Polk animal cruelty investigators reinstated by new board

Published 10:00 pm Wednesday, December 21, 2016

COLUMBUS– The new Polk County Board of Commissioners reinstated two animal cruelty investigators who were not reappointed by the previous board in August 2015.

Commissioners met Monday, Dec. 19 and reappointed Patti Lovelace and Nancy Hasselbring to the animal cruelty investigator board. The unanimous decision was welcomed by the audience with a round of applause.

Commissioner chair Tommy Melton said over the summer commissioner candidates were invited to the Foothills Humane Society and were asked questions. One of the questions Melton said he asked, addressing the “elephant in the room,” was how the board felt about the two investigators who were off the volunteer board. The humane society board said they approved of the two investigators.

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Melton also said later he asked Polk County Sheriff Donald Hill about reinstating the two investigators and the sheriff as well as the animal control officer gave their approval.

Commissioner vice-chair Jake Johnson thanked the humane society for the tour over the summer.

“This is a good business decision we plan to make tonight,” Johnson said.

Commissioner Ray Gasperson said he wasn’t invited to the summer meeting but he’s voted to reappoint Lovelace and Hasselbring two times already.

Lovelace and Hasselbring were animal cruelty investigators for several years prior to not being reappointed in 2015. Then commissioners Keith Holbert, Michael Gage and the late Tom Pack voted against reappointing the two. Pack said at the time he didn’t reappoint them because they signed an advertisement in 2014 that ran in the Tryon Daily Bulletin supporting the three Democratic commissioner candidates for the election. Pack, who was commissioner chairman at the time, said he did not feel obligated to appoint members who publicly try to sway people to vote against him and other Republicans.

A petition was then circulated after the 2015 vote amassing more than 1,050 signatures, and the vote came up again before commissioners with several letters to the editor in the Bulletin and many public comments at county meetings. The vote to reappoint Lovelace and Hasselbring in 2015 failed the second time.

New commissioners were sworn into office on Dec. 5, including chair Melton, vice-chair Johnson and Myron Yoder. They joined commissioners Gasperson and Shane Bradley, who voted in 2015 to reappoint Lovelace and Hasselbring as animal cruelty investigators.

Animal cruelty investigators work with the county sheriff’s office’s animal control to investigate cases of cruelty to animals and neglect.

Margo Savage started the animal cruelty investigator team in 2004. She spoke during citizen comments at Monday’s meeting.

Savage said on May 24, 2004 the first animal cruelty investigators were approved and sworn in and since then over 400 cases have been handled, including llamas, alpacas, horses, dogs, cats and pigs.

“Sometimes we’ve had as many as 20 animals to take care of and supervise at one time,” Savage told commissioners.

Savage said she is getting older and gone are her days of crawling under fences and under houses and chasing animals through creeks to rescue them. She said 2015 was her last year as a field investigator, although she continues to help through training and education.

She said the animal cruelty investigators need more people to help. She asked that commissioners appoint Lovelace and Hasselbring. She also offered to show a presentation to the board so they know what the investigators do in the county. Melton invited Savage to set up a time with the county manager so the board could hear her presentation.

There is still one vacancy left on the animal cruelty investigator board.