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1:52 AM Sun, Sept. 23rd

News release ruffles feathers

Prescott Valley animal control planning to meet with community animal rescue groups to clear air

Prescott Valley Police Department Animal Control Supervisor Evelyn Whittaker poses with Harley, a dog belonging to the department’s chief of police. (Prescott Valley Police Department/Courtesy)

Prescott Valley Police Department Animal Control Supervisor Evelyn Whittaker poses with Harley, a dog belonging to the department’s chief of police. (Prescott Valley Police Department/Courtesy)

Community-driven animal rescue group leaders and supporters in Yavapai County have been in an uproar since Prescott Valley Police Department (PVPD) put out a news release warning of possible animal control officer imposters in the community.

The release stated that some animal “rescue” groups have interfered with animal control responses to calls of stray dogs in Prescott Valley by somehow arriving at response locations before animal control officers could get there, and then taking custody of the animals by allegedly pretending to be animal control officers.

“We have proof that this has been going on,” said PVPD spokesman James Risinger.

However, there hasn’t been enough information available to determine who exactly is doing it and whether or not the people showing up to these calls are, in fact, connected with any form of animal rescue group, Risinger said.

“We don’t have proof of who it is, and that’s the reason why we aren’t doing anything,” he said. “We’re not saying we’re going to charge anybody at this time.”

But local animal rescue groups feel as though they were targeted by this news release, which insinuates that unidentified members of self-proclaimed animal rescue groups could be the culprits behind this and other illegal activities involving the handling of stray animals.

“It did feel like an attack on a lot of us,” said Melanie Underwood, founder of Lost Pets of Northern Arizona.

Though they’re not verified 501(c)(3) tax exempt organizations, groups like Lost Pets of Northern Arizona and Yavapai Humane Trappers state that their only mission is to find lost pets and return them to their rightful owners.

“We share posts online and network to find animals,” Underwood said. “It’s a passion of ours.”

Much of what these groups do depend on the community trusting them to do the right thing. Katrina Karr, founder of Yavapai Humane Trappers, believes that trust has been damaged by the news release.

“I think they just made us look really bad and now people can’t trust us,” Karr said.

In Risinger’s mind, the release was more of a way to educate the public about some dangers to look out for.

“We wanted to put this out to say ‘be cautious,’” Risinger said. “We are not saying anything negative about the rescue groups that are doing the good work that they do.”

Neither Prescott Animal Control nor Yavapai County Sheriff’s Office Animal Control section have experienced what Prescott Valley Animal Control is reporting, according to officials.

DONATION COLLECTING

In the news release, PVPD mentions that it is illegal for groups that aren’t 501(c)(3) tax exempt organizations to collect donations.

According to the Arizona Attorney General’s Office, this is incorrect.

“They can collect donations,” said Katie Conner, Spokesperson for the Arizona Attorney’s Office.

Legal action can only be taken against an individual or group collecting donations if they falsely represent the following:

•That they are a nonprofit.

•That donations are tax deductible.

•That donations can get a tax credit.

•That they’re collecting for another organization.

The concern PVPD has is whether the donated monies are being used entirely for the purpose they are initially proposed for, Risinger said. For instance, if money is being raised to cover an injured animal’s medical bills, who’s to say that money isn’t being used to pay for something else instead?

While this may be a valid concern, once again there is no law in Arizona specifically stating that the collector of the donation has to use it for the advertised purpose.

“For charities, Arizona law does not contain explicit prohibitions on a charity using money for something under what the solicitation described,” Conner said.

MEETING BETWEEN THE PARTIES

Though it perhaps isn’t under the best circumstances, the Prescott Valley Police Department Animal Control has agreed to meet with various leaders of local animal rescue groups.

“The positive thing that comes from this is that there have been a lot of rescue groups that have come forward and voiced a concern, and they want to meet with us, and we are going to meet with them,” Risinger said. “We are all going to sit down, come to an agreement and work this solution.”

Underwood and Karr both plan to be at the meeting, where they hope to come to a better understanding with PVPD about what was said in the news release and how they can help each other accomplish the same goal of protecting and rescuing animals.

“It’s just a really good community network that we have and we should all be working together,” Underwood said. “If there is some sort of legality thing where we’re not doing something right, then we can address it.”

“We are not against animal control at all, what we are against is this media release that portrayed us as criminals,” Karr said. “If there is a group of people going around pretending to be animal control officers, they’re criminals, they’re not rescue groups. Call it what it is.”

Risinger said such a meeting will likely either take place next week or the week after.

Follow Max Efrein on Twitter @mefrein, email him at mefrein@prescottaz.com or call him at 928-445-3333 ext. 1105.