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Plainfield Twp. supervisors think about putting teeth into animal control efforts

By Len Righi, WFMZ.com Reporter
Published On: Apr 25 2013 11:36:54 PM CDT
Updated On: Apr 26 2013 06:08:04 AM CDT
PLAINFIELD TWP., Pa. -

Lackadaisical pet owners in one Northampton County township could soon be on a short leash.

Plainfield Township supervisors are considering hiring an animal control officer, and Thursday night, they heard from the man who wants the job, Phil Bell, of Bangor, Northampton Co. "We need to make people responsible for their pets," he said, giving his philosophy in a nutshell.

The supervisors held off on making a decision at least until their May 8 meeting by tabling the matter.

In the meantime, at Bell's suggestion, the supervisors will study a new proposed ordinance put together over the last three months in Wind Gap, one of Plainfield's neighbors and one of Bell's employers.

Bell said that the ordinance, among other things, allows the animal control officer to make sure cat owners have their pets inoculated against rabies and keep them from wandering onto neighbors' property.

The supervisors also will look into an animal control study done by Lafayette College for Northampton County. Supervisor Jane Mellert said the study was supposed to be finished last week, but wasn't sure if it is ready to be released.

The decision facing the supervisors is whether they want to make Bell a township employee, which would entitle him to workman's compensation, health care and other benefits; hire him as a contract employee paid on a per-case basis, or a hybrid of the two.

Bell said he wants to be an employee with arrest powers. "I need to be a sworn officer for me to do you any good," he stated.

Bell said the fines would pay for his services. "You [the township] get half of the [fine for the] citation if the judge says guilty, and I haven't lost a case yet," Bell told the supervisors.

Over the last two years, Bell has been working with the township police department. When police have an animal problem of any kind, they call Bell, and he is paid between $25 and $35 to solve it, depending on the animal.

"The police chief tells me [Bell] is remarkable," said township solicitor David Backenstoe. "Mr. Bell has a gift. He can handle wild and angry dogs, groundhogs, wild geese."

Bell said he was called in to handle about 100 dogs last year, adding that if the supervisors make him the township's animal control officer, "the police department is free to do police work."

Bell first asked for a salary of $275 a month, then dropped the amount to $200. He said that for the money, he also would feed and walk animals that end up at the township kennel, and try to find foster and permanent homes for them.

Bell said he works not only for Wind Gap, but also Pen Argyl, Wilson and Nazareth boroughs. So far this year, 27 animals have new homes or have been reunited with their owners thanks to his efforts, Bell noted.

Bell said he is licensed by the state Game Commission and is well versed in the law, having been a former state constable.

As for health-care insurance and liability issues, he said, "I'm on Medicare, and I've never had a claim against anyone. My name is not Sue."