ANIMAL SHELTER — The Jefferson County Animal Shelter, located at 200 Airpark Drive, Wintersville, is the home of the county’s dog warden and humane society. — Christopher Dacanay
WINTERSVILLE — If dogs are man’s best friend, then there were 3,681 best friends registered in Jefferson County in 2023, according to the Jefferson County Auditor’s Office. If those best friends should escape and roam through local communities, it’s the Jefferson County Dog Warden’s task to safely apprehend them and reunite them with their owners.
Chad Coil has been the county’s dog warden for 10 years. Funded by and working under the supervisory control of the Jefferson County commissioners, Coil is joined by two assistant wardens and a part-time pound keeper.
Open regularly from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. on weekdays, the warden’s office shares a building at 200 Airpark Drive, Wintersville, with the Jefferson County Humane Society. The humane society is a nonprofit animal advocacy organization that offers veterinary services and manages the animal shelter, though the wardens are the ones who pick up the loose dogs, feed them and clean the kennels.
The dog pound can be reached directly at (740) 264-6888, though individuals with a complaint most often call the animal shelter at (740) 314-5583. In the case of a complaint, Coil explained, the animal shelter line will be picked up by the humane society’s receptionist, who will take the message and forward information to the dog warden.
Often out of the office to handle other complaints or serve citations and letters — 14-day notices that owners must pick up their dogs after they have been in the kennel for some time — the wardens will take the complaint information and follow up with a call, Coil said. Sometimes the calls lack sufficient information, so the wardens prefer to follow up with the complainants before responding.
The wardens will respond to a dog biting a person, attacking livestock or running off its property. They do not handle humane cases, which are handled by an officer in the humane society, or instances of dogs barking, which are addressed by officials from the municipality in which the dog resides. The wardens cover all of Jefferson County, with the exception of Steubenville, which has its own animal control officer.
For a dog-at-large complaint, Coil said, the wardens will issue a verbal warning if they don’t witness the dog running loose. If the wardens do observe the dog moving at large, that’s grounds for a failure to control citation. If the dog has a license on it, Coil added, the wardens will attempt to bring it back to its owner before bringing it to the kennel.
Responding to dog bite cases depends on various factors, Coil said. If a dog is on its property and bites someone, there’s not much the wardens can do, as the dog is permitted to protect is property, though that’s weighed against the owner’s responsibility to “protect the general public from the dog, within reason.” Multiple bites are an issue, especially when the ones being bitten are delivery drivers or utility workers.
“If I know I have a delivery coming, I’m not going to let my dog out and be around to bite that person,” Coil said.
In the case of a missing dog, the wardens will take the provided information and attempt to make a catch. If unsuccessful, they’ll notify the owners of the dog’s last known location. The wardens can use traps, Coil said, provided that the dog has first been confined to a specific, small area.
“If the dog is constantly moving, there’s no sense in putting a trap out because we’re going to catch everything else but the dog,” Coil said, noting a previous case example wherein the wardens couldn’t use traps because other residents kept scaring the dog and making it move locations.
Failure to control is the most frequent citation, Coil said, adding that initial citations can run individuals up to $100 and climb for subsequent citations, depending on the courts.
Of the three wardens, only Coil is currently able to handle dogs, as one assistant recovers from an injury and the other finishes family leave time. Between that and the other responsibilities as a warden, Coil will take calls as soon as he’s able. Coil said he runs about 32 cases a month on average, with another 10 or 12 off-duty cases.
Though some — perhaps dissatisfied with the wardens’ response times — might be inclined to take dog catching into their own hands, Coil said, it’s imperative that they leave it to the wardens, who are sworn officers, have received on-the-job training and possess the proper tools for the work, like catch poles and traps.
Someone without the proper tools can cause more harm than good, Coil said, noting that if a person is bitten, the dog will receive a mark on its bite record, which by law must be shared whenever the dog is adopted or transferred ownership. Dogs that bite must also be quarantined at the kennel for 10 days, a time that can be mentally taxing for the dog, Coil said.
Coil recalled a case wherein someone coaxed a loose dog into his or her car, at which point the dog would not let the person back in. That made the rescue more difficult for Coil, who then had to maneuver through carseats to make the catch.
“People are trying to help, but the best thing they can do is contact us,” Coil said, noting that the wardens are required by law to respond to every call. “We do our best to answer every call as they come in. If we’re busy and can’t answer, we’ll get to it the next business day.”
Coil said he will occasionally call complainants back and respond while he’s off duty to make sure a dog is not running and actively causing trouble. The wardens also have an after-hours service only for emergency calls — if the dog is acting aggressively, running on a major roadway, injured or caught by someone else. Those off-duty responses amount to overtime hours, Coil said, which the wardens try to mitigate as much as possible.
Based on the current staff situation, Coil said, the wardens are more reactive than proactive, but there are plans to do more patrols when possible.
Coil himself has always loved dogs. A self-proclaimed “stickler” on responsible pet ownership, Coil served 21 years in the Air Force Security Forces as a K-9 handler and kennel master. His advice to dog owners is to ensure their dogs are registered with the county and their kennels are properly insulated and have fresh food and water.
“I like working with the dogs the most,” Coil said. “There are some good dogs out there that deserve better than what they have.”
Coil said that individuals are welcome to ask him questions by calling the shelter.