Canton Animal Control: It all circles back to Okey.

OkeyI rescued Okey last year because I was afraid she would get hit by a car. She had some close calls with my own vehicle, and I had seen her dart across the road in front of other cars.

At the time, I thought that traffic, starvation and exposure to the elements were the biggest threats to her life.

Those were immediate threats. I have been learning, though, that there were other threats too. Until recently, I had no idea these threats existed.

The city itself poses a huge threat to stray and feral cats. Heartless and misinformed attitudes have shaped city policies regarding animal control.

Animal control in my city of Canton, OH means certain death for cats on the street.

Thank God no one called animal control on Okey. Three hundred and forty three other cats were not so lucky. That is the number of cats killed by the Stark County Humane Society after being trapped by the city’s Animal Control Officer, Phil Sedlacko last year.

It gets worse.

Mr. Sedlacko has demonstrated “inhumane treatment” of animals in his concurrent position with the Stark County Dog Pound, according to a reprimand last year by his supervisor. Numerous volunteers at the pound claim to have witnessed a pattern of inhumane behavior from Mr. Sedlacko towards animals under his care over many years.

The city has no responsibility over the county dog pound, but they can, and they should avoid contracting with a person who has such behavior on his record.

Despite the presence of a video documenting the incident for which Mr. Sedlacko was reprimanded, and despite numerous complaints from volunteers, city leaders refuse to acknowledge that Mr. Sedlacko is a problem.

A teacher who abuses children is no longer allowed to teach children. Likewise, an animal control officer who mistreats animals should not be allowed to work with animals.

When I asked City Safety Director Thomas Ream about this, he claimed that Mr. Sedlacko had made a mistake. I informed him that inhumane treatment of animals was not a “mistake”. He said we would have to “agree to disagree”.

There is some good news.

Animal welfare advocates have descended upon Canton, and they have become a strong force of influence upon Canton’s City Council. Two Council Members, Mary Cirelli and Frank Morris, have publicly challenged other members to consider other methods of animal control, and they have voiced strong opposition to continuing a contract with Mr. Sedlacko. The rest of Council agreed to modify his contract from a year to 90 days so that further investigation could occur.

Alley Cat Allies, a well respected organization with expertise in community Trap-Neuter-Return (TNR) program development, is providing considerable support to advocates and the city. They are assisting us in the effort to bring about an effective and humane TNR program for feral cats and providing resources to address wildlife in the city as well.

City leaders will likely put up roadblocks to the effort. They already have. Last night, city health commissioner James Adams expressed concern to a City Council committee about the potential health risks of a TNR program. He stated that he would have to see ecological impact research about TNR before embracing such a program. I later spoke with him and handed him a summary of ecological impact research done by Stanford University. The summary reads,

“While it is true that uncontrolled feral cat populations have the potential to spread disease, the evidence of a negative impact on human health remains fairly low and is largely unsubstantiated even through studies by health departments.”

Mr. Adams told me he had seen references to the Stanford research, but admitted that he had not really looked at it much. He did tell me he would explore it further.

In recent weeks, Canton has become the epicenter of animal rights  concerns in Ohio. We are not looking good in the eyes of animal lovers around the country, and, indeed, around the world. But I, and many other advocates are intent on changing that. We hope to work with our city leaders to bring about change that makes us the epicenter of progressive and humane treatment around the world.

There is a lot of work to be done, but it can be done. Will you join us?

There are a lot of Okey’s on the street counting on you.

4 thoughts on “Canton Animal Control: It all circles back to Okey.”

  1. Hello,

    We started the online petition to call for the immediate firing of Deputy Phil Sedlacko…while we didn’t expect our petition to work like magic it did help to get the Commissioner of Stark County talking about an issue they said they put to bed. But we are undeterred in our mission to keep the animals of Canton and Stark County safe from County/City Employees were abuse their position to commit animal cruelty.

    There is a meeting on Monday at 7:30pm at the City Hall to call for the extension of Sedlacko’s contract with the City for another 2 years…Please we need MANY people at this meeting as a show of the power of the voters.

    Please join us!!


    Sarah Daw

    1. Thank you so much for your efforts, Sarah! The petition, indeed got people talking. It also helped the rest of the world know what we are up against here in Stark County. We will not be silent. We will continue the fight. And we thank all of those around the world who are helping provide support. Together, we are THE CHANGE for animals!

  2. Like in most cases only half the story is being told here. Phil Sedlacko is a real nice person. What you all are reading is not the truth. I am an investigator and the true version of what happened never came out, REASON Phil refused to throw others under the bus. He is taking the heat for something he didn,t do. I am in the next few weeks going to release a letter of my findings which will throw a new light on this story. I love dogs, cats and other animals, So my investigation is not one sided. BUT you will see its the people wanting Phils job have a motive behind what they are doing. And Guess what ITS MONEY. You have forces here with other reasons for wanting Phil off the job. Look for my letter.

  3. Thank you for your comment, Mr. Chupron. I am certain that there are more details than have been shared here, and I do not question that some have found Mr. Sedlacko to be a very nice person. He is in a position that calls for public scrutiny, however, due to his employment and contracting with government entities.

    I have no reason to take issue with the man personally. As a public servant, however, certain facts relating to his actions on behalf of the city of Canton and Stark County are troubling. The reprimand and corresponding video are factual, regardless of what any other person’s motives are with the issue.

    The issue, however, is not simply about one man’s behavior. In Mr. Sedlacko’s defense, I will acknowledge that his practices are likely similar to other Animal Control Officers across the country. THAT is the problem. We have systems that perpetuate a status quo that makes ineffective and inhumane methods of animal control standard practice.

    My advocacy is not directed towards slighting any individual. It is directed at improving animal control practices in my community and across the country. In the effort to improve our communities, public servants need to be held to account. That is the purpose of my post and other advocacy efforts.

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