Twelve years of hard work at the animal shelter


Tim Leeds

Gordon Inabnit is getting some volunteer help at the Havre animal shelter to give him a break in his work week.

"For 12 years I've been up here seven days a week cleaning and feeding," Inabnit said.

This weekend will be the first that two volunteers are working on their own at the shelter. Inabnit, the Havre animal control officer, has been training them the last two weekends.

At first, the volunteers will just clean the shelter and feed the animals, but in a couple of months the shelter might open on the weekends to allow people to view the animals.

"That's part of our goal for now, getting weekend hours," he said. "Our biggest long-range goal is to get the shelter open to the public more hours so we have more adoptions."

Getting more animals adopted is a major goal. Once an animal is logged into the shelter, state law requires that the owners be given four days to pick it up. After that, the animal can be adopted or sent to a veterinarian to be euthanized.

Inabnit finds it difficult to take animals to be euthanized, but he tries to remember the victories instead of the defeats.

"If you don't have some compassion for 'em, you're in the wrong job," he said. "You've got to keep looking at the ones you've saved."

Seeing the smile on the face of a child whose dog he's returned is the kind of thing Inabnit tries to remember.

"Besides, we don't euthanize the dogs. The owners do by not claiming them," he said.

Inabnit said there are three things people can do to help him in his job. The first is education.

People need to know what the laws about animals are. Inabnit deals with city and county ordinances and state laws every day, depending on which jurisdiction he is working in.

If people knew the laws, they could obey them. However, ignorance of the law is no excuse, he said.

City ordinances require that all dogs be registered and vaccinated, and that the dog's license number be displayed on a tag suspended from its collar. No dog is allowed to run at large. The animal control officer can impound any dog determined to be a nuisance dog; any dog determined to be a vicious dog will be destroyed.

Another helpful tip? People should not make anonymous complaints about animals, Inabnit said. If the call is anonymous, and the animal is no longer doing whatever the complaint was about, there isn't much he can do.

"Without a witness, I really can't write a ticket unless I observe it myself," Inabnit said.

One of the most useful things pet owners can do is have their pets spayed or neutered, Inabnit said.

"You pick up 10, there's 10 more out there having a litter of 10," he said.

The cleaning and feeding are just part of Inabnit's busy day. A typical day includes patrols, answering complaints, and maybe trips to the veterinarian. Inabnit also does the maintenance on the shelter, including carpentry and plumbing.

One day a collie escaped from its pen and nearly chewed the doorknob off the entrance to a quarantine area for sick animals. It then broke into the shelter's office, jumped the wall into the quarantine room, and chewed the molding off the door into the garage and storage area. It had nearly chewed all the molding on the room's window before Inabnit came back and caught it.

The doorknob to the quarantine room, which still works, still shows the bite marks.

"This is just an example of what can happen with a dog up here. It's just continuous maintenance," Inabnit said. "This is a lot like jail. These dogs have nothing to do for 24 hours a day."

Maybe the most memorable task he had was taking care of a couple of African lions, some panthers and a Bengal tiger several years after he started 12 years ago, Inabnit said.

A man had moved to the Havre area from Texas, and brought the animals with him, Inabnit said. Animal control had to step in and help care for the animals after the man was unable to.

"We took care of them for a good couple of months," until the animals could be transferred to zoos and other organizations around the country, Inabnit said.

Feeding a Bengal tiger was something to remember, he said.

"It would grab a five-pound chicken and throw its head back - that's the size of your head," Inabnit said. "It wouldn't even start chewing until the fourth or fifth one."

When it comes to adoptions, Inabnit said, the Havre shelter sadly is close to the national average: About half to a third of the animals that enter the shelter have to be euthanized.

Which animals are killed is decided on a case-by-case basis, he added. Factors include the condition and age of the dog, how adoptable it is, and its health and temperament.

Temperament is a major factor, he said.

"If I get a dog somebody gave me because it's biting their kids, I'm not going to adopt it out," he said. "I have to put down too many nice, adoptable dogs to adopt out one that's aggressive."

Which is another problem in catching dogs, he said.

"Basically, we only catch the dogs that want to be caught," he said.

Some dogs have been running from him over the course of several years, Inabnit said.

"It's just like they know me," he said. "They're three blocks away when I get to the curb."

It's the vicious dogs and the running dogs that need to be caught, he said, not the type that come up wagging their tails.

Not all of the vicious or running dogs escape forever.

"We do catch some," Inabnit said. "'Every dog has its day' is sort of true."


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