Finding a new facility for the county’s animal shelter must be a top priority, according to a preliminary report by a task force studying animal services in the county.
“We must and with great speed find a new facility,” said Susan Neugent, chairwoman of the county’s animal services task force, formed to reduce the numbers of euthanized healthy animals and find ways to improve quality of life for animals. “Meanwhile, we must make immediate provisions and very significant maintenance at the current facility.”
The task force discovered that the odor at the DeKalb County Animal Services and Enforcement Division’s facility is “overwhelming” and “water stands in puddles everywhere promoting the spread of disease as well as the growth of bacteria and mold.”
The county spends $115,000 annually in temporary air conditioning units for the kennel area as a “very expensive Band-aid,” said Neugent during a report to the Board of Commissioners on Oct. 18. The kennel experiences frequent state violations of temperatures in excess of 85 degrees.
“Once you begin to look at this entire issue you find that almost every other facet is overshadowed by or is connected to the facility,” Neugent said. “It’s not an overstatement at all to say that the facility is a health and safety hazard to humans and animals alike.
“The appearance, the location, the condition, the noise and the smell of the facility undermine employee morale, health and safety,” Neugent said. “They put a dead stop to the ability to recruit volunteers and are an almost insurmountable barrier to the public that visits to adopt a pet.”
The animal task force is also “concerned about the high number of animals that come under the county’s care and the extensive use of euthanasia,” Neugent said.
Each year, the county shelter takes in approximately 8,000-9,000 animals. Of that number 60 percent were euthanized, 22 percent were adopted or taken by rescue shelters, eight percent were reclaimed by owners and three percent die in the animal shelter. Another seven percent are unaccounted for.
Euthanasia “is not something anybody likes to do,” said Kathy Mooneyham, the county’s animal services director. “It’s a grave alternative.”
The task force believes the number of animals handled by the division is too much for its 36 employees. At least six more people are needed, Neugent said.
“Overall, there just aren’t sufficient staff to accomplish the work that must be done to meet an even basic level of service,” Neugent said.
Mooneyham agreed that the animal services division needs additional personnel and resources to focus on saving animals’ lives.
“If we had more personnel, we could do more, even before a new building,” Mooneyham said.
Neugent said a highlight of the county’s animal services division is its cruelty investigation unit. DeKalb is the only county in the state that has a sworn officer working full time on the problem of animal cruelty.
“This is an increasingly important facet of the work of animal services,” Neugent said. “Animal cruelty is a gateway crime and is a tell-tale sign of domestic abuse and other criminal activity.”
The task force believes the county can raise additional funds for animal services by increasing its license fee structure for pets. Currently, registration is for $5 annually for altered pets and $15 for unaltered pets. But less than 10 percent of pets in the county are currently registered.
Approximately 71 percent of households in DeKalb County have pets with an estimated total of 372,000 dogs and cats in those households.
Neugent said there is a nationwide movement seeking to improve the way animals are treated in animal shelters.
“We stand today at a point of great national transition on this issue,” Neugent said. “We are not alone in dealing with this issue today.
“There was a time in this nation when we thought it was OK to put children to work in factories at the age of six,” Neugent said. Then we saw that as wrong. We had a change philosophy.
“At one time we thought it was okay to dump chemicals directly into rivers,” Neugent continued. “We don’t think that any more. Such is the case with animal services today. A major shift is occurring nationally. We as a community will not look the other way.”
The task force is expected to make a final report to the Board of Commissioners in November.
Mooneyham said the animal task force and the animal services staff are “on the same page as far as life-saving methods.”
“We want what’s best for the animals,” Mooneyham said. “We’re trying to do a good thing here.”