LAWRENCEVILLE -- The Gwinnett County Animal Task Force -- charged with examining the procedures, policies and structure of the county's animal shelter and reporting back to the Board of Commissioners -- is still finalizing its recommendations, but a near complete edition has been released.
The recommendations for change are wide-reaching.
The task force covered everything from excessive barking to spay and neutering in its suggestions, which are expected to be finalized by chairman Joel Taylor and submitted to the Board of Commissioners by the end of the month. It also covered several issues that are sure to be more controversial.
A major focus of the task force's recommendations was euthanasia. Calling it a "last resort," the suggestion of the task force is to make it mandatory for euthanasia to be approved by three people: the rescue/adoption coordinator, who will certify "every effort to send the animal to a rescue" has been made; a veterinarian, who will verify that the animal cannot be treated at the shelter; and the shelter director, who will confirm alternative outcomes have been exhausted and space is becoming an issue.
As is, the shelter is mandated to keep animals for at least five days.
The issue of space as related to putting animals down is one contested in the task force's report. The group had someone document empty cages at the shelter on 17 randomly selected days throughout February, March and April. On average, 68 cages were empty per visit.
"Our inquiries about why dogs are put to death when space is available have met with two replies, neither of which is acceptable," the report said.
Those replies, according to the task force:
-- "Empty cages are used during the cleaning process to prevent the spread of disease." The size of the shelter allows for alternatives, the task force said.
-- "Some cages have to be left open for incoming dogs." The number of empty cages exceeds the number of dogs received on an average day, the task force said.
A total of 1,858 dogs were euthanized in 2011. More than 2,000 cats were put down, another point of contention for the task force.
"Ending an animal's life must be performed with extreme concern for the level of stress and discomfort experienced by the animal," its report said. "Current methods of restraint and injection used with cats do not meet this criterion."
The programs subcommittee of the task force also saw a need for the shelter website to be updated more quickly with information on animals available for adoption. It suggested that photos should be taken and posted within 24 hours of intake in order to better facilitate adoption and rescue.
"Adequate human resources must be made available for this," the report said. "Volunteers can be used."
Shelter volunteers were recently asked to stop updating a Facebook page highlighting animals available for adoption, the county citing its social media policy for employees.
Members of the public at the task force's meetings have often opined for the animal shelter to be taken out of the purview of the Gwinnett County Police Department. The group made up of local veterinarians, rescue group leaders, politicians and everyday citizens stopped short of that, but will recommend that changes be made.
In its report available online, the task force's structure subcommittee saw "no need" to change the shelter's current inclusion under the police, but said the quest for a manager should lead the county outside those parameters.
"In seeking the individual to fill this role, the county should favor experience in working at other animal shelters, and working with the public and rescue groups over past police experience," the recommendation said. "If being a sworn police officer is a prerequisite for holding the position of shelter director, the county should consider changing this requirement."
Former shelter manager Lt. Mary Lou Respess is currently under internal investigation for undisclosed reasons. Maj. Dan Bruno is serving in an interim role.
The task force's full report is available online at gwinnettcounty.com, under the "animal shelter" tab and the "animal task force" link.