Friday, July 30, 2010

Gwinnett's Dismal June Shelter Report

Gwinnett Animal Advisory Council – Shelter Report for July 2010

Last Tuesday the Gwinnett Animal Advisory Council held it’s quarterly meeting at the shelter. Since there was no attempt to notify thie public of this important meeting only two citizens from the community showed up. What follows are my comments on what was discussed and more importantly the lost opportunity of not discussing the current situation of disarray at the shelter.

After a brief introduction, GAAC Chair Gail Laberge mentioned the accomplishments of Society of Humane Friends “Jail House – Second Chance Dogs” program. This program has lead to the adoption of twenty two dogs that were slated as “un adoptable” by shelter standards, yet, with a little patience and more time afforded by jail house prisoners these dogs are now part of our community at large.

If a message should be taken from the success of the program it is that off site fostering is critical in saving ALL of the healthy but adoptable pets that are being killed instead.

In fact, I was there to witness a few dogs who arrived straight from the shelter. One, a five month old dobie mix puppy now named Ernie was rescued right of the “euth” table – only minutes from being killed by our shelter management.

Ernie arrived at the jail as a “wild, enthuastic and uncontrollable” puppy. He was obviously lacking in any previous training skills but with three or four days Ernie was following his handler around like he found his new best friend. In four short days Ernie went from an unsocial able “un adoptable” dog needing to be killed to a dog with a very promising future being adopted instead.

The question that needs to be asked by our community of pet lovers and animal advocates is what criteria was used in determining that Gwinnett would be better served if dogs like Ernie were simply killed and disposed of rather then attempting to find a safe place where an evaluation and retraining program could be utilized instead?

The answer to that question is probably little or no attempt was made to try and “save” Ernie because our leadership at the shelter places very little responsibility on the shelter’s “rescue coordinator to save lives as opposed to defending the “tough job” she has in having to kill all these wonderful pets.

To be clear, the decision to kill a dog like Ernie rests entirely on the shelter and it’s management decisions.

If the shelter chooses not to release an urgent plea to the rescue community seeking a place for dogs like Ernie then the follow up decision to kill dogs like him are the consequences of their laziness.

Not one member of our esteemed GAAC panel brought up any of these issues. They are supposed to be the experts providing our county commissioners with advise on improving shelter operations. Yet, not one mention of other “no kill” shelters successful use of volunteer foster homes that not only save the tax payers the expense of caring for dogs and cats needing more time for placement, but also the end result of foster homes that actually find homes for these pets as well.

It costs the taxpayers NOTHING to move dogs and cats to rescue groups or volunteer foster homes as opposed to the cost associated with holding and killing healthy animals instead. Of course, I would never attempt to put a price on an animals life.

What was left out of the discussion of the “Jail House Dogs” program was that a vast majority of the adoptions were from employees of the jail itself. One could only imagine the success of THAT program if it was properly promoted by bringing the “Jail House Dogs” to off site adoptions were the public could meet the dogs as well.

Next came the shelter manager Lt. Respress' “shelter report”. For June of 2010, she reported there were 1110 animals handled of which 98 were reclaimed. There were 137 adoptions (less then 15%), a deplorable 80 went to rescue (less then 8%) and the rest – 208 dogs and 468 cats were killed. That is an absolutely horrible month for homeless pets that went through our shelter.

Yet, the only suggestion offered to change those results was that the shelter will be showing movies and handing out popcorn on Friday nights. No plans for off site adoptions, no explanation why the shelter’’s web site still hasn’t changed the hours to let the public know it is oipen on Sunday’s now, no talk about promoting events for increasing adoptions, in fact, what was strangely absent from this meeting with the “experts” was this information seemed to be accepted as typical of the shelter’s dismal performance.

Have WE reached a point in our history of accepting a defeatist attitude that saving only a small number of homeless animals is somehow acceptable?

Our shelter manager’s refusal to address the dismal performance of the shelter’s “rescue coordinator” only points out her shortcomings at setting goals for her staff and holding them accountable.

For three years in a row now the number of dogs and cats that go to shelter are down by over 30% from the numbers out of the old shelter on Hi Hope Road.

This costs the taxpayers of Gwinnett over $50,000 a year alone in costs associated with caring for and killing pets that should be placed in rescue itstead.

Of course, as long as the shelter and the courts maintain an adversarial relationship with those who rescue in our community and threaten and jail people who speak out against the killing do we honestly think there is a partnership between the two groups?

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

I have no confidence that the current leadership is prepared to make even the easy decisions of replacing employees who clearly have agendas that kill animals in the shelter as opposed to those who honestly care about saving lives. Our current rescue coordinator has commented that she has no problem with killing any cat she thinks is feral – yet it is the taxpayers who foot the bill for a shelter that kills more then eight out of every ten cats that enter the shelter.

It’s time the community has an open discussion on why we pay for shelter operations that kill healthy adoptable pets while blaming the public for actions formulated by our own shelter management and the “leaders” in our animal welfare community.

The fact that there wasn’t even an attempt to address the high number of animals killed in June only points to the jaded opinions of our current GAAC that killing is the only option and we should just accept the “status quo” as “good enough.

Chair Laberge did mention that the board would be happy to look at any programs that “might help” but what is telling is that this is the group who is suppose to be the “experts” in animal welfare issues. Shouldn’t they already know about programs that are successful in other community’s?

Not only is there a need to reform the animal advisory board but for a change in leadership at the shelter as well. We must change our perspective on accepting the current leadership’s squandering of the new facility and the yearly budget that should be used on life saving programs but instead focuses on creating excuses for failure.

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


  1. William Wilberforce would applaud you. But he wouldn't necessarily object to your imprisonment.

  2. Why is that Michael - is William opposed to citizens who voice opposition to our government?

    I would expect that reaction in a third world country but here where we send our children to fight for those freedom's?