Praise given for animal shelter changes

LAWRENCEVILLE -- After months of public scrutiny to bring changes to Gwinnett's animal control department, some of its biggest critics are now singing its praises.

A group of women who have spent hours volunteering at the animal shelter and engaging in issues through an animal issues study came to commissioners Tuesday to talk about the improvements they have already seen.

Even after pushing that the shelter be turned over to a leader instead of controlled by the county police department, Susan Ruelle said the new leaders in charge have improved morale and made great strides in getting dogs and cats adopted instead of euthanized.

In fact, Ruelle asked commissioners to hire police Sgt. Chip Moore as the permanent manager, replacing Lt. Mary Lou Respess, who retired in May after an investigation into complaints of racism by a former officer. Others also left the department due to the issues.

Virginia Keller, a frequent critic, said that the police officers who have taken on the task over the summer have brought it on a "forward path."

"What they lacked in experience, they made up for in honesty and integrity and truth," she said.

After the group addressed the board, Chairwoman Charlotte Nash came up to the volunteers after the meeting was closed. She pointed out that the commissioners are not directly involved in the hiring process, because of civil service board regulations, but she said she was glad to hear of the improvements.

"We all agree the most important thing is to get the person hired ... with the right set of experience," she said, adding that leaders were waiting to act on many of the recommendations from the animal advisory group until the permanent leader is in place.

"We're aware of the issues. We are working through it," Nash said. "What I'm asking for is patience. ... Let us get the director hired."