More than 1,800 people have signed an on-line petition at www.change.org urging the county to restore the budget for animal services to the 2011 level, reduce animal euthanizations and build a new shelter in 2012.
“The animal control employees work tirelessly to do the very best they can with the resources they’re given,” wrote Aubrey Bowen, who signed the petition. “Unfortunately, their hands are tied by the pitiful funding and support the county allots them.”
The petition was started by DeKalb Initiative, a group of concerned residents in DeKalb County who want “to make county residents aware of the conditions at the shelter and force the county to do something about it,” according to Wardell Castles of Decatur, a member of the group.
Robin Angel, another petitioner, said she had a bad experience recently at the shelter.
“I went to the shelter this weekend to volunteer and was so disgusted by conditions that I don’t want to go back,” Angel wrote. “I care too much about dogs not to do something. Please use my tax dollars to upgrade the shelter to be a place that is humane and more pleasant for humans and animals alike.”
Petitioners are complaining about the 12 percent cut for animal services in DeKalb CEO Burrell Ellis’ proposed 2012 budget. For 2012, the division, which asked for $3.4 million, would get $2.76 million. In 2011, the animal services’ budget was $3.14 million.
The county’s Board of Commissioners, which will adopt a budget on Feb. 28, has asked all department heads to consider the effects of even deeper cuts of 5 to 10 percent.
Ashley Derrick, a DeKalb resident and a member of the county’s animal task force formed to reduce euthanizations, said she was “shocked” when the CEO’s budget was released.
“It’s so unfortunate,” Derrick said. “It can barely function as it is.”
The proposed budget cut would be “almost a death knell for the employees and for the animals,” Derrick said.
“DeKalb County Animal Services would cease to exist to help animals in DeKalb County,” Derrick said. “It will literally become a euthanasia place.”
Of the 25,600 animals taken in by the DeKalb County Animal Services and Enforcement Division from 2008-10, approximately 15,600, or 61 percent, were euthanized.
The cuts would be a “huge detriment for animal services,” Derrick said. “The services will cease to exist.”
It is a “difficult process to take care of the animals in the shelter, much less the abused and neglected animals in the county,” Derrick said. With a budget cut, “it could become a public safety issue.”
Animal advocates say a new building is desperately needed for the animal shelter.
“The place has not been maintained,” said Castles, who was at the shelter recently to rescue a dog. “It’s unhealthy for people and inhumane for animals.
“The animals basically have to fight roaches and rats for food,” Castles said.
One of the problems at the center is the salaries of the workers, Castles said.
Ellis’ proposed budget cuts salaries and overtime by $160,000 for animal control officers who make less than their counterparts in Gwinnett County, where the pay range for a senior animal control officer is approximately $30,000 to $48,000. In DeKalb, the same position has a range of approximately $26,000 to $42,000. In 2011, the average senior animal control officer was making $27,900.
The county currently has 17 animal control officers, down from 22 in 2011 and 27 in 2010. In addition to the animal control officers the animal services division has three supervisors, two animal control cruelty investigators, one police officer and one police sergeant.
More cuts would mean “even less care than [the animals] are getting now,” Castles said.
In October 2011, a grand jury published a presentment about the animal services division that described the building as “old, unsanitary and inadequate.”
The floors were wet, the odor unbearable and the cat cages too small, the grand jury stated.
“And there is no separate room for sick animals,” Derrick said.
“A lot of dogs are sick right now,” Derrick said. “If people realize what the employees are working with and what the animals are living in,…they would want to do something about it.”
“The people working there are doing their best, but the building is disgraceful,” according to the presentment.
The grand jury stated that its members “would be hesitant to visit it again, but for the desire to save a life. It is not a place we would like to take children to view pets for possible adoption.”
“It has to be a terribly depressing environment for employees,” Derrick said.
The county needs a “facility large enough to handle the volume, and we need an aggressive outreach program to educate high-complaint communities about the necessity of” spaying and neutering, the grand jury stated. “DeKalb County should not be killing dogs and cats because there isn’t enough space.”
Derrick said she hopes the county will eventually outsource animal services to a nonprofit with a goal of saving the lives of animals.
DeKalb Animal Services’ “main goal is not lifesaving,” Derrick said. “I don’t think they have a main goal. They simply do not have the officers to help.”
The animal services website says the role of the division is to “to protect the public from diseases transmitted by animals, from damage caused by animals, and to protect animals from abuse or neglect.”
“I’m not sure that’s the mission anymore,” Derrick said. “I’m not sure what they’re there for. They don’t have the staff to clean and feed the animals.”
Public Safety Director William Miller said the county’s CEO “has maintained at all times that he wanted to completely staff animal services.”
“There was an outcry from the community,” Miller said. “The CEO heard that outcry clearly.”
Ellis asked the county’s finance director Joel Gottlieb to restore the funding for 10 animal control officers to put staffing back at the 2010 level, Miller said.
Four of those positions are already in the process of having their funding restored and the other six will be in an amended proposed budget the CEO will present to the Board of Commissioners, Miller said.
Previous budget cuts “hampered our ability to continue to provide the type of services that DeKalb residents” are accustomed to.
“We obviously want to get back to that level,” Miller said. “We need more. We can do more with more.”
A new shelter would be “ideal,” but the $7-11 million price tag is not feasible, Miller said.
“Do we have that kind of money in these economic times?” Miller asked. “Certainly not.”
Miller said “the next best thing” is “cleaning and improving the shelter that we have.”
Miller said the county has pending requests for proposals to privatize parts or all of the services the division provides. Another idea the county is considering is the acquisition of a storefront building to use in the adoption of animals.
“We’re doing the best with what we have,” Miller said.