Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Changing the way we think about animal control

Much has changed in the field of animal control in the past five years. We know how to end the killing of all healthy adoptable dogs and cats. We know how to implement cost effective, community supported feral cat programs, low cost spay/neuter services and proactive adoption programs. Many animal shelters across the country have no only embraced the No Kill philosophy, but more important the programs and services that make that possible.

One would think that with all this success is saving shelter pets innovative communities like Gwinnett would be leading the charge at our own shelter – but it is not.

After an exhaustive study on how our county provides it’s advise our animal related issues it became apparent that the system was broken.  Detailed documents on every Animal Advisory Council meeting in the years from 2006 through the summer of 2008 showed an alarming disconnection with issues that plagued our shelter.

It became apparent that we not only needed to reform how we ran our shelter but more importantly how we developed our animal welfare policies and restore confidence with pet owners in the community.

The “Animal Advisory Council Reform Resolution” tackles the difficult process of how we provide expert advise to our political process in developing a long term animal welfare program that not only meets the expectations of the community but more importantly looks at programs that will reduce the cost of animal control moving forward while putting an end to the killing on healthy dogs and cats that our shelter is supposed to protect.

The credit for this resolution goes to AAC members Carla Brown and Tim Montgomery who worked diligently in finding common ground. The resolution is up for consideration by our commissioners is collaboration with the current animal advisory council who passed this resolution without dissent.

As in any change – the “devil is in the details” – here is precisely what these changes are::

The membership changes from the current seven members to eleven. Only two positions were left intact under the new makeup of the board, they are the Lawrenceville Kennel Club and the Gwinnett Municpal Association retains.

The Gwinnett County Extension Service position was eliminated and replaced with a representative from the “Livestock Animals”

Gwinnett Humane Society’s position has been eliminated and replaced with a representative for the “Gwinnett Rescue community”.

The Feline Interest position remains but will be filled by a representative from the Feline Rescue community specifically with experience in developing a feral cat program.

The two “Member at Large” positions have been eliminated and replaced with one member being appointed by each commissioner’s district and a representative appointed by the county Chair. This will form the direct communication link between the advisory council and the board of commissioners that has been lacking.

The advisory council will no longer report findings and recommendations to animal control and the Gwinnett Police Department but instead forward these recommendations directly to the Board of Commissioners. The GAAC will forward only those recommendations that have been approved by majority vote.

It will remain the responsibility of the Board of Commissioners to make final decisions on all recommendations submitted.

There are also procedural issues that were addressed.

Officers elected to the same office will have a two-year term limit.

Two Year Term Limit on chair position.

Members can set up subcommittees that investigate specific issues/problems without approval from animal control or the GPD.  This will set in motion creating subcommittees to investigate solutions for problems like feral cats, building a no kill community and developing an animal services unit that serves and educates the community on responsible pet ownership.  This coalition building will bring together many of the experts in animal welfare who have been disenfranchised from the process.

This is not cosmetic change - this is changing our animal welfare culture.  This is about opening up the door for others to join in on the discussion and participate in the process.

The most significant change comes with HOW this group will study issues.

Section 12 – Committees – The chairman may appoint, with concurrence of the GAAC, various standing and temporary committees to further proposals of the GAAC. Such committees may include members of the staff of various county departments, residents and business owners of the county whose background and knowledge may be a benefit of the GAAC in accomplishing it’s goals.

The purpose of the committees shall be to make detailed investigations, stidies and recommendations to the GAAC as instructed pertaining to matters or classes of matters within it’s purview.

The Chairman or Vice-Chairman shall be an ex-officio member of all committees.

This step alone opens up the process of developing breakthrough thinking leading the way towards solving long-term problems with animal issues in our community.

We now stand on the mountain of change.  While our efforts have brought us to this pinacle - it will be YOUR efforts that decide our county's destiny.   The question is "do we want to slip backwards and return to the valley of failure and doom" or do we want to march boldly on to the promised land that embraces life saving thinking instead.  I think we know that answer.

Please write your commissioner and ask for their support in passing this resolution.

Monday, December 13, 2010

The long and winding road to Animal Advisory Reform

Thirty months ago, I went in front of the BOC to discuss the controversial animal ordinance passed in January of 2007. That ordinance passed in all of “sixteen seconds” without allowing any public reading of the proposed changes or more importantly – asking Gwinnett County’s pet owners for their comments on the new law.

With that vote thousands of pet owners throughout the county discovered that even being a responsible pet owner could lead to criminal charges being filed for such minor infractions as barking dogs, dogs tethered for short periods of time, no tags, and a number of other issues that micro-manage the care we provide our pets. Offenses that should have been “fix it” citations instead had pet owners facing losing their pets.

For their role, the solicitor’s office (who drafted and were charged with prosecuting the draconian bill) used the threats of jail and huge fines to intimidate pet owners into surrendering their family pets. Pet owners were being threatened with lengthy jail terms only further endangering their ability to care for their family members and their pets.

Instead of focusing our animal control resources on educating citizens on how to be responsible pet owners, our animal control resources and judicial resources were being directed towards prosecuting and impounding pets with the worst possible consequences leading to even more deaths at our brand new shelter.

How this revised ordinance became "law" is even more disturbing. This revision of animal ordinances in Gwinnett was passed solely on the recommendations of the county attorney's office with the blessing of Gwinnett's dysfunctional and highly secretive Animal Advisory Council.

Battle lines being drawn – nobodies right when owning a pet is wrong

At the June 24th 2008 BOC meeting each of the commissioner’s was provided with copies of the Animal Advisory Bylaws and copies of all Animal Advisory Council meetings held in 2006 drafting those changes.

One longtime advocate wrote this as her observation

“This shadowy group (AAC) in no way represents the citizens of Gwinnett County and in fact hides from us, refusing to post it’s meetings, agendas, or minutes on Gwinnett County’s excellent website, which is intended to keep Gwinnett citizens informed. I have attended many (AAC) council meetings and in almost every case I was the only non-member in attendance.

She further went on to report “The partisan inclinations of the core membership, combined with lack of participation from several members and complete isolation from county citizens, resulted in the council’s passage and the Commissioners’ subsequent passage of an animal ordinance of such breathtakingly draconian nature that it punishes the most minor infractions with thousands of dollars in fines and years in jail without the benefit of a jury trial. This ordinance has made Gwinnett a laughingstock among animal law specialists across the country, with several lawyers expressing the opinion that the law is unconstitutional on a variety of grounds. I sincerely hope our commissioners will expand the Council’s membership to be more inclusive and require it to abide by the spirit, not merely the letter, of Georgia’s Sunshine Laws.”

While each of the sitting commissioners received this information only then candidate Shirley Lassiter responded with “it would appear that holding any government meeting should be professional, open and convenient to all the citizens.”

We the Pet Owners of Gwinnett couldn’t agree more. We not only believe that these meetings should be open to the public but more importantly the communication between pet owners in the community and the commissioners should be transparent and it is not.

Over the past thirty months our organization has worked diligently in presenting an “Animal Advisory Reform Resolution” that corrects these communication and transparency issues. Unlike the Animal Ordinance that was passed without public input our organization reached out across the county with full disclosure on all the issues involved.

We sought out the opinions of pet owners on issue that related to responsibly owning pets. We fought off numerous attempts by the AAC to drop these issues from AAC’s agenda. In the end these discussions generated the issues that were in serious need of reform. In the end we found common ground and compromise that served the citizens and gave a voice to responsible pet owners in Gwinnett.

The proposed revisions to the Animal Advisory Council Bylaws were drafted, discussed, argued and negotiated for close to a year now. To date, there has been nothing but support from the citizens on the final resolution that passed during the April 20th 2010 AAC meeting.

This resolution has been voted on and passed, the time for negotiation and discussion at this level is over. For animal control and the Gwinnett Police Department to hold these changes hostage six months later to protect the status quo of “catch and kill” is un-conscionable. It is NOW time to bring these issues to a vote in front of the commissioners who WE elected to oversee our interests.

Paranoia strikes deep – into your life it will creep

During the last AAC meeting the issue of reforming the Animal Advisory Council once again reared it’s ugly head. Shelter Director Lt. Respess brought up “new” concerns explaining “Animal Control and our superiors have concerns about the way the resolution is written”. With an air of pettiness animal control’s concerns focused on two areas, one “they” wanted to add a condition that “no one could serve in an advisory position who had violated any animal ordinance”. This stipulation is not only insulting to the citizens who would step forward but to the Commissioners as well, who I would hope would exercise good judgment and appoint people to this committee who they themselves have vetted. Appointments to the advisory council should NOT require approval from animal control or the Gwinnett Police Department especially in light of oversight implications.

One of many major malfunctions of the current makeup of the AAC is that anyone who disagrees with current (failed) policies at the shelter runs the risk of losing their position as an advisor. This stifles created innovation and leaves us with a process of simply defending the status quo. The current process of animal control and/or the Gwinnett Police Department having 100% control over who gets appointed or is allowed to stay on the AAC limits the free exchange of ideas.

The second area of newly created dispute was the reorganization that eliminated several obsolete positions on the AAC and replaced then with slots that addressed the county’s primary issues with animal control.

Animal control sought to keep Gwinnett Humane Society position while sacrificing a position for the rescue community at large. For several years now Gwinnett Humane has held a position on this council and yet open records have yet to offer any program or insight offered that would benefit the rescue community at large. Nothing has been proposed that would assist in building the critical partnerships with the rescue community but instead focuses on self-preservation of their own needs.

The number of pets going to rescue is down by over thirty percent since the new shelter opened. New leadership that understands the importance of building partnership with those who rescue dogs and cats is critical to our long-term success in reducing the carnage. This won’t happen without a voice that understands the significance these partnerships offer.

Building partnerships with rescue community will result in fewer animals being killed and return a substantial cost saving to the county as well – it costs MONEY to end a pet’s life – it costs NOTHING to send that same pet to rescue. This, the new feline interest position and individual representatives from each of the commissioners were areas that were never open for compromise.

Obviously, change is needed to dramatically turn around our failing shelter. Pouring money into a broken process is NOT a solution – change in thinking is. Several positions were removed with even more new positions created – those groups who felt disenfranchised would still have an option of lobbying for one of these openings.

The time for talk, the time for negotiation is over – we have a passed resolution that must be passed on to the BOC for an up or down vote.

People speaking their minds – getting so much resistance from behind

With thirty months invested in this reform effort “We the Pet Owners of Gwinnett” is past the point of offering further compromise. To hold these changes and the resulting citizen oversight hostage while thousands of dogs and cats are being killed is simply not acceptable. We are NOW reaching out to the community to support the “Animal Advisory Council Reform Resolution” with an up or down vote.

Our constituents have strong feelings on moving forward with building a more humane community for our homeless pets. We are solid in our support of building a No Kill community. Those feelings are being realized with the growth of No Kill Gwinnett.

Our supporters come from all walks of life, your church, your neighbors, your friends in rescue and in many members who work in and around Gwinnett County government. We may not agree on all the issues but there is a common bond that there is no moral foundation for ending an innocent dog or cats life simply because it’s convenient and because we can.

Rather then focusing on resolving the serious issues we have at animal control, far too many dogs and cats being killed, we end up with a broken partnership with the rescue community and a lack of professionalism in leadership that has resulted in serious morale issues that look the other way. The result is a process that does nothing but protect a failed model of status quo.

A thousand people in the street
Singing songs and carrying signs
Mostly say hoorah for our side

The battle hymm's being sung, we are all tired of all the dire sideshows of personal ambition and goals rift with excuses and blame that changes nothing and allows the killing as usual to become our standard animal welfare policy. We are tired of being harassed and intimidated simply because we choose to include pets as an intregal part of our family unit.  Pets are NOT a nuisance issue - they are a quality of life issue.
We the Pet Owners of Gswinnett have presented a positive package for professional advise on animal welfare issues moving into the future. The makeup of this team would consists of citizens passionate about representing ALL points of view with a new focus where it’s needed most – lowering the number of dogs and cats killed at our tax supported shelter.

The new advisory council will be able to investigate not only life saving programs but cost saving programs as well. The new advisory council will be more responsive to not only pet owners in our community but there will be a dramatic improvement in the communication between citizens and their commissioners on animal related issues.

More importantly, the commissioners will finally have direct communication with the advisors they appoint and not be limited with ideas or proposals that have been screened by animal control.

The makeup of the Animal Advisory Board is in serious need of new blood which will include active participation by local pet owners and private volunteer rescuers who have for too long now been silenced from this process.

While the current makeup of the AAC may be powerless to do anything more then protect their own self-interest “WE PET OWNERS” have the power of electing commissioners who protect not only our families interests but our rights to responsibly own and protect our family pets.

There will be a meeting with the Board of Commissioner’s on Tuesday December 14th at Gwinnett’s Judicial Center. The meeting starts at 2:00 PM and the public is permitted to speak at the end. It is imperative that our community’s pets be represented as well as Gwinnett’s other important issues.

Those of you who have something to add to this dialog are encouraged to write out your thoughts that can be presented via email or presented to the commissioners for consideration during this public forum.

Look forward to seeing you there.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Gwinnett gets tough on Pit Bulls but soft on drunk drivers

Caught this off Twitter:

SNELLVILLE - A Gwinnett teen has been charged with running over about two dozen mailboxes in Snellville and Loganville neighborhoods during an after-party vandalism spree, police said.

Phillip Rohrer, 18, of Snellville and a passenger reportedly took a destructive joyride in a 1997 Dodge Ram on Loganville’s Brusymill Court and Snellville’s Hidden Forest Drive, among other locations, about 4:30 a.m. Sunday.

Gwinnett police spokesman Cpl. Edwin Ritter said Rohrer is responsible for toppling and damaging 24 mailboxes in the spree

and from the Gwinnett Daily Post

SNELLVILLE — A Gwinnett teen has been charged with running over about two dozen mailboxes in Snellville and Loganville neighborhoods during an after-party vandalism spree, police said.

Phillip Rohrer, 18, of Snellville and a passenger reportedly took a destructive joyride in a 1997 Dodge Ram on Loganville’s Brusymill Court and Snellville’s Hidden Forest Drive, among other locations, about 4:30 a.m. Sunday.

Gwinnett police spokesman Cpl. Edwin Ritter said Rohrer is responsible for toppling and damaging 24 mailboxes in the spree.

A noise complaint led a patrol officer to the area, where the officer spotted the loud green truck barreling past with one headlight and a busted taillight, according to a Gwinnett police report.

The officer pulled the truck over and questioned Rohrer, who admitted to drinking at a friend’s party before destructive urges came over him, the report states.

“He said he was bored and decided to go run over people’s mailboxes for fun,” the officer wrote. “He said he went into a few neighborhoods and ran over mailboxes.”

Rohrer’s passenger, Graham Fidler, told police he was being taken home from the same party when Rohrer decided to “go joyriding,” the report says.

Police charged Rohrer with 10 counts of criminal trespass and ticketed him for a headlight violation and underage possession of alcohol. The Georgia Gwinnett College student was released on bond Tuesday.

Fidler, the passenger, was ticketed for underage possession of alcohol. Jail records list him as an Athens Tech student.

Tough questions that weren't asked.
So let me be clear – this teen admits to leaving a party at 4:00 AM AFTER drinking – has another teen in his truck WITH ALCOHOL – runs over 24 mailboxes and he ISN’T charged with DRIVING UNDER THE INFLUENCE?

What do you have to do to get charged with DUI – KILL SOMEONE?

Gwinnett Police did charge Rohrer with having “broken lens covers” and “failure to maintain working headlights” – I guess that was the result of RUNNING DOWN 24 mailboxes. They did charge him with “improper lane change” – I guess it is an “improper lane change” when you drive OFF THE ROAD to run down mailboxes. But the TOUGH question is WHY NO DUI?

It is troublesome to know that this teen was released from jail and can STILL operate a motor vehicle. In a county so concerned about public safety that discussions of requiring pit bull owners to run through hoops to keep their family pets simply because of a few isolated incidents involving pit bulls would not realize how many teenagers die from drinking and driving.

Why wasn't the person responsible for allowing underage teens to illegally drink and leave the aprty at 4:00 AM not charged as well?  It is exceptable for adults to look the other way while our children are acting in such an irresponsible way?  I think if you ask any parent who has lost a child or family member at the hands of someone driving drunk that answer would be obvious.

It has ALWAYS been troublesome for this writer to experience first hand the laxness our Recorder’s Court seems to have with drunk driving offenses as well. In the fifteen times I was in court for my dog barking offences NOT once was a drunk driver sentenced to 24 months probation like I was. In fact, Judge Muise is soft on drunk drivers typically handing out NO JAIL TIME – instead choosing to allow these potential killers to serve probation terms of six to twelve months.

Barking dogs don’t pose any danger to the community – Muise sentenced me to thirty days in jail because I CHOSE to own dogs that bark. Obviously, she is less concerned about people who CHOOSE to get behind the wheel of their vehicle while under the influence of alcohol. The County Solicitor’s Office shares responsibility for this lax enforcement of our drunk driving laws.

It's time the politicians and public officials entrusted to keeping our community safe pull their heads out of the sand or wherever they have them and ENFORCE the law.  Barking dogs and pit bulls are the least of our problems.  The problem with our judicial system is pet owners are guilty until and if they can prove their pets innocent while drunken criminals aren't even charged.
Not only is she a lousy judge who doesn’t understand or care about the constitution (in favor of her own personal agenda) her rulings put all of us in danger. The citizens of Gwinnett deserve better then that.

With the holidays approaching let’s hope more families don’t have blood spilled, their dreams and lives destroyed at the hands of a drunk driver.  We'll be staying off the roads - obviously, it's not safe out there.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

A Gift of Death to an Extreme Animal Rights Movement

I wrote "A gift of death to an extreme animal rights movement" in December of 2008 on my "Trailed by 20 Hounds" blog.  In this article the foundation of pet ownership philosophy was examined.  More so, the foundation of deceit coming out of the leaders in the animal rights movement was also put under the spotlight.

From the article "This philosophy of defending policies of humane euthanasia while professing to protect animal rights is a contradiction that can not be explained. One would assume that at the point an animal is killed any right or lack of it the animal might be entitled to becomes a mute point."

Shelter reform advocates have stopped questioning how shelters choose to kill dogs and cats entrusted to their care with instead asking on what moral authority do we kill at all?  In the absence of implementing life saving programs this one single question remains unanswered today.  There is no moral support for killing any dog or cat that isn't suffering with a terminal illness.

Owning and enjoying pets is always about choice and responsibility. The nucleus for moderate animal advocacy must include opposition to pet limit laws, BSL, mandatory spay/neuter and nuisance animal laws that include provisions that allow for impounding and killing as a sentencing guideline.

To read more:

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Neighborhood Bully under seige

An ordinance being considered in Gwinnett would require all Pit bull owners to register their dogs under the new law. The new ordinance would also discriminate against pit bull owners by requiring them to provide name, address and a registration fee to the county to possess a pit bull. Owners would also have to provide proof of insurance, a full description of the pit bull, including a photo, and proof of inoculation. They would be required to provide a study enclosure that does not share fencing with a perimeter fence.

Penalties under the law proposed would include fines, jail time and court ordered impounding of any dogs identified as pits even if the dogs have never demonstrated vicious or aggressive behavior.

The decision to end a healthy pet's life has always been a flashpoint for conflict, more than ever this decision making process is being contested––and the disputes are increasingly often taken to the outside world. In effect, all pit bulls or even dogs suspected of being pits would be guilty even if proven innocent.

The law would still define as vicious any dog that, without provocation, has killed or injured a person or has killed another dog with an absolute presumption pit bulls are by definition violent and vicious.

Is BSL a license to kill?

The neighborhood bully he just lives to survive
He’s criticized and condemned for being alive
He’s not supposed to fight back, he’s supposed to have thick skin
He’s supposed to lay down while his door is kicked in
He’s the neighborhood bully

His enemies say he’s on their land
They got him outnumbered about a million to one
He’s got no place to escape to, no place to run
He’s the neighborhood bully

Well, the chances are against it, and the odds are slim
That he’ll live by the rules that politicians make for him
Cause there’s a noose around his neck and a gun at his head
And now a license to kill him is given to every maniac – Bob Dylan

When pit bulls are outlawed, only outlaws will own pit bulls

An ad hoc committee set up to draft a new “Dangerous Dog Ordinance” in Douglasville has all but died when Public Safety committee chair announced he was not interested in considering it any further. Instead, the discussion has shifted to evaluating what can be done enforcing the current provisions as written under the current animal ordinances.

Taxpayers want community police resources to be directed at real criminals, not dog owners. The public wants the drugs and the gang bangers and thugs doing home invasions to be hauled off – not the neighbors’ friendly family pet that oftentimes acts as the only line of defense against these punks.

We certainly don’t want to pay to have our animal control agencies conduct witch hunts, deprive honest law abiding citizens of their constitutional rights while implement an agenda of breed specific genocide.

Some believe the vicious image of the pit bull is part of its intrigue. Regulations that criminalize pit bulls only add to the mystique and criminal appeal. Those inclined to participate in gang activity or the drug underworld are not going to line up at animal control with pictures of their pit bulls to register their pit bulls.

We the Pet Owners of Gwinnett are opposed to any breed specific legislation (BSL). The recommendations suggested by our county law department swould dramatically increase the number of pit bulls entering and being killed at our shelter while virtually eliminating any possible adoptions opportunities.

We cannot support BSL type of regulations while building a NO Kill Community. It is be morally reprehensible to kill any dog innocent of any wrongdoing. Our position is that the actions of the dog that makes the dog vicious, not the breed line.

BSL does not work and will not work because the target of the laws – those irresponsible pit bull owners – are the criminals, the drug dealers, the gangbangers and those inclined to fight their dogs would not be registering their dogs with any policing agency.

BSL type laws passed requiring registration are largely ignored. Since pit bull owners would be required to take out liability insurance on their dog and build a separate enclosure, they would now have an financial incentive not to register.

Those responsible pet owners who simply could not afford to comply under the new requirements would have to choose between surrendering their pets or not following the law which would turn their pet ownership into a criminal act.

Criminals who will continue to own pit bulls irresponsibly and responsible pit bull owners who were role models in the community would now be partners in the crime of owning a pit bull. The cost of enforcing this new law and sorting out the various criminal elements would be enormous – any positive results would not.

For Pit Owners “register or you can’t have them here”

A recent WSB-TV investigation of a pit bull attack in Snellville this past August made it clear that the owner(s) of the dogs involved allowed these dogs to run at large. The owner(s) was in clear violation of the leash and restraint provisions of our current “Model Animal Ordinance” passed in 2007.

Section 10-29 Restraint requirements authorize animal control to not only issue citations but impound any threatening or dangerous dogs.

The current animal ordinance provides adequate regulations that protect our community against dogs who are allowed to roam as strays and who subsequently have incidents or engage in aggressive or hostile behavior.

This ordinance includes provisions that protect citizens against dangerous dogs regardless of breed. The law simply needs to be enforced. If animal control would put as much focus in enforcing our leash laws as they do patrolling for barking dogs and wandering cats we wouldn’t be having this discussion.

Animal Control has a clear responsibility to pick up and remove dogs that are in violation of the nuisance ordinance, especially if those dogs present any type of danger to the community. Passing new regulations primarily directed at responsible pet owners who follow the law will only divert enforcement away from problem owners.

It is also important to point out that the “Model Animal Ordinance” also includes specific requirements for dogs deemed vicious or dangerous “based on prior acts” of that specific dog. Classifying ALL pit bulls as vicious or dangerous would require owners to comply with the same requirements as truly aggressive dogs despite any pre-existing behavior warranting those requirements.

Depriving Pet Owners of Constitutional and Due Process rights

Responsible dog owners with well behaved pit bulls or dogs who appear to be pit bulls would not be allowed to take their dogs on walks in public or even allow them to run supervised in their own yards unless the dogs were muzzled.

The mere act of registering a non-aggressive pit to a dangerous or vicious dog registry would be an admission that the dog was potentially dangerous even though the owner has never experienced such behavior.

This “guilty by breed association” places the owner in a tenable position of defending the dog against false allegations simply because the dog is a pit or assumed to be a pit. This was the same problem presented with the county’s infamous but now repealed dog barking ordinance which classified breeds such as beagles as “barkers” or as the county solicitor who wrote the law pointed out “beagles bark – you own beagles – your guilty of owning barking dogs”.

There are serious constitutional issues with passing a broad based registry that includes a vast majority of dogs who have never posed any threat or risk to the community. Anyone who owns a pit and registers that pit as “potentially vicious or dangerous” agrees to allow “any enforcement officer of the department of police services shall have the authority to enter into private or public property for the purpose of ensuring compliance with the provisions of this subsection (d).

What this means is any policing agency would be authorized to enter a pet owners home – your home – on the assumption that you might be harboring one of these banned vicious dogs, even IF you have never actually violated the law.

Dangerous Dog Law or a License to Kill Pit Bulls?

The neighborhood bully, standing on the hill
Watching the clock run out, while time is standing still
He’s the neighborhood bully the world wants to kill

Under the law being proposed citizens would be prevented from offering compassionate aid to any dog abandoned in the neighborhood if it resembled a pit bull. Thse dogs would be demonized in the same manner as a wild bear or panther – they would be hunted down and killed.

Compassionate citizens who attempted to offer comfort or shelter to any stray resembling a pit bull would be in violation of the ordinance as well. We would no longer have the discretion of “rescuing” any dog but instead be required to notify animal control even if we understood that would result in the dog being slaughtered. The law provides but another series of obstacles that prevent citizens from being “good Samaritans, even when the dog presents a friendly disposition.

Under the new law citizens have to “hide” any outlawed dogs to rescue them from our own government hell bent on labeling them as canine criminals with a needle full of blue juice being their destiny. Is that REALLY how we want to utilize our police budget and combat neighborhood crime?

Pet owners should not have to surrender the rights granted under the constitution (which includes a reasonable pursuit of happiness) simply as a condition for owning any breed of dog.

We HAVE laws that address all dogs, all breeds that simply need to be enforced by a competent animal control department. Once again We the Pet Owners of Gwinnett question the leadership in animal control lacks the specific guidance to implement it’s own mission of keeping our community safe by enforcing the laws already in place. Changing the ordinances without addressing the leadership vacuum is not a solution that will work.

Pit bulls entering our shelter system already face tremendous odds simply surviving – passing a new law would only exacerbate that problem.

Excluding dogs based on breed could wrongfully implicate some dogs and ignore others that might be more prone to attack. There are some dogs are therapy dogs and some who are simply great dogs who make great family pets and some dogs who are unsocialized no matter what breed they are.

Rather then worry about a specific breed of dog shouldn’t we focus on the people who are choosing them?

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Trap Neuter Release - Compassionate - NO KILL Solution for Feral Cats

Fight to Survive
With the killing of cats in Gwinnett at an all time high – it should be obvious that current programs and policies of “catch and kill” are not working.

The 2010 third quarter numbers for our shelter show 908 cats “dropped off” at the shelter with road patrols bringing in an additional 174 “strays” or a total of 1,082 intakes.

None of the cats picked up were returned in the field and only two reclaimed by their owners during a three-month period. Of the 1,082 cats needing life saving efforts at our “shelter” 915 or 85% were killed. The cost to catch and kill 915 cats in a three-month period is between $50,000 to $80,000.

“Trap-neuter release, commonly referred to as TNR, is the only method proven to be both humane and effective at controlling feral cat population growth.

With a “Trap/Neuter/Release program the cost to spay/neuter these same 915 now dead cats would have been less then $20,000 including vaccination costs.

TNR traps all the feral cats in a colony – they are altered and then returned to their territory, where caretakers provide them with regular food and shelter. This non-lethal sterilization method reduces the number of feral cats in an environment both immediately and over the long run.

TNR was introduced in the US during the 1980’s. The practice of TNR grew rapidly in the 90’s when Alley Cat Allies began providing information and assistance to people caring for feral cats that recognized that their numbers must be controlled and reduced sterilization.

In communities where TNR is widely embraced, feral cat numbers have dropped. TNR works because it breaks the cycle of reproduction. Since TNR programs are operated largely or entirely through the efforts of dedicated and committed volunteers the cost savings to taxpayers is an added benefit.

The Huge Cost Savings through TNR

Aside from the minor ethical issue of killing healthy yet wild cats there is a much larger issue that even taxpayers can support. That’s the potential advantage on a large scale is cost savings with our animal control budget both short term and in the years to come.

For one – a Trap Neuter Release Program doesn’t involve funding new animal control trucks at a cost of over $207,000 to be used to round up cats for slaughter. Instead, freed of the responsibility of chasing down loose cats, these same “road” officers could instead focus on enforcing county leash, tethering, neglect and cruelty laws and working with the public on life saving programs at the shelter instead.

Traditionally, the cost involved with feral cats includes the time it takes for an officer to trap the cat, the expense of feeding and sheltering during the usual mandatory waiting period before the animal can be killed and the cost of killing and disposing of the body.

In contrast, the only cost involved with TNR is the neutering and vaccination of each cat. The rest of the work – trapping, feeding, and so on – is done by volunteers.

In a study in Orange County, Florida, over the course of two and a half years of a new TNR program, cost savings were found to be 47 percent of an alternative “catch and kill” program.

TNR has the advantage of being humane because it respects the cats' right to live and provides them with as high a quality of life as possible under the circumstances.

It is also effective at lowering population levels, both within individual colonies and across entire communities. “Catch and Kill” is not only more costly; but it doesn’t work. TNR is clearly the future when it comes to care and control of feral cats.

Is there any wonder our new shelter has experienced an increase of over FIFTY PERCENT in the number of cats being killed in the last three years alone?

There are volunteers and rescue groups who care about cats – enabling these citizens to do the right thing for feral cats is critical in reducing not only the growth in killing but in animal control costs as well.

Yet, shelter management under the watchful eye of the Gwinnett Police Department continues to cling to this model that fails EVERY YEAR.

National Animal Control Association Supports Trap Neuter Release

In practice, many municipalities which have tried TNR have found it effective in reducing cat populations within their borders. For this reason, the National Animal Control Association recently changed its position on feral cat control to support TNR.

In an interview explaining the change, the president of the National Animal Control Association explained that municipalities have found management more successful in controlling cat populations than attempts at eradication, that it is much cheaper and elicits the assistance of the private sector, that no agency in the country can afford to just keep practicing trap and euthanize, and that the old method of trapping and euthanizing is like trying to "bail the ocean with a thimble" due to limitated animal control resources.

The High Cost of Trap, Hold and Kill

In general the cost of sterilization and returning a feral cat is less than half the cost of trapping, holding, killing and disposing of a feral cat. TNR protects public health and advances the goal of reducing the numbers of feral cats in the environment. The public will support humane, non-lethal TNR as the long-term solution to feral cat population.

The traditional approach has been "trap-and-kill," whereby feral cats are trapped, usually by animal control or your neighbor, and then invariably killed. The reasons why it almost always fails in the long term are clear enough.

First, it's not easy to catch all the cats in a feral colony. If there are a large number of cats, it can take several days and a lot of persistence. Animal control and/or your neighbor rarely have the time or resources to make this kind of sustained effort.

Instead, what normally happens is that animal control officers set some traps, catch some of the cats, and make a temporary reduction in the colony's numbers.

All’s well until nature kicks in – or new cats show up. The feral colony grows in size up to the number of cats their food source can support. Once the colony is reduced, the remaining cats over breed until the ceiling imposed by the food source is reached again, and the temporary drop in population is quickly erased.

Even assuming all the cats in a colony are caught and removed, that still won't lower the population in the long run. This is due to the "vacuum effect," first observed by Roger Tabor in his studies of London street cats (The Wild Life of the Domestic Cat).

In the real world one feral colony are surrounded by other feral cat groups in adjoining areas. If a colony is removed but its food source remains, cats in neighboring territories will move in and start the cycle of reproduction again.

This last point also indicates another reason why it is almost impossible to eradicate feral cats from an area: their caretakers. Feral cat caretakers are a devoted breed who will often do whatever is in their power to feed and protect their feline wards, including violating feeding bans.

The trap-and-kill approach turns these caretakers into enemies. While “Trap Hold and Kill” sheltering models are costly to implement TNR, on the other hand, mobilizes an enormous volunteer force for population control.

An effective TNR program also reduces cost and killing by not bringing feral cats into the shelter in the first place. Plenty of domestic cats are now dying in our new shelter for “lack of space”. Why bring in feral cats off the streets when they can be maintained where they are, in a manner more befitting their unique natures?

At the other end of failed alternatives to TNR is the “rescue” model. Feral cats are NOT adoptable as pets. Many well-meaning people, convinced they are "saving" a feral cat by bringing him indoors, end up condemning the poor creature to a life of hiding under the bed and being in constant fear. Better a fuller, even if riskier, life in freedom.

Breaking the Cycle of Failure

Every female feral cat trapped and altered represents fewer kittens during and after “kitten season”. Should the county invest from $20 to $50 on a spay surgery as a preventative measure or should taxpayers be burdened with the cost of handling an entire litter soon thereafter?

Should the county support a TNR program that can be funded by local citizens, volunteers and non-profits when the only trade off is putting an end to a killing mentality or should we taxpayers continue to finance the slaughter of thousands of cats each year instead? Who benefits from this “pest” eradication service?

The cost of trapping – holding – killing and disposing on an entire litter is several times higher then the initial investment in spay/neuter.

It has estimated that the cost to handle a stray cat for the five required days in the shelter, plus the cost of killing and disposal, is about $70 per cat. There are still only three alternatives to handling the population of stray cats: 1) alter/release/management; 2) exterminate/kill; 3) ignore.

Comparing cost options:

Test/Vaccinate/Alter = less then $50 in a low-cost program  vs.

Stay at shelter = $70 - $100

Funding for a program of this type can take many forms:

1. Looking at the figures from 2009 alone, one can readily see that for a cost of 4800 cats (killed) X $70 per cat (to trap-hold-kill)) cost the taxpayers close to $340,000. The costs of altering (even if this cost was absorbed by the county) would be less then half. Successfully implementing a TNR program would not only provide immediate cost savings but would also reduce the number of cats handled in the future further reducing the cost of “controlling cat populations”.

2. The program pays for itself with reduced animal control costs. Reduced shelter costs frees up resources and manpower for staffing life saving adoption and retention programs instead.

3. Further cost saving can be realized by developing partnership with local veterinary services and by soliciting donations through local non profit rescues and grant programs. The decreased shelter costs would more than fund any future and ongoing trap/alter/release efforts.

If Gwinnett County’s animal welfare policy included a partnership with the rescue community by providing services instead of simply killing off as many cats as they can pick up our citizens would do the rest.

Removing the obstacles that enable volunteers to provide medical treatment, food and support services for feral cats will provide the best possible outcome for all involved. Instead of enabling solutions, current policy only provides the obstacles to that success. Should we be surprised with nothing but failed results?

Naysayers who scream for “eradication”

There may be those who prefer to continue the eradication method. The concerns put forth are usually centered around noise (cats fighting over territory or mating), smell (of spray), vector infestation, disease transmission or possible injury. The assumption of a quick and clean solution makes this avenue of population control especially attractive. Yet eradication programs are ineffective.

While attractive from a theoretical and short-term perspective, eradication has proven to be an elusive goal. Some will continue to advocate the trap and kill eradication approach. However, if eradication programs really worked, we wouldn't be faced with so many stray cats and their offspring ending up being killed at our shelter during “kitten season”.

Cats are territorial. They don't allow other cats into their territory to steal their food. Altered cats will stand their ground and guard their food source, will not have kittens, and will die in a few years. Remove the cat(s) from the habitat without changing the habitat and another cat will move in.

Gainesville Florida Study evaluates effects of feral cat sterilization program

Various long term studies have shown that TNR is effective in stopping the breeding of cats in the wild and reducing the population over time. In addition to these studies, a 2004 controlled study by veterinarians in Connecticut found that TNR consistently reduced the populations of feral cat colonies, by a mean of 36% over two years and with the extinction of one third of the colonies within the same period, while the non-TNR'd colonies increased by a mean of 47%.

Many TNR programs that have resulted in decreased populations have also included intensive efforts to adopt a large proportion of the population, which is generally part of TNR.

Although a recent study on a Florida spay/neuter program for feral cats wasn’t able to identify the program’s precise effects, the results published in the Journal of Applied Animal Welfare Science (Vol. 5, No. 4, 2002) suggest that a feral cat trap-neuter-return program can be an important facet of a community strategy to fight pet overpopulation.

Written by Kathy L. Hughes and Margaret R. Slater of the College of Veterinary Medicine at Texas A & M University and Linda Haller of the Hawaiian Humane Society, the study focuses on the feral cat sterilization program that Haller oversaw when she managed Orange County Animal Services in Orlando.

Begun in 1995, the trap-and-return program was a cooperative effort between the county and a local volunteer group. Though the county had tried in the past to address feral cat issues, those efforts had focused mainly on trapping and euthanasia—and had failed to reduce the numbers.

Under the new program, the volunteer group trapped the cats and brought them to the county to be spayed or neutered, eartipped, and vaccinated against rhinotracheitis, calicivirus, panleukopenia, and rabies. (Some were later re-trapped for a subsequent vaccination.) The surgery was free, and caretakers paid $5 for each rabies vaccination.

“High-risk males” or cats that appeared ill were tested for feline leukemia virus and feline immunodeficiency virus infections, and, if positive, were euthanized. Kittens were not returned to the colonies but were socialized and, if possible, put up for adoption. Those who appeared to be at least seven weeks old were neutered or spayed.

From fiscal years 1990 to 2001, the period during which data was collected, the county sterilized 37,182 cats, including 7,903 ferals. Analysis of the program’s results was complicated by concurrent changes to regulations and other animal control programs (the study did not identify these), but statistics were still significant.

The number of cat impoundments remained stable during the study period, despite an increase of 32 percent in the human population. Although intake rates did not decrease as expected, the authors note, “This may reflect in part a change in the county code of September 1995, in which a renewed emphasis was placed on enforcement.”

The adoption rate during that period reached 12 percent, twice as high as it had been during the six years before the trapping program began. Euthanasia of impounded cats decreased by 18 percent from fiscal year 1996 to fiscal year 2001. (Feral cats who had already been spayed or neutered did not factor into impoundment statistics.)

The frequency of cat-related complaints also fell—by 25 percent between the mid-90s and 2001. The county’s policy of requiring relocation of colonies deemed a “nuisance” may have contributed to this decline (though the need for relocation was rare); public awareness also may have increased during the years because of educational outreach on the part of volunteers and rescue groups.

Reducing the financial cost of addressing feral cat issues was a goal of the program from the beginning, with county officials surmising that a neuter-release program would be less expensive and less labor-intensive than impoundment.

They appeared to be right: Spaying and neutering the feral cats totaled $442,568, according to the study, substantially less than the estimated $1.1 million it would have cost to impound and euthanize the cats.

Other positive trends were recorded during the study period. The authors observed that the relationship between animal services staff and citizens concerned about feral cats improved, and that “citizens who previously felt overwhelmed by the dilemma of feral cats they saw in their neighborhood now feel empowered and able to make a difference in these cats’ lives.”

While the authors acknowledge that “separating out the effects of a single program may be impossible,” they stress that no negative consequences were recorded for the sterilization program. They also laud the creation of the program itself.

“The establishment of the feral cat program was done without a change in the county code,” they wrote, “through the persistence and teamwork of concerned citizens and county officials.”

It's important to recognize that if a cat is truly feral, then the most compassionate choice may be to allow him to live outdoors. Trying to domesticate such a feral cat is little different from trying to make a squirrel or a raccoon a household companion - you might succeed somewhat, but never fully and only with a great deal of time and patience. Moreover, you would not be permitting the animal to live in the manner that suits him best.

Innovative Solutions versus the Rhetoric of a Failed Killing Philosophy

The number of feral cats in the U.S. is estimated to be in the tens of millions. Sadly, many communities still opt to control populations via outdated methods, including lethal elimination or relocation. Not only are some of these methods horribly cruel, they are also highly ineffective. It’s time to include the issues of feral cats in the fight to end animal cruelty.

We the Pet Owners of Gwinnett support the immediate implementation of a Trap Neuter Release Program that will put an end to the slaughter of hundreds of cats each month.

We support an immediate issuance of free spay/neuter vouchers for all residents to take in stray and “loosely owned” community cats for free altering.

Implementing this one program alone will dramatically reduce the number of pets being killed at our shelter and lead to the cost savings necessary to further implement other life saving programs as well.

To accomplish the cultural change needed to transition from an animal “control” mindset to a responsive animal “services” unit it is imperative that our elected commissioners and the law department show the political courage to move swiftly in approving the “Animal Advisory Reform Resolution” that has broad community support and was approved without dissent by our current animal advisory council.

We the Pet Owners of Gwinnett encourage the Board of Commissioners to appoint a new voice to fill the “Feline Interest” position on the newly revised advisory council with a voice experienced in establishing a successful TNR program in our community. This voice would be responsible for building the critical partnership bridge with the Feline Rescue community to assure success.

The following information provides background on TNR, online and print resources, and what you can do to get involved.

TNR is the only proven solution to solve this problem. Caring for the existing colony:

· Ends the breeding cycle

· Alleviates suffering due to: fights, starvation, being hit by cars, illness...

· Helps prevent the spread of disease; the two of concern to humans being fleas and ringworm

· Results in less noise and troublesome behavior

· Cuts down on wildlife predation

To learn more
Alley Cat Allies

Feral Cat Coalition

Monday, October 18, 2010

Gwinnett County Seeks too Tighten the Noose on Pit Bulls

A Gwinnett's Animal Advisory Council meeting is scheduled for Tuesday, October 19, 2010 at the Animal Welfare and Enforcement Center. 884 Winder Hwy, Lawrenceville. The meeting starts at 7:00 PM. 

Items included on the agenda include the year old discussion of a shelter "urgent list", a disaster plan and a new item added - a discussion on revising the dangerous dog ordinances to include pit bull licensing registrations, including tags, microchips, insurance ect.

It also includes a requirement that all pit bulls be on a leash at all times unless in an approved enclosure - in other words, your dogs could not be off leash even if supervised on your property.

We the Pet Owners of Gwinnett opposes any BSL types of restrictions that would only lessen the number of homes for good pit bulls needing rescue and would only increase the number of good pit bulls being surrendered and killed at our already "too high" kill shelter.

We oppose this type of approach for two reasons - as a pet owner, there is no evidence that breed-specific laws make communities safer for people or companion animals.  Those who own and care for pets responsibly are typically not part of the problem and yet are punished nonetheless.  Those who own any type of dog irresponsibly typically won't comply with the laws already on the books so enforcement is counter-productive.

As taxpayers these types of ordinances which attempt to mandate pet care are costly and difficult to enforce.  As we should learned from the "2007 Dog Barking Folly" - pet owners faced with losing their pets, facing huge fines or compliance costs might find it less tedious to dispute any infractions through the courts.  Not only is this a very expensive way to litigate these cases but it is disengenous of the county to further burden taxpayers with these additional expenses as well.
We need to put an end to this senseless approach at tossing a net over small problems that put unnecessary restrictions on those who responsibly own their dogs - including pit bulls.

What isn't on the agenda is equally troublesome. There are no discussions planned on how the shelter might implement many of the No Kill programs that have the support of pet owners throughout the county. There will be no discussion on the process needed to implement no kill here in Gwinnett. Just more of the same - blame and punish approaches that have failed our community in the past.

Pet owners, taxpayers and voters are encouraged to attend.   Just say NO to growing "bigger" governement.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Build it...... they will come...."

Our animal welfare “authorities” are failing its citizens with wasteful spending during this period of economic uncertainty. This squandering of resources is a top down leadership crisis that is at the heart of the many problems that must be overcome.

The High Cost of Killing

At the September BOC meeting 2010-0757 Award BL068-10 was approved by a consent order (meaning no public discussion was allowed) to purchase FOUR new animal control trucks at a cost of $207,788.

The latest in failed leadership comes with the decision to purchase four new animal control trucks at a cost of $207,788.

This decision ignores the tight budgetary constraints that severely limits hours the shelter is open to the public, ignores lack of office staffing issues which further limits shelter operations in favor of providing four brand new trucks that clearly can not be justified during these tough times.

For a shelter that already fails each and every pet that dies under their care and control by not providing off site adoption events, fails miserably in promoting pets available for adoption, fails dismally with it’s volunteer program and sees increased efficiency only in the number of animals being killed, this expenditure will only lead to more killing – not less – as our animal control officers attempt to justify this need by rounding up more dogs and cats for slaughter.

If we are truly in a budgetary crisis wouldn't a more logical approach be reducing our fleet of 16 animal control vehicles, lower our costs associated with insuring and maintaining that fleet and shift our manpower over to shelter related duties instead? Shouldn’t shelter duties focus on life saving placement options for shelter dogs and cats instead of the age old fall back of simply killing them?

Rather then maintaining reduced shelter hours and thus doom even more pets to a certain death wouldn't it be more prudent to allocate manpower and resources for additional evening and weekend hours thus making the shelter more assessable to the community? This could be done without a need for more officers or additional overtime if we simply pulled a few trucks off the road.

Wouldn't it be a more cost effective use of manpower if the focus is shifted to staffing off site adoptions on weekends, adoption events at our shelter, and to focus on reaching out to the rescue community to increase the number of pets that can be transferred to rescue – as opposed to excessive road patrols?

Shouldn’t we at least consider moving officers off the street to work at the shelter on programs that will increase adoptions and save more healthy adoptable pets rather then this revolving door that only kills them?

Grassroots Reform of our Animal Welfare Programs

"Beyond the instruments of death where sunrise hears the screams.
Every man is torn apart with nightmares and with dreams
all while silence drowns the screams..........."

That the commissioners approved this tremendous waste of critical resources only shows how disconnected our leadership is with the real animal welfare issues in our community. This disconnect is a result of a dysfunctional animal advisory council which remains still in serious need of reform.

The notion of animal control focusing on lifesaving, and taking on what has traditionally been an animal welfare platform of lifesaving and social enrichment for our family pets is now firmly taking root as a “No Kill Movement”.

What we are witnessing is the transformation from traditional “animal control & enforcement” to “animal care, services and control”. Throughout our community rescue groups, animal lovers, pet owners, good Samaritans and animal advocates are demanding change. Rejecting the tired, tried and challenged failed notion that the best we can do is offer a “humane” death for thousands of innocent animals and that the shelter bears no culpability for the numbers of animals being killed, these individuals are challenging the status quo.

What would $207,788 buy in a No Kill Community?

While there is a cost associated with killing innocent animals, saving one’s life is a priceless commodity that separates a truly compassionate community from one that isn’t. The citizens of Gwinnett share a compassion for our pets – shouldn’t our leadership reflect those values as well?

Instead of making investments in life saving programs that will in time drive down the cost of animal control we continue to waste money on the “toys of the killing brigade” while the death toll grows higher.

Sadly, over 90% of these deaths are unnecessary.

What would $207,788 “purchase” in critical services?

With $207,788 we could have spay/neutered over 10, 000 cats and found them rescue groups or feral cat colonies where they would still be alive rather then paying the cost of collecting and killing them – that would be EVERY cat that’s been killed since opening the new shelter in October of 2007.

With $207,788 we could have spay/neutered 2000 dogs at $50 each AND 4000 cats that will be killed in the next twelve months under our current failed animal control program and still have money left to hire TWO full time customer service clerks to help with adoptions and working with the rescue community.

Instead, we get four new trucks at a cost of $52,000 each that will be virtually worthless once their driven off the lot. With sixteen trucks currently being used by the thirty plus animal control officers one should seriously question why this was such an urgent need that it trumps ALL other budget requests that clearly would have returned critical services to our community?

Sending out animal control officers to pick up more stray cats when we already kill over ninety percent of the cats that enter our shelter not only adds to the costs of running our kill shelter but wastes valuable fuel and vehicle expenses as well.

With an abysmal record of killing cats and dogs that enter our new county kill shelter is it really wise to patrol our county's streets for more animals to kill?

Shouldn’t our “Animal Advisory Council” be having this discussion on how our resources are being spent? The fact that this issue wasn’t addressed by the GAAC only demonstrates the urgency in reforming that advisory group in order that more meaningful alternatives are addressed.

Are We Simply Running a “For Profit” High Kill Shelter?

We the Pet Owners has been outspoken over the county’s failing to provide the resources needed to promote pet adoptions and responsible pet animal services to our community.

The issue of providing reasonable community assess to our new shelter has been a contentious issue since the shelter opened in 2007. While funding was allocated to build this shelter the county has failed miserably with properly funding programs and services vital to promoting responsible pet ownership in our community.

If all we are going to do is fund the killing of healthy animals in our new shelter then WHY were we mislead in building it?

From the AJC article “Counties Killing Dogs-Cats by the Thousands” (May 2010)

Gwinnett’s Animal Advisory Chair (GAAC) Gail Laberge states "The Gwinnett shelter has also explored expanding hours into evenings to allow working families more time to visit and shop for a pet. Statistics show a noticeable increase in adoptions when the shelter remains open late, but budget cuts won’t allow for overtime, so the shelter is open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday."

We the Pet Owners of Gwinnett first raised the issue of increasing shelter hours and access for working families at the June 2009 GAAC (link) meeting where the issue was discussed.

At that meeting the GAAC approved (by a vote of 7-0) a resolution to send a letter to the Gwinnett Police Chief Charles Walters asking that the shelter open on Sundays from 12 to 4 PM and on Tuesday and Thursday nights and that the shelter be closed another day to make up for being open on Sunday.

While there was never an official response from Chief Walters on this critical services issue an excuse of lack of funding was circulated instead.

At the July 21 2009 GAAC (link) meeting a resolution was approved requesting additional office staffing to replace two positions lost in budget cuts. This 50 percent reduction in staffing was being used to eliminate critical services including maintaining timely and accurate information on the dogs and cats being held at the shelter.

Often times data base information wasn’t being entered in a timely fashion (link) resulting in many pets never being properly promoted for adoption leading to even more unnecessary killing at our shelter. While office personnel are vital to overall shelter operations this issue has still not been addressed by shelter management.

While it might be understandable that the county can’t fund every position needed to run an efficient shelter operation it does not explain why our shelter continues to rebuke offers of increasing volunteer participation by requiring those volunteers to agree to a strict criminal background check to volunteer at our shelter.

It shouldn’t take an FBI clearance to be able to walk a dog or bottle feed some kittens. The fact that our shelter management views local pet owners who want to help as “potential criminals” only paints a clear picture why management change is the only practical method of reducing the long term cost of running our failed animal services unit in the future.

The use of volunteers and how to educate the public on the need for volunteers to promote adoptions (on Facebook and other social networks), socialize dogs and cats to help make them more social and ultimately more adoptable has only been met with rules and excuses rather then innovative approaches that serve the pet owners in our community instead.

Volunteers and a need to STOP the SENSELESS KILLING are crucial steps needed for fundraising as well. Instead of our county being a leader – an innovator in providing services that promote responsible pet ownership - we cling to the failed policies of killing the animals we are supposed to protect.

The issue of inadequate staffing was again raised at the January 19, 2010 GAAC meeting when letters expressing concern for the staffing of the animal shelter have been sent to the Board of Commissioners.

There has been no official response to these letters either. If we can’t get our elected officials to respond to urgent and critical needs from an advisory group designed to keep them informed then who should address these issues – the voters who own pets?

So how does the typical malfunctioning governmental unit respond to under-performing departments that have come under repeated public scrutiny and criticism? At a special GAAC meeting on March 16 2010 the issue of RAISING FEES (not services) was addressed.

The lean budget prompted the advisory council in mid-March to recommend increasing fees. The council, which recommends policy changes to the county commission, voted to double the charge for daily boarding to $10 and for quarantine to $200. But members balked at a suggestion to more than double the owner surrender fee from $20 to $50, fearing owners would abandon their animals on the streets. The fee was increased to $25.

This is government at its folly best. When management comes under attack for failing to provide services that were promised when citizens approved building our new shelter – promises which included better access for citizens and ultimately increasing the number of pets who are adopted from the shelter thus driving down the number of animals being killed – our animal control management team blames the citizens for not providing the resources needed to do the job.

What wasn’t addressed was what the Gwinnett Police Department would do with the money these new fees would generate. Would these fee increases finally free up money to open the shelter evenings and on Sundays? Would we finally be able to hire a clerk responsible for putting posting pictures and bio information on pets waiting to be killed? Or would we simply squander these resources too?

The answer to how this money would be spent should outrage ALL citizens who are simply fed up with the waste and abusive spending of critical tax dollars that even our “conservative” politicians continue to vote YES on.

Taxpayers understand that we can’t fund every want and whim that local advocates are screaming for but it’s the lack of a cohesive plan that sticks out. Instead of recommending critical animal services issues be addressed our management team instead went shopping for new “boys will be boys and need their new toys” by requesting four new animal control trucks instead.

This obvious disconnect with pet owners in our community only demonstrates a much more critical need for reforming our animal advisory council so that the real issues needing addressed can be tackled. It also points out the blatant need to address a much more serious issue of bringing in professional shelter management that can tackle our disoriented and dishonest approach to our animal welfare issue that current management continues to ignore.

We need these reform measures for two reasons – one is to turn the tide towards stopping the senseless killing funded by our tax dollars and to reduce the cost of running our shelter in the coming years.

We will NOT lower our costs when our commissioners lack the desire to say NO to requests that do nothing but squander the limited resources that taxpayers DO provide.

While our governmental process is capable of responding to request to waste resources with timely voting on budget issues the issue of voting on reforming our failed process is stuck between the special interest concerns of protecting the county attorney’s office and the interest of the Gwinnett Police Department instead.

The “Animal Advisory Reform Resolution” was approved over three month ago and yet it has it still being held up by those groups who are not interested in relinquishing their own special interests that are part of the many problems we have at our shelter and NOT part of any solution.

Partnerships only work when there is a shared respect for the role each participant plays in helping to resolve the problems at the shelter.

Our county leadership must understand that only by investing in and working passionately towards raising awareness on the critical need for volunteers will we succeed lowering our shelter kill rates while reducing expenditures as well. Killing innocent animals are NOT without costs that are financially and morally reprehensible.

For more information on the alternative programs that are not being used at our shelter follow my blog at

Join in our community “No Kill” discussion – visit No Kill Gwinnett on Facebook!/pages/No-Kill-Gwinnett/126165217428735

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Death Row to the Jail House

A young scared three-month-old dog sits petrified on the euthanasia table not knowing his life is about to come to an end. What this young dobie/lab mix needs is obedience training and socialization. What he needs is the time to learn, but in this shelter his time is about up.

Over 3000 dogs a year are killed at Gwinnett’s Animal Shelter – their once healthy bodies turned to ashes. Over the years our animal welfare policy’s that are supposed to advocate and protect our community’s homeless pets has evolved into a policy of justifying the best we can do is “save a few” while giving the rest a gift of a humane death.

Ernest T Bass
Ernie, with those sweet eyes, is about to be killed because our animal control policies have determined he is “un adoptable” (in the short five day period the law requires he be held). What Ernie needs is just a little more time to become all the dog he’s supposed to be. More time to find that perfect home – that perfect master – a family of his own.- a life with purpose - his life complete. Instead, in a few quick seconds that is about to be over.

This past spring the Society of Humane Friends partnered with the Gwinnett County Detention Center in “Operation Second Chance” to save “death row” dogs from Gwinnett’s Animal Shelter.

In this collaboration, the Gwinnett County Detention Center would function as a “foster home”, the inmates would care for and train the dogs and the Society of Humane Friends would then find them homes.

I had an opportunity to observe first hand an innovative new program that seeks to provide these dogs with a real second chance. My observations paint an entirely different picture indeed.

On this warm summer afternoon a miracle is about to happen. Space has opened up in this innovative new program for young Ernie, with his luck and time running out he is snatched from death’s door and whisked away to a waiting jail cell for his second chance.

Ernie’s New Leash on Life

Behind the walls of the county’s detention center inmates would discover a new sense of purpose working with dogs rescued from the local kill shelter. Instead of being killed, Ernie would become one of dozens of dogs who have benefited since the “Operation Second Chance” program’s inception earlier this year.

The Operation Second Chance program is collaboration between the Society of Humane Friends working with the county detention center to provide training and socialization for at risk shelter dogs utilizing inmates as trainers.

Dogs chosen for this program all share something in common – they have been labeled as “un adoptable” and sentenced to die for a crime of being unwanted.

Sentenced to Salvation – Operation Second Chance
Behind the walls inmates, inmates find a renewed sense of purpose saving dogs who would be otherwise would be dead.

I witnessed Ernie when he first entered the cellblock 1-C. His lack of socialization was obvious but not surprising for a young dog fresh out of the shelter. Watching Ernie gain more and more trust with each day of training only reaffirmed how wrong it is to kill these dogs simply because they haven’t been trained properly.

This lack of training and/or social skills would not have been a death sentence in a shelter that had a No Kill philosophy where training would be provided to increase Ernie chances of being adopted.

They were animals facing a death sentence even though they’ve committed no crime, but they will be punished unless someone steps forward ands gives them that second chance. Those someone’s are young men living in confinement for reasons of their own – be it anger issues, drug abuse or other crimes who in time, are looking for that second chance of their own.

Once matched with a dog, the inmates are fully responsible for the dog’s care, feeding, grooming, housetraining, and most importantly obedience training. After a few short weeks or months of this round-the-clock care, dogs like Ernie are ready for adoption.

Both dog and inmate face isolation and rejection, but when their backs are to the wall they offer each other hope and salvation for each other.

It would take only a few days before this sweet boy would endear himself to everyone he met. Life was exciting with all his new friends.

It would only take a few short weeks before Ernie would be rewarded with a family of his own.  Thanks to Operation Second Chance this sweet boy has a whole life of second chances in front of him.

Many a year has past and gone – many a gamble has been lost and won

In a small way the “Operation Second Chance” program operates on the same program techniques as a “No Kill” facility. It utilizes a fostering and training program directed off site through a licensed rescue group to completely change the results of a dog that would be killed to a dog who finds a new home.

Who are these “convicted dogs” being rescued from death row and housed and rehabilitated in our detention center? They are the un adoptable – the damaged – the neglected – the abused – that society has historically chosen to provide “humane euthanasia” in an effort to save them from ourselves.

Meet some of the amazing Jail Dogs rescued from death row and the inmates who are their companions until they are adopted - presented by Karmalized Pictures

“Easy as it is to tell black from white – it’s also easy to tell wrong from right”

Their stories are heart wrenching – healthy dogs that enter our shelter with the hopes of finding a new home – a new family – a new beginning - are instead shamelessly slaughtered. The picture of survival for any pet entering our shelter is bleak with an animal welfare program that quickly and inaccurately labels these dogs as un adoptable thus sealing their doom.

Instead in a simple concept, prison inmates receive training to, in turn, train dogs from our local high kill animal shelter. The prisoners learn a joy, a compassion and a responsibility that can come only from raising and training a dog, as well as skills that can help them find a new passion and perhaps a job.

Repeated over and over – this program becomes a win-win-win program for the community. The county taxpayers win by killing one less healthy adoptable dog, the inmate wins by gaining new insight and confidence in their own ability to make a difference and the family wins by being rewarded with a wonderful lifetime family pet.

The dog, already scheduled to die, is the BIG winner as he settles in and becomes adoptable. Some lucky local family gets to adopt a well-trained dog that, just a few weeks before, would have been put to death merely for being unwanted. The shelter reduces the numbers of dogs killed every year (which totals in the thousands).

Meet Bonnie, a sweet, loving boxer mix. Bonnie has a long permanent scar that runs down the length of her back probably the result of an acid burn. Despite whatever abusive happened to this sweet girl in the past she holds no grudges towards humans. She certainly wasn’t bashful in sharing a whole bunch of kisses when extended a friendly hand.

The sad reality is the person who abused Bonnie was never caught and never punished, yet Bonnie faced an uncertain future on the streets and a predictable death at our county shelter. Fortunately, Sheriff Conway saw Bonnie walking down the road and brought her to cell Block 1-C where she too was given a “Second Chance”.

After completing her training Bonnie was adopted by her handler. Not only is Bonnie in a better place but her trainer has gained new insight on himself as well. Bonnie is now able to love and be loved – that’s all a dog really needs.

It’s tempting to think about whether the lives of these young men and women would be forever changed if the opportunity to volunteer for animal welfare programs had been promoted prior to their run ins with the law. Are we doing enough with helping our next generation find their rightful place in society rather then punishing them when they fall?

Many of these “un adoptables” include the misunderstood pit bull that has been maliciously exploited by the media, politicians and even the national animal rights groups as well. All have set standards, passed laws and made adoption requirements that are all but impossible to meet.

Many are the much-maligned “pit bulls” who Shelter Director Lt. Respess describes as the “most common breed at the shelter”. Sadly, they are also the first to be killed as well.

Over the years our animal welfare policies that are supposed to advocate and protect our homeless pets has evolved into a policy of justifying the best we can do is provide them with a humane death.

While not all dogs chosen for the program are pits, they do share a common trait of being targeted for failure with a faulty temperament-testing program implemented at the shelter.

Those who fail this test are labeled as un adoptable expediting their fate with a certain death. Gwinnett Shelter uses an overly broad, meaningless definition of “un adoptable” or places unrealistic demands on potential adopters who would take a pet that the shelter otherwise would kill.

They ignore the fact that people want to help saving the life of a pet who someone else failed to love and protect.
Meet Jake
Jake is a border collie, red in color with white spots and white feet. Although blind in one eye this does noty stop him. Jake is full of energy, and is a very loyal dog who understands all his commands. Many of night Jake would his head on my lap and fall a sleep with one eye open.

Shelters with leadership or staff that is lazy tend to bend the unadoptable curve in the direction of how many dogs they simply want to kill. Eventually, the measurement becomes meaningless. Eventually good obedient dogs like Jake fall victims to this curve as well.

This systematic destruction is done under the guise of “public safety” but are these “killers” really the danger they are made out to be? Are these dogs “too dangerous” or not capable of being “socialized”?

Sadly the life saving programs not implemented by shelter management leave killing as the only viable but repugnant option for these dogs. Programs that would encourage moving trainable dogs into volunteer foster homes (off site fostering) or bringing in volunteers and experts for training to help socialize shelter dogs (improving adoptability) are noticeably lacking in the shelter’s “life saving” arsenal.

There is enough compassion, caring, kindness and love in our community to overcome the obstacles these special needs dogs face. Operation Second Chance” proves that kindness exists and that it does make the difference in placing these dogs back into the community rather then simply killing them.

We need to shift our community focus from excuses that kill to life saving solutions that nurture’s our compassion instead. With an emphasis on problem solving rather casting blame a goal of saving 100% of healthy dogs and cats can be a reality almost overnight.

Assisting and rehoming dogs and cats should be the only missions of shelters – especially those who function with the publics trust and tax dollars.

On sunnier days I envision a community that incorporates animal welfare programs that saves animal lives with volunteer programs directed at misguided young men and/or troubled young woman that help them visualize their future before they end up part of our penal system.

A system where our next generation saves the lives of animals facing death who in return save the lives of our next generation facing no future. They give each other hope – they become each other’s salvation as well.

Shelters need to be seen – not heard….

Animal advocacy and humane work have proceeded for years between the recognition of the need to be effective, enthusiastic outreach programs, and a tendency towards depressed and embittered self-isolation. We have been programmed not to speak ouit against the atrocities of killing in the hopes that a “few more” can be saved.

Unfortunately, throughout most of this time marked by the sounds of silence from the advocacy community has been drowned out by shelter management perceived or at least to accept – that sheltering responsibility includes an obligation to kill large numbers of animals, many healthy and young, others grievously neglected or abused. Transferring grief and guilt by blaming the public has become a time honored excuse to institutionalize the killing mechanism.

The “Second Chance” program proves that even the worst of the worst, like Ernie, like Bonnie, like Jake, are all adoptable if they are simply placed in a setting where their true qualities are accented.

While a fostering, training, adoption program like the Jail Dogs program will successfully place dozens of otherwise slaughtered pets into new homes an effective volunteer fostering program in our county could save hundreds perhaps thousands of pets that are currently STILL being slaughtered.

I like the dreams of the future better than the history of the past.
Thomas Jefferson

We the Pet Owners of Gwinnett recognizes the significance of off site fostering, an inclusive volunteer program that rewards and encourages community participation while raising awareness of the thousands of wonderful pets needing rescue (from our own shelter system) and a renewed working partnership with the licensed rescue groups in our community. These are the basic steps needed to turn our county into a NO KILL community for our pets.

If untrained inmates can make such a dramatic difference for these jail dogs and give us new hope that with innovative programs aimed at our compassionate community of animals lovers can create life saving miracles too.

Our voices demanding change for ALL the dogs and cats still being slaughtered are needed. We must insist that we have an obligation to explore ALL the life saving options that are available before even considering killing as a last resort.

With the increase in shelter killing in our new shelter mistrust by the public remains endemic among citizens and pet lovers in our community. We don’t want to volunteer for a shelter that kills without rhyme or reason, we don’t want to donate money to a shelter that offers these dogs and cats little hope for survival, we don’t want to visit or adopt knowing that all we leave behind most likely will die.

Spirits are much higher when the public is given hope that these dogs will be rehomed – that there will be a “success story’ at the end. Americans love heroes and they love pets – the Jail House Dog program gives us both.

Stay turned, as We the Pet Owners of Gwinnett moves forward in arming an army of compassionate volunteers with the life saving tools we will use in the future as we build a No Kill Gwinnett for future generations to cherish.

To learn more about other successful jail dogs programs: