Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Georgia Department of Ag - Companion Animal Advisory Board

The bill, H.B. 606 and it's Senate counterpart SB 232, would have shut the loopholes that allow several Georgia counties and cities to continue to use animal gas chambers. The bill would also have prohibited heartstick except on unconscious or comatose animals in certain situations and mandate humane lethal injection or oral ingestion of sodium pentobarbital as the only means of euthanasia allowed throughout the state of Georgia.

The Georgia House Livestock, Poultry and Aquaculture Subcommittee and Senate Agriculture Committee, both heard testimony on HB 606 and SB 232 respectively with no vote taken by either committee, meaning the bill remains pending and will be taken up next year.

Attorneys Rebecca Guinn, Director of Lifeline Animal Project, and Steve Shi, as well as veterinarian Dr. Will Mangham, testified in support of the bill. Linda Cordry, an animal control officer from Liberty County and Rabbi Schlesinger from Macon, also urged passage of the bill.

Cindy Wiemann, representing the GA Animal Control Association, did not oppose the bill but whose group took a neutral position on the bill and asked for an exception that would allow the immediate euthanasia in an emergency of a dangerous or diseased animal or one suffering irremediably. Sponsors were prepared to offer such an amendment.

Senate Committee Chairperson Sen. John Bulloch and House Subcommittee Chairperson Rep. Gene Maddox decided not to allow a vote. The bills were only recently introduced and more time is needed to persuade legislators and obtain important cost information.

For all practical purposes both bills were "Dead on Arrival" because they lacked the support of Tommy Irvin's Animal Protection Unit which would be charged with enforcing the new proposals. Too much emphasis has been placed on a top down approach in lobbying support for passage of anti-gassing legislation without understanding the concepts of developing a "groundswell" of support from the bottom up.

Breakthrough thinking that moves away from a trickle down approach to solving our animal shelter reform issues by attacking from the top needs to shift to a lobbying effort that brings support to change from the bottom up. Those on the top levels of the animal shelter pyramid are not as likely to relinquish the power and control that the status quo offers. Animal advocates need to change the thinking of advocates "in the trenches" which prevent breakthrough thinking from succeeding. That effort must come from the bottom up.

Tommy Irvins "Companion Animal Advisory Board"

One such group that continues to impede passage of the much needed anti-gassing legislation is Tommy Irvin's own "Companion Animal Advisory Board" - read on....

The Companion Animal Advisory Board of the Georgia Department of Agriculture was established by Commissioner Tommy Irvin on March 25, 1997. Irvin created the advisory board because the "companion animal industry had experienced phenomenal growth over the years that makes a tremendous impact on the economy of Georgia.” That statement alone is a telling story as to why the Department of Agriculture under Irvin's helm has such a dismal record on animal protection issues including cracking down on substandard breeders and pet stores with a history of complaints and has allowed many of the county animal shelters to use the horrible abusive gas chambers in killing off "excess" pets.

A pair of bills that would have outlawed the gas chamber for stray animals won’t be going anywhere this year. House Bill 606 and Senate Bill 232 would both outlaw the practice, which is currently used in Macon, statewide. Advocates say it's inhumane, that animals suffer when Carbon Monoxide is used to gas them, and that sometimes they don't even die. They would prefer lethal injections, but that can be more expensive, since doses have to be administered one at a time. However, there is empirical data that prove EBI is less expensive to administer than properly operated gas chambers.

From a technical standpoint, House bill 606 did not die in committee, but committee's failure to allow an honest hearing, allow for debate on the issues outlawing gassing and call for a vote killed the chances of closing gas chambers by traditional legislative process for but another year. In reality, this bill was "dead on arrival" because of the lack of support from Georgia's Department of Agriculture's Animal Advisory Board (AAB) and indirectly from a neutral position taken by the Georgia Animal Control Association.

True Animal Advocates don't let friends gas our pets.....

"These animals howl, they scream, they cough, they scratch to try to get out," said Linda Cordry, of Liberty County. One dog that survived the process in Liberty County came out "alive, covered in (vomit), fecal matter and urine," she said.

LInda's right, gassing an innocent dog or cat is a horrible method to end its life, but unfortunately Linda would never be considered for a position on Irvin's AAB. To be nominated for one of those prestigious positions, you have to be invited. Who does the inviting? Well, Tommy of course. Those who may enter this "political arena" with ideals of "advocating for animals" quickly learn that to stay in this exclusive club you must be willing to "adapt" to the reason the AAB was created - that reason is to support the phenomenal growth of the companion animal industry.

Meet the Board of OUR Department of Agriculture's Animal Advisory Board

All of the information I am about to release was obtained through an open records request with the Department of Agriculture's Animal Protection unit. It is NOT available in any transparent form, including meeting dates, times and location, on the Department of Agriculture's website. Since this information is considered public record I will share it, along with my personal comments based on the investigation I completed.

From the bylaws of the AAB, all twenty members are appointed by Commissioner Irvin. All board members serve "at the pleasure of the commissioner" and may be reappointed annually. This single line clearly illustrates why any opposition to Irvin would have a detrimental effect on remaining on the board.

Make up of the Companion Animal Advisory Board

My investigation thus far has only uncovered background information on eighteen of the twenty members. They are (along with email addresses):

Ruth Tracy-Blackburn - Chairperson - Ruth is a successful business woman running her grandfather’s pecan business (hence a long time friend of Tommy Irvin) and has a passion for advocating for animals.

Animal activist Ruth Tracy-Blackburn claims "animal control officers are unsung heroes" and yet remains silent on the issue of allowing shelter employees to continue gassing. Compassionate animal control officers know firsthand the suffering animals endure in gassing shelters. “Richmond and Columbia counties are so fortunate to have animal control facilities. People can sit there and criticize them all day long, but it's the people's fault the animals are out there,'' said Ms. Blackburn, Vice-President of McDuffie County Friends of Animals.

E-mail Ruth at and ask her to tell her friend Tommy Irvin that "friends of animals don't let heroes in animal control gas innocent companion animals.

Bill Garrett has been a long time member of the AAB with a tenure that pre-dates his role in running the Fulton County Slaughterhouse. Garrett is the past President of the Atlanta Humane Society and Society For Prevention Of Cruelty To Animals, Inc. Garrett is now a trustee for the Hall County Humane Society.

Atlanta Humane Society took in close to $5.9 Million dollars in donations in 2007 against $4.4 Million in operating expenses netting an astounding $1.4 Million in profits. According to Guidestar, this resulted in AHS accumulating over $30 Million in assets at the close of the year (2007). Yet, there mission statement used to drag in these donations is "To Prevent neglect, abuse, cruelty and exploitation of animals and to assure that their interests and well being are fully, effectively and humanely protected by an aware and caring society."

Shouldn't some of that donated money be used to lobby for preventing cruelty and exploitation of animals in Georgia's gassing shelters? In a caring society, don't these animals deserve the same humane protection against state sanctioned acts of cruel and abusive policies?

During the changing of the guard in Fulton County's own nightmarish rein of terror, one of the few supporters of Garrett's leadership at AHS and its role in Fulton County was Carolyn Danese, founder of the Humane Association of Georgia.

Garrett's political connections include Govenor Sonny Perdue who awarded Garrett the distinguished rank of "Colonel in the Georgia State Militia" in 2006. Email Bill at russelleva@bellsouth,com and ask him to talk with his friend Carolyn and assure her that gassing animals simply because of a shortage of euthanasia drugs ten years ago isn't a good enough reason for humane friends of animals to allow gassing to continue.

Richard Rice left his position as the Humane Society of United States Regional Director shortly after the failed Katrina Rescue Operation for his current post with the Atlanta Humane Society where he is Director of Operations. Joining Richard is Carl Leveridge who left Peggy Adams to become President of AHS. Both come from strong national animal "rights " organizations which should actively oppose gassing as a barbaric and inhumane method of ending any companion animal’s life, yet, their silence on this issue is deafening.

Email Richard at or call him at 404-974-2828 and tell him that you expect him to actively support enforcing the courts orders banning the use of gas in Georgia shelters and holding the Irvin's Department of Agriculture accountable. Remind him and Carl Leveridge that "Friends of Animals" do not donate to animal rights groups that look the other way while shelters in Georgia continue to abuse the law. Tell Richard that you expect him to fully support passage of House Bill 606 and Senate Bill 232. Carl can be contacted by email at or call 404-974-2888.

Edwina Barnes is listed President and founder for the Humane Association of Georgia and yet, Carolyn Danese is also claims to be President and founder of HAGA. Humane Association of Georgia, Inc., is a nonprofit organization advocating humane treatment for all living things.

From to the HAGA website "We encourage strong legislation for animals at all levels of government. We encourage and support cooperation among the animal protection community, the veterinary community, government agencies and the general public."

When the Board of the Humane Association of Georgia (HAGA) was asked to discuss gas chambers, Carolyn Danese wrote in a "white paper" on gassing , "We prefer to focus on decreasing the number of animals killed." Much of that focus is on seeking donations and participating in the state's funds generated from spay/neuter speciality tag.

Yet, when given the opportunity to support a state wide ban on gassing animals HAGA seems only concerned about not running out of "blue juice".

Danese explains, "No matter which method is used, strict protocol should be followed. Indeed, there is the possibility of cruelty charges for noncompliance. Discussions are starting in other states and countries to make the killing of animals by animal control, under any circumstances, cruelty.”

There are human considerations as well. Killing animals by any means causes stress and depression among animal control staff, contributing to high turnover. Animal control professionals tasked with killing these excess animals daily may need alternatives for mental health purposes. What some people observe as laziness in animal control may be a manifestation of depression. The ability to comfort an animal during lethal injection is less stressful to some, where others feel more stressed having to use a needle. Vocalization disturbs professionals and volunteers alike, although vocalization and dog paddling may be exhibited using either method, or simply when coming out of anesthesia, and are not always tied to pain, so training may reduce stress.

The HAGA position on gassing suggests that the per-animal costs of either method are comparable over time. Efforts to mandate more inspections, accurate statistics and greater control of existing gas chambers would be difficult considering the Georgia Department of Agriculture's Animal Protection Division's annual budget is only approximately $1 million for this overworked statewide division that is under a hiring freeze.

You can contact Carolyn Danese at . Edwina Barnes can be reached at . Tell them that "humane friends of animals believe EACH and EVERY companion animal’s life is scared and deserves respect, especially when society "chooses" to end that pet’s life.” Her position on gas chambers is out of touch with those shared by animal advocates throughout the state. WE expect their role is to advocate for companion animals and not to be an excuse maker for Irvin's Department of Agriculture.

Gail Laberge holds a number of titles. Gail is the founder and president of the Georgia Canine Coalition (GCC), on the Board of Directors of the American Kennel Club as the legislative liaison, Chair for Gwinnett County's Animal Advisory Council and past president for the Lawrenceville Kennel Club. The Georgia Canine Coalition mission is to support fair legislation governing animal abuse and neglect, yet, in theory the very kennel groups that the AKC, kennel clubs and breeders represent compete directly with "used/defective" shelters dogs in the marketplace.

The Georgia Canine Coalition has no interest in increasing "market share" for "used/defective" shelter dogs at the expense of those seeking to market puppies - how the shelters kill off the excess is of little consequence.

"A 'legislative superstar,' Gail has spent years working with Georgia officials to make sure that the interests of purebred dog owners are well represented," said Noreen Baxter, AKC 's VP of Communications.

Maurice Woolfe, a breeder from Buford, is also a board member of the GCC and past member of Gwinnett's Animal Advisory Council. It is unclear what educational prospective Woolfe brings to this committee.

The Georgia Canine Coalition opposed HB1060 in 2008 because it defined a public shelter agency as “any facility operated by or under contract with the state or any political subdivision of the state for the purpose of impounding or harboring seized, stray, homeless, abandoned or unwanted animals. Such term shall include any veterinarian or veterinary clinic which operates for such purpose in addition to its customary practice.”

The GCC had serious concerns with this bill as it was written and therefore opposed it. Of course, how many veterinary clinics are there that "impound or seize stray, homeless, abandoned or unwanted animals AND own and run a gassing facility as part of its customary practice?” I suggest that the GCC's opposition is more intuned with their lack of concern over the fate of shelter dogs in general. You can email Gail at , Maurice Woolfe has no contact information.

Bonnie Turner is listed as a current member of the companion animal board but a Bonnie Turner was killed in Floyd County by a tornado in 2008. In 2005, Gail LaBerge of Buford , Georgia , received the AKC Community Achievement Award for her efforts defending and protecting the interests of the canine community. Bonnie Turner wrote in her nominating letter, "Gail LaBerge is a tireless and extremely effective defender of the rights of dog owners in the state of Georgia." Turner, a board member of the Georgia Canine Coalition, continued, "Her efforts have earned her the respect of local and state officials, and a reputation as an advocate for fair and reasonable legislation as it relates to the state's breeders, kennels and pet owners."

Neil Bates, Alpharetta breeder with the AKC, contact .

Mike Miller, DVM, is affiliated with the Duluth Animal Hospital. My guess is Miller, Woolfe and Laberge, all from the Buford area, are interconnected. You can write Dr. Mike and ask him to OPPOSE gassing in Georgia shelters at

Dr George McCommon, is an associate professor of veternary science and City of Macon's veternarian in charge of the Macon Shelter. He did NOT support the recently passed resolution that will end gassing in Macon in June of 2009.

His support of gassing is perplexing especially with his impressive resume that seems to support his opposition to animal cruelty.

When associate professor of veterinary science George McCommon gathered with representatives from the state's Department of Agriculture, GEMA, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture to mingle with extension agents and local and state politicians in the first of its kind Georgia Emergency Management Conference McCommon stated "People (and animals) are very vulnerable to any hazard — natural or man-made, when a tornado or hurricane hits, it’s imperative to maintain safe plant life, animals and food. To that end, the workshop is expected to focus on topics from media relations to animal protection."

Yet, McCommon fails to see the correlation of protecting companion animals "from the man made disaster of being slaughtered in the state's antiquated and inhumane gas chambers.

“The state of Georgia has been proactive when it comes to animal health and agriculture in general,” McCommon said. “Georgia is trying to stay ahead of the ball.”

Georgia remains one of the few states that clings to the ancient technology of primitive and non functioning gas chambers

Macon's policy of gassing animals is not the only quality of care issue that has dogged the city run shelter for years. It is disheartening to consider that despite all of McCommon's educational training he has failed to offer any suggestions that might/would improve the plight of Macon's homeless pets. It is simply not reasonable to suggest that mass killing and disposing of unwanted pets is acceptable shelter policy.

District Attorney Kim Schwartz (Bibb County) has hinted that Dr. McCommon had threatened to quit being the City of Macon's vet because of the recent attacks on the City's practices.... that he "does the job because no one else will do it" because he has a genuine interest in caring for the shelter animals. Yet, there is no evidence to support his complaints. In order for real change to happen in Macon perhaps his resignation would allow for improvement to take hold. A lack of change is manifested when good ideas are ignored but more importantly when those who settle for poor standards are allowed to fester.

McCommon's unwillingness to publicly oppose Macon's antiquated gas chamber is equally troubling as a board member of Irvins AAB. If he supports gassing in Macon, then he supports the failed policies of the department of ag in failing to enforce the law on shelters that use gas chambers.

Steve Zerelli represents the Pet Company. Is there any wonder why the Department of Agriculture allows the pet store industry to operate with little or no oversight?

In effect, Tommy Irvin's departmental policies all but support the puppy mill industry and it's tremendous growth potential. This is reflected in the dismal record that the Department of Ag has on enforcing and closing down substandard puppy mills as well. The puppy mill trade flourishes throughout the state of Georgia, in flea markets and in Nickelson type mass breeding farms. Obviously, the Pet Company could care less about gassing animals in Georgia shelters. Until the Department of Ag sets policies and enforces reasonable breeding standards killing off the excess is simply a product of theiur onw malfeasonance. Those changes won't happen on Zerelli's watch. If you’re inclined to contact Steve Zerelli, he can be reached at

Claudine Wilkins is the founder of the Georgia Legal Professionals for Animals. Georgia Legal Professionals for Animals, Inc. (GLPA) is a non-profit corporation comprised of professionals who espouse an ethical and moral precept which maintains that animals are sentient beings, with a capacity for pain and suffering and an intrinsic right to their own lives.

She is also legislative council for Best Friends, and will be one of the speakers at the No Kill Conference: Bringing Sheltering into the 21st Century, happening May 2-3 in Washington, D.C.

The No Kill Advocacy Center is teaming up with the animal law program at George Washington University Law School.

The conference features both a shelter/rescue track and a legal track, though attendees can attend workshops in both areas. “Both tracks are important”, says Claudine Wilkins, legislative council for Best Friends, who will be one of the speakers at the conference. “You have to have the public drive and awareness and the legal advancements for real change to happen for animals,” Wilkins says.

Conference workshops will cover a wide variety of current topics, including rehabilitating and adopting dogs and cats with special needs; harnessing community compassion; reforming animal control; overcoming internal obstacles to success; legislating no-kill; rethinking dangerous dogs; legislating and litigating an end to puppy mills; and protecting free-roaming cats and their caregivers. What it won't be covering is why Georgia continues to gas out of the stone age year after year.

The Georgia Legal Professionals for Animals took a position opposing gassing on their website and yet, failed to address the house committee when the gassing bill died in committee. You can e-mail Claudine at to ask her what it's going to take to get the Department of Agriculture to abide by the court ruling that upheld the ban on gassing.

Betty Crawford represents the Rescue League in Atlanta Georgia. Betty appears to be the token representative for all of Georgia's rescue groups. Her contact is

Donna Strickland, is the executive director for the Albany Humane Society. Their mission statement claims, "We speak for those who can't speak for themselves". Each year, Albany Humane responds to hundreds of requests to investigate the possible pain and unnecessary suffering of animals. Their efforts are far-reaching: dogs, cats, horses, rabbits, deer, pigs, chickens, goats, to name a few... have all received care at our shelter.

Clearly, speaking out against the horribly cruel use of gas chambers is the only hope for the thousands of voiceless pets that are killed in Georgia's gassing shelters each year. Ask Donna to speak to Tommy about putting an end to state mandated acts of animal cruelty - Georgia's shelters should be better then that. Her contact info is

Miguel Abi-Hassan, having worked in animal welfare in Venezuela, Ohio, and Florida, is the Director of Animal Control in Fayette County. His lifetime of experience with animals and degrees in animal welfare and industrial psychology are put to good use. You can reach Miguel at Ask him to use his influence to end the use of gas in Georgia shelters.

Grace Woodford runs Dog House Kennel and Grooming in Newnan. Polite e-mails to Grace can be sent to . Ask Grace to support passing HB 606 and put an end to the cruelty of killing shelter animals with gas.

Vanessa Sims-Green ( ) and Mary Greene, Animal Protection Manager ( ), are both non-voting members of Irvin's Companion Animal Advisory Board. They serve in an advisory and leadership capacity and have a voice in the deliberations, but no vote.

My investigation was unable to identify two members, a Chuck Corley ( ), and Sherrie Miller ( )- anyone with information can forward that to me.

The Companion Animal Advisory Board meets four times a year at a time and a place determined by the chair and the Animal Protection Manager. Special meetings may be requested by the chair, by a majority of the Board members, or by the department.

The next scheduled meeting is scheduled to be held on May 2nd at 1:00 PM, 19 Martin Luther King Jr Drive SW, Atlanta, Ga 3033. For further information,contact Mary Greene.

Anyone who represents an animal advocacy group and who thinks it's appropriate to let these shelters continue to gas for another year or two or more is failing to acknowledge the severity of what is wrong about gas chambers. Tommy Irvin has never directly stated his reasons for not opposing/supporting the gassing of shelter pets. After all, as a reasonable man should he not have a reason, shouldn't he?

This research builds a foundation of the interesting relationships between the anti-players who work towards blocking any attempts in changing Georgia's few remaining gassing shelters. We need to convince a majority of these players to join our side in supporting HB 606 and SB 232 in the 2010 legislative session. The bills may have been "killed" for now, but the groundswell of opposition lives on with a determined group of compassionate animal advocates that know killing innocent and defenseless homeless pets in such a cruel and in humane manner is simply not acceptable public policy.

Please explain to the animals who are being gassed this week, next week, next month, next year...who are "dead forever”, that we are working on getting the bill just right, then we'll help them.

Next, the role Georgia Animal Control Association has in keeping the status quo....

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