Community service program at animal shelter saves Johnson County $100K and counting

FRANKLIN, Ind. – Court-ordered community service has paid big dividends for the county and the Johnson County Animal Shelter. The program, which began in 2012, has now saved the county more than an estimated $100,000.

The program started as a way to let people convicted of low-level misdemeanors pay off their debt to society.

“It’s not pleasant work," said Johnson County Prosecutor Brad Cooper, who helped start the program six years ago. "Cleaning out dog cages, cat cages and changing liter, so they were actually doing some real work.”

According to the shelter's director, Mike Delp, the sentence is just a piece of someone's sentence. Most people will pay a fine and work 40 hours of community service. Some sentences require only eight hours, while others may see as many as 80 hours of work.

"Having this free help, I think is mutually beneficial," Delp said. "We save money by having someone who is not being paid to do this but they are working off their debt to the public. Things like public intoxication, failure to pay child support, and public nuisance. Things like that."

Delp said if it wasn't for the program, the shelter would have to likely pay someone minimum wage to do the work. Cooper said the pay might even need to be higher because of what it entails.

With the court system sending people to the shelter, paid staff can work on other issues with the animals.

"It frees up my staff, my normal staff, to socialize with the animals and do meet and greets," said Delp. "When you add that all together, it helps us save lives here because our paid staff does help get animals out to rescues and adoptions as well.”

Delp said the shelter has taken low-level offenders from other counties, too. He hopes the program could grow to more communities which would give the shelter more hands to help with work around his office.

When the program began in 2012, the program provided roughly 500 hours of community service. Last year, the hours totaled 3,000 hours.

"It seems to benefit everybody from both sides," said Cooper.