STEPHENS COUNTY, Texas (KTAB/KRBC) – The Stephens County Commissioners court passed a new animal policy Monday, aimed at defining and protecting its residents with disabilities who use service animals in public. As a side effect, the cat and dog residing at the courthouse will no longer be able to stay as they are not trained service animals.
Thomas the cat and Justice the dog are trained as emotional support animals (ESAs), but because they are not trained for any specific sort of assistance, nor are they trained as service animal, they fall outside the allowable entry guidelines laid out in the new policy under the Americans with Disabilities Act.
This news came suddenly to Thomas’ and Justice’s caretakers, who were told the pets could no longer reside on public grounds. Stephens County Treasurer Sharon Trigg, who has looked after Thomas since he was taken in by the courthouse in 2013, felt so strongly about this that she tendered her resignation upon hearing that he would have to leave.
“Sometimes things happen for a reason. I know we all hear that, but I do believe that… I’d already made up my mind that if they passed something like that and I couldn’t keep him up here I was gonna retire,” Trigg told KTAB/KRBC. “And it was time, y’know. It’s time to let someone else handle this job.”
Stephens County’s policy states that its purpose is to “ensure that service animals that accompany employees, elected officials, and visitors with disabilities have public access to the Stephens county courthouse and…surrounding property.” In the case of Justice the dog, some employees feel they will be losing a service they’ve come to rely upon.
Justice was brought to the courthouse around two years ago to provide emotional support to children who are under a protective order, or while their guardians are in court. His caretakers told KTAB/KRBC he also made frequent visits to the hospital and schools. To become certified and trained as a service animal, they would need to provide proof of a disability that Justice assists. Since they cannot do that, he too had his last day on Monday.
This policy also makes it a fineable offense to feed stray animals on Stephens County public property, such as the courthouse. This intended to stop stray animals like cats, dogs, and possums from congregating and becoming a nuisance. The policy spells out tiers for first, second, third, and fourth offenses beginning with a one-time fine of $100 and escalating to a $500 fine, plus an additional $300 for every animal found at the feeding site upon fourth offense.
Stephens County Judge Michael Roach told explained that although the side effects of the policy are less than favorable, it was not the intention of the court to target any specific employee or to drive the courthouse pets out. The intent was simply to make the public space more accessible in terms of health and safety.
Thomas the cat will be going home to live with Trigg and her husband, and Justice will remain at another county workers’ home, though neither will be returning to the courthouse.