Six deputies who currently handle animal-control duties will be reassigned to a school resource officer program when Beaufort County hires three new code-enforcement officers to take their place.
Beaufort County Sheriff P.J. Tanner said he can think of a better way to use six deputies currently assigned to animal-control duties -- make them school resource officers.
But county officials won't leave the animal shelter shorthanded.
Three new code-enforcement officers are likely to replace the deputies. Although a date for the switch from law enforcement to civilians hasn't been set and the job vacancies have not been advertised, deputy county administrator Bryan Hill said the change "will be soon."
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The new employees, who will be supervised by shelter director Tallulah Trice, shouldn't increase county costs because other vacant positions have not been filled, Hill said.
The deputies who work in animal control currently answer complaints about nuisance animals, investigate cases of neglect or abuse, and trap roaming animals that pose a risk to public safety.
Code-enforcement officers wouldn't have the same investigative powers or be able to make arrests. Reports of neglected, abused or aggressive animals would still be handled by law enforcement.
But deputies "don't need to be trapping feral cats," Tanner said.
Trice, who said dealing with cats takes up most of the Animal Control department's time, agreed, adding that most shelters use code-enforcement officers, not deputies, for such efforts.
The shelter is trapping an average of 60 cats a week to combat a feline overpopulation, Trice said. The shelter then spays or neuters the animals before releasing them.
In preparation for the reassignment of animal-control officers, Trice has been training other staff and volunteers to handle the deputies' responsibilities. Cats are the most common concern, but staff will also be taught how to deal with other animals they might encounter, from injured birds to snakes.
Tony Mills, education director for the LowCountry Institute, recently showed shelter staff how to handle both venomous and nonvenomous serpents at the institute's nature center on Spring Island.
Though they wouldn't be called out to the field to deal with a venomous snake, they might spot one while on another call, Mills said. He demonstrated safe ways to capture the snakes using a clamp stick and a bucket. Staff and volunteers practiced on some of the snakes at the center -- including a copperhead.
When the county hires new shelter employees, the deputies will join 16 of their colleagues who have been visiting elementary schools since January during free time on their regular shifts.
But they won't be leaving animals entirely behind.
Tanner hopes to equip the former animal-control officers with therapy dogs to serve as an ice-breaker with the children they meet while roaming school halls.