began in March when Bennett received a call from a neighboring resident who said the dogs had gotten loose. According to a city ordinance, dogs must be enclosed or on a leash. Another stipulation is that residents can only have up to five dogs. Gray was cited twice for the loose dogs and having more dogs than the allowed limit.
According to Gray, the dogs, which might be as many as 50, are un-adoptable and have not been vaccinated. When he approached Bennett earlier in the month, he said he had been bitten, and demanded the dogs be disposed of prior to Memorial Day weekend, due to the potential danger to the public. He also spoke to Ivanhoe City Judge Judith Haney, who took photographically documented his injury.
Bennett said the city court was already attempting to get help for the problem, but when Gray placed the responsibility on the city, she and other city employees began reaching out to “everyone we could think of” to find help and resources.
“On two previous occasions, the Houston SPCA has come out to Ivanhoe to remove dogs from the same location, but we have been informed that they cannot assist us with the current situation,” Bennett said.
Charitable organizations and the National Humane Society have reached out to the city, once the situation became public, but these contacts have been to no avail. Other organizations which specialize in animal rescue could not provide assistance, either. “Here we are with a problem, with all these dogs that are supposedly unadoptable and have become vicious,” Bennett said.
Bennett added that due to the outrage on social media, some groups and veterinarians do not want to be involved.
Although she was aware of the previous incidents, Bennett said she did not know Gray was accumulating dogs again. A court order was issued for the removal or disposal of 30-50 dogs from the property. Some of them are puppies, which Bennett was told by one veterinarian could be saved.
Bennett said she has also reached out to County Judge Jacques Blanchette, but there is no animal control personnel or protocol at the county level. It is a budget issue, Bennett said, that Ivanhoe does not have the money to maintain an animal control program, like other cities in Tyler County.
A large part of the problem with the dogs is due, Bennett said, to Ivanhoe’s vast network of roads, which people use to dump unwanted animals. “There are people who have a heart for animals and feed the stray animals,” she said. In Gray’s situation, she said people have been enabling the problem to get worse by providing him with dog food.
The problem with stray animals is one that Bennett said she is not usually aware of, but when it becomes a public safety hazard, she said that as mayor, it is paramount to notify the public. As far as the backlash she and the city have faced on social media once the story became public, she said the criticism is counterproductive, as she is working toward a solution, but also open to anyone, or any group, who can provide help.
“It would be nice if all of us could work together to find some sort of solution. Instead of criticizing each other, let’s resolve this.”