‘Their lives are in our hands’: BOC votes against animal shelter task force, ordinance revisions

‘Their lives are in our hands’: BOC votes against animal shelter task force, ordinance revisions

The Fayette County Board of Commissioners’ minds were made up before the hour-long presentation from four local animal advocates. One advocate, head of the Fayette No Kill Coalition Leah Thomson, said to the commissioners, “Don’t be afraid of change. Please be the change.”
Whether it was fear or stubbornness, motions to restart working on revising animal welfare ordinances and create an animal welfare task force failed to pass by a 2-3 margin.

Commissioners Charles Oddo, Randy Ognio, and Chairman Eric Maxwell knew they’d vote no, while Steve Brown, joined in favor of passing the motions by Charles Rousseau, was sure to vote yes before the meeting began Thursday evening. Despite a carefully thought out presentation from animal advocates, the battle continues.

“Their lives are in our hands,” said Fayette County Humane Society president Stephanie Cohran, opening up the presentation to the board of commissioners during a discussion that would drag on close to 10 p.m.

The folded arms and shaking heads at the Fayette County Board of Commissioners meeting said it all. The advocates, which comprised an overwhelming majority of the citizens at Thursday’s meeting, walked away again not pleased with the decision by the commissioners.
Jennifer Kline outlined the proposal, which included a request for the Board to restart work on ordinance revisions between advocates and county staff, grant approval for development and implementation of a welfare task force to work on a comprehensive plan that would include processes and procedures related to animal welfare concerns for Fayette County, and approve an animal welfare advisory board, post-task force, that would work on animal-welfare related benchmarks and thus practices of the county.

“We do not feel like that is asking too much,” said local business owner and animal advocate Kline during the presentation.
While Brown agreed, saying during the Board’s discussion that “the Humane Society and the other organizations that we have, they don’t have to prove anything. They’ve done it all. Their work speaks for itself,” not everyone agreed.

Chairman Maxwell said he’d like to piecemeal the issue, focusing first on spay and neuter policies. While he tried to calm the impatient voices disagreeing with him, he realized his decision would not be the popular vote.

“I get a sense there’s going to be a lot of disappointment in a few minutes when we get through this,” Maxwell said. “But this is not the end of it. We’re going to continue.”

It’s not the end, and it’s certainly not the beginning. The talk of revising an outdated ordinance that covers issues of animal cruelty and welfare has been a heated topic of discussion at Fayette County Board of Commissioners meetings for months since mid-July when the motion to stop the progress on the ordinance was tacked onto a vote on the shelter’s euthanasia policy.

Jennifer Alvarez, a veterinarian who has resided in eight states, tried to sway the commissioners by informing them that the goal of a task force and advisory board would be to increase the adoption rate, which would stimulate the local economy, decrease intake and “most importantly, to some people,” Alvarez said, “decrease spending.”

She added that killing for space based on the assumption it is necessary is an antiquated system.

“It isn’t necessary,” Alvarez said. “It is inefficient, and it is fiscally and ethically irresponsible.”

Before Alvarez and other disgruntled citizens stood up to speak, Cohran finished her speech with one poignant quote, aimed at changing the already-made-up minds of the commissioners.

“Saving just one animal will not change the world,” Cohran said, “but for that one animal, that world will forever be changed.”

Justin Fedich

Justin Fedich is a reporter for the Fayette County News. He has been a reporter for various papers around the Southeast, including the Athens Banner-Herald and the Selma Times-Journal. Justin is a graduate of the University of Georgia with a degree in digital and broadcast journalism and a sports media certificate.