Animal advocates keep pressure on County Commissioners

Animal advocates aren’t backing down anytime soon. Two weeks since a contentious July 13 County Board of Commissioners meeting, debate is still ongoing about the commissioners’ voting and where to go from here.

Another large contingent showed up at Thursday night’s meeting to make their presence known and their voices heard in the wake of the vote to stop the progress that was being made between the county and animal advocates on an updated set of ordinances. With no set agenda item, a number of residents took to the microphone during public comments.

The prevalent requests were to revisit the ordinance work and to consider an advisory board for the shelter. Response to the stopping of the ordinance progress via an added clause to a policy vote was particularly prevalent.

“I think that was counterproductive, I think it was uncalled for, and I think it’s against the public will,” said Gerald Gillette. “I cant imagine why the Board would not want more input from the public. That particular amendment I just think was wrong.”

For some involved in animal work around the country, the atmosphere in Fayette County has been a surprise. Jennifer Alvarez, a veterinarian who has lived in eight states, said she has been disappointed in some of what she has encountered here.

“I’ve never known a more welcoming and loving community than I have in Fayette County,” she said. “I have also never known a region with such a severe overpopulation epidemic as we’re facing. I have never been in a county with so many intact animals. I have never been in an area where the animal shelter adopts out intact animals.”

Alvarez is still confident that the problems can be corrected.

“It needs to start local. How many dogs and cats is it okay to intentionally kill before we do something about it? I think we’ve reached and surpassed that point,” she said. “We’re Fayette County. We can and we should do better. It starts locally, and I ask that we pave the way for change.”

Linda Conley, who has worked in animal welfare for many years and helped establish a rescue in Idaho when her town’s shelter was inhumanely killing animals, pointed out that the county staff and advocates already working on the ordinances are the best people to turn to.

“I know what is possible when people come together for the greater good,” she said. “Those two groups have knowledge and perspective and should be working together for the good of the animals, as well as benefitting public safety.”

The cooperation is a step along the way to making the county a better place for animals, and an advisory board would go a long ways towards that, from sharing best practices, to increasing adoptions, getting more volunteers, and reducing the number of animals brought into the shelter.

“The no-kill movement is aimed at ending the killing of innocent dogs and cats in America’s shelters,” Conley said. “Euthanasia to manage shelter population is becoming a practice of the past. The animals who end up in shelters are there solely due to irresponsibility and lack of education on the part of their owners. They do not deserve to be killed just because the shelter has reached a particular capacity.”

Leah Thomson sought to clarify what the no-kill movement is.

“There seems to be some confusion about what the no-kill philosophy entails. The no-kill philosophy is defined as reducing the killing of healthy and treatable shelter animals,” she said. “No-kill does not mean no euthanasia, although euthanasia should be reserved for an act of mercy and not population control.”

She offered a number of low- or no-cost steps to help the county in the process, including low-cost spay/neuter, rescue partnerships, behavioral rehab and prevention, and community outreach.

Thomson pointed back to some attempts to link the ordinance work to raising taxes.

“Our current shelter is not a reflection of our community. Fixing roads and saving animals is not mutually exclusive,” she said. “This is not just about money. In a community as wealthy as ours, we should never have to choose between the two. Please help us move our shelter to the place it needs to be, one that better reflects the will of our citizens.

“I continue to believe in this county and the people that govern it. How can we all move forward and do the right thing for the people and the animals in our community? The time is now.”

Some speakers said they are not involved with animal groups but are concerned with the commissioners’ tactics.

“I’d like to think that some good came of that last meeting,” said Lynne Lasher, a Peachtree City resident who is active in following city government. “I haven’t been involved in the county. That was a wakeup call for me, and I will be now. I think that’s a positive. I look around and I see so many people in this room, and that’s a good thing.”

Lasher noted that much more can be done to get residents involved at the county level, pointing to Peachtree City’s public information officer and city clerk Betsy Tyler as a prime example of someone who does a great job of making everything easily accessible for interested parties.

“Please make it easy for us,” she said. “Don’t admonish us for not being here when you’re not reaching out to us.”

Judi Wilson asked that they not push away informed and reasonable citizens who want to be a part of the solution.

“What I see are people, the kind of people we want to be involved in our government, those that love brown dogs and white kittens, those that get involved, that put their money into it, that put their feet into it, their hands into it, their hearts into it,” said Wilson. “You may not be able to do everything they ask, but listen to them.

“I’m asking you to exercise the quality of your character and use that to say ‘I want to revisit this. I want to think about this. I want to consider this a little further.’ Give these people the opportunity to do what’s in their heart,” she said. “I know they deserve to be heard. They deserve to bring their labors before this body through these people.”

After having voted to stop the progress on the ordinance at the prior meeting, Commissioner Charles Oddo sought to clarify his stance.

“I just don’t want anybody to leave here thinking that what I did (at the last meeting) was in any way to stop staff talking to anybody and getting good ideas,” said Oddo. “I encourage the ideas.”

Commissioner Steve Brown took issue with his assertion.

“I wasn’t going to say anything, but I’ve got to say something now. I think we did stop the process. I think the motion was pretty clear,” said Brown. “There was no doubt in my mind. I don’t think there’s a doubt in anybody else’s mind, we did stop the process.”

Brown has requested placement of an agenda item for August 10 to reconsider allowing county staff to continue to review and provide feedback on the proposed ordinances.

“Your message is crystal clear. There’s no doubt what your message is. I hope we’re listening, and I hope we move forward,” said Brown to the audience. “There’s no doubt that we can put something on the table that is markedly better than what we have today.”

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