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

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