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Cop retires from protecting animals

LAWRENCEVILLE - What do you do with a suburban police officer who lives on a farm?

The answer came about a decade ago, when Sammy Jeanes was placed in charge of Gwinnett's Animal Welfare and Enforcement Center.

"I had animals all my life, dogs and cats," said Jeanes, who is retiring at the end of the month. "The chief thought it would be a good match."

So the former detective took over the animal shelter - and his animal family has grown ever since. Three of Jeanes' six dogs were adopted from the center.

"You fall in love with 'em when they come in," Jeanes said. "I just love animals, but you can't take 'em all home."

Often, he walks through the cages and wonders if certain animals can be saved, if he, his staff and rescue organizations can find a home for them.

It's sometimes a thankless job in which controversies materialize when diseases spread or animals are euthanized.

Instead of focusing on the negatives, Jeanes has worked to create relationships with rescue groups to try to increase the adoption rate.

"He's done a great job of building bridges," Police Chief Charles Walters said. "He's especially skilled in customer service and handling the citizens' complaints and concerns."

During Jeanes' time as manager, the county has adopted new animal laws, including banning the chaining of animals. Recently, he oversaw the move to a new state-of-the-art facility and the beginning of a program to spay and neuter all animals adopted from the shelter, courtesy of the Society of Humane Friends.

While the county conducted a nationwide search to replace Jeanes, officials decided to go with another police officer, Lt. Mary Lou Respess, who has already moved into her office and is getting familiar with the job.

"I have learned more each day. It's a great job. I couldn't possibly be happier," said Respess, who has two dogs of her own.

As a former supervisor in the detectives unit, Respess has worked on animal hoarding cases. She was a volunteer with the Atlanta Humane Society and has had animals in the past who have been therapy dogs at hospitals, senior centers and psychiatric facilities.

"There's nothing I'd rather do," she said of the new job, where she hopes to work on enhancing the volunteer program. "Animals are my heart. I feel like they need a voice."

Jeanes said he has faith in his successor.

"Mary Lou has the same outlook I do, a true love for animals," he said, adding the decision to go with a police officer makes sense. "Especially in the time we are in with dogfighting and neglect and cruelty, it's good to have someone who knows how (the criminal justice system) operates."

While the Vietnam veteran isn't sure what he'll do with his time after he leaves the shelter, Jeanes knows he'll enjoy his time on his Morgan County farm. He likes to travel with his wife, Linda, to take their horses to ride trails, and sometimes brings his Chihuahuas along.

He said he's not sentimental about leaving the animal welfare center, where he worked to specialize staffers in areas such as bites, neglect and rescue.

"It's a well-oiled machine now," he said. "You've got a bigger building and more space, but there will never be enough space."

He is proud of his service as a cop on the animal beat, but he said animals will always need their own police officer, someone to make sure they are treated right.

"They can't defend themselves. They can't ask for what they need," he said. "For some people, that is their family."