What are the most significant issues regarding animals in Harvey County?

This is the question discussed by local government officials, veterinarians, owners of pet-related businesses, and community members at the Harvey County Area Summit on Animal Health and Well-Being on Wednesday at the Meridian Center in Newton.

Kevin Stubbs, executive director of Caring Hands Humane Society in Newton, said it had been more than 20 years since an event like this had been hosted in Harvey County, and the organization thought it was time to host one again.

"I want to find out what are the issues in the community," said Will Tate, fund-raising and marketing director for Caring Hands Humane Society and coordinator of the summit.

Attendees gathered around tables at the summit and discussed animal-related issues in Harvey County, as well as possible solutions.

Some of the discussion points included:

- Stubbs said there are too many free-roaming felines in Harvey County. One possible solution may be to trap, neuter/vaccinate the cats, and release them back into their habitat. Over time, Stubbs thinks this could reduce the population of free-roaming cats and would help to prevent the spread of disease both among the cats and humans.

- Free-roaming cattle also are an issue, Harvey County Sheriff T. Walton said. The animals may break out of their pens to find better food, and they can wander onto the road and cause car accidents. Walton also said that if people out in the county don't take proper care of horses and cattle, the county will be forced to absorb the cost of providing for those animals.

- Animal hoarding, which is both a mental health and an animal health issue.

- Animals kept outside in adverse weather conditions without proper shelter.

- Animal neglect and abuse and how people should go about confronting/reporting these issues.

- If people find they cannot afford a pet, sometimes they drop it off and abandon it out in the country.

- The need for places to board animals in an emergency situation, such as after a tornado, flood or other major weather event.

- More foster homes needed for animals.

- Low-cost spay and neuter options to help control the pet population.

- Educating the public about proper animal care.

- Raising the limit laws to allow responsible owners to bring more pets into their homes.

Tate hopes the meeting will serve as a catalyst that inspires people to form task forces that will address some of these issues. Caring Hands is not able to address all of the issues on its own and will need the help of the community.

"We don't have the resources. We don't have the manpower," he said. "So we need people from the community to work with us. ... The idea is to help move forward work and actually get stuff done."