Irresponsible pet owners exacerbate local problem.

When it comes to mistreated animals, law enforcement officers encounter too many shocking situations.

Cases may involve dogs and cats that go hungry or thirsty, are left in unfit settings or abused in other ways.

The worst cases understandably get the attention of authorities called on to investigate.

So, when law enforcement officers feel compelled to speak up, policymakers should listen.

Finney County Sheriff Kevin Bascue recently asked the Finney County Commission to consider a limit on the number of dogs allowed in residential areas outside city limits. (Garden City allows two dogs per residence, with an exception for designated foster homes.)

Bascue's pitch came following two recent cases that saw county residents with large numbers of mistreated dogs.

In the more serious case, about 15 to 20 dogs were picked up after a veterinarian determined evidence of animal cruelty. A criminal investigation ensued.

The other situation involved a home with 10 to 12 dogs. While some observers thought the dogs were victims of cruelty, a vet deemed the situation not so serious, and more a case of neglect.

Either way, it was unacceptable.

With such situations in mind, it's understandable to try and mitigate fallout ranging from barking and roaming dogs, to sickening neglect and cruelty.

But it's also necessary to get to the root of the problem: irresponsible pet owners.

Too many people let their pets run loose and multiply, and contribute to a community-wide issue in unwanted and neglected dogs and cats.

Local government should do more to crack down on those offenders, and even more importantly work with the Finney County Humane Society on stepped-up strategies to get more dogs and cats spayed and neutered in the city and county.

When it comes to a new policy for the county, one possibility would be to give residents with spayed or neutered pets more leeway when it comes to numbers, and subject those without sterilized pets to a lower limit.

A plan to rein in the quantity may make sense, but only if accompanied by a commitment to get more pets spayed and neutered as a way to fix the problem.