Task force: Shelter too quick to euthanize

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.


BufordGuy 2 years, 9 months ago

These folks do realize these are animals and not people, right?


MikeB 2 years, 9 months ago

This is a quantum leap in thinking for Gwinnett County. Hopefully the Gwinnett Board oommisioners will take this report seriously, and ACT on it vs. paying it lip service.

The time has long come to enact forward thinking policies processes and SOP's to run this department. After all, look at the money/tax $$ spent to build that new facility?? New facility, new "playbook". It just makes sense........ Great work task force! Hope the citizens of Gwinnett County appreciate your efforts on their behalf.

I am sure our animal friends do.


cjt 2 years, 9 months ago

Sad that someone (above) seems to think it is ok to use tax payers money to kill innocent animals, when it really isn't necessary. Paints a pretty clear picture of the type of person you are. Anyway, enough time wasted on that.

I am glad that the concerns of the general public are starting to be heard. Does anyone realize that it can cost more to dispose of the bodies than it is to market and adopt? Gwinnett need a more compassionate leader and soon.


joye1269 2 years, 9 months ago

"Not to hurt the creatures brethren is our first duty to them,

but to stop there is not enough. We have a higher mission -

to be of service to them wherever they require it."

Saint Francis of Assisi

Please, if you are unable or unwilling to be part of the solution, at least don't be part of the problem.


kdmeredith 2 years, 9 months ago

Kudos to the task force for their time and commitment to the animals. Also Kudos to Helping Gwinnett Animals (on facebook). So many have been adopted through their efforts. Keep up the good work. Commissioner's please remember that these fur babies have no voice other than us! Please do the right thing and help to make adoption and rescue more of an option that euthanasia!

And to Buford Guy, who obviously lacks compassion,..please do not ever own an animal...you don't deserve one.


bioslp 2 years, 9 months ago

What the taxpaying citizens of Gwinnett may not realize is that their lovely animal shelter actually blocks several local non-profit rescue groups from saving animals. This results not only in more deaths of adoptable companion animals, but a greater cost to Gwinnett taxpayers. Every dog put down in effect costs the county the $90 that it would have gotten from an adoption, in addition to the cost of feeding and boarding the dog. This is a lose-lose situation brought to you by your police department. The shelter has also put down animals that already had adopters or rescue offers from rescues that they ARE willing to work with. A group of volunteer dog trainers quit in protest after one of their pupils was killed without warning. Not only does this shelter need to be more "rescue-friendly", but it needs to stop having an anti-rescue, pro-kill attitude. Shelters in Fulton, DeKalb, Clayton, Columbus, and Floyd actively go out of their way to help animals get rescued. Taxpayers should be steamed that their money is being used in this way in Gwinnett, and demand change at the ballot box this fall!


embm 2 years, 9 months ago

How do we educate our lawmakers to require spay neuter for all animals. Other cities (up north) don't have the problems we do with unwanted pets and high euthanasia numbers because they have laws about spay neuter, and fines for those who ignore the law. Also, why can't they hold the animals at least 7 days to give them more time to calm down and become more relaxed. It would help with their adoptions.


GwinnettGirl 2 years, 9 months ago

Maybe more dogs would not be put to sleep if prospective owners could "touch more than 2 pets per visit". Yes, you have that right. When someone goes to the shelter, they walk around, choose a dog or cat to visit with, go to the "bonding room", then the dog or cat is brought in there. If for whatever reason the adult believes that pet is not a good match, then he/she can choose only one more animal to visit with in the bonding room. Once you've touched 2 animals, that's it. You can come back another day. That's what happened to us & we were told that's the policy. Fortunately, because the 2nd kitten we saw yowled & scratched the employee, and then the kitten had to be re-evaluated to see if it could be adopted, they made an exception and let us visit with one more cat. We decided he was a match for us. We were able to take him home that day (Saturday) because he was already neutered. There's another problem; probably most adoptive families go to the shelter on a Saturday, hoping to bring home a cat or dog that day, have the weekend with the new pet, then go to work on Monday. Well, if the dog or cat is not spayed or neutered, you don't take him/her home. They get fixed on Monday, then the owner can take time off from work on Tuesday to pick up the pet. So the best bet is go to the shelter on a Thursday before 3:30 (yes, take time off from work), be sure you only touch 2 animals, if it needs to be fixed it can be done on Friday (Mon/Fri the only spay/neuter days) and then the pet can be taken home Saturday. Whew! Some shelters have an outdoor area where you can play with the pet outside, and they don't have a touch only 2 policy. I hope that policy is being closely examined. And when you look on the website of the dogs available, it does not list whether or not that animal is already spayed or neutered. That would be handy information. The "touch 2 animals only" policy is not on the website either. The shelter near Winder is the only one in Gwinnett and a long drive for some people, so if they don't choose the first or second pet, they're not going to go back again.


news2me 2 years, 9 months ago

Does this task force plan on putting their contact information out to the public so that they are called instead of the shelter?


GwinnettDogLover 2 years, 9 months ago

The Task Force has had their information posted on the Gwinnett County Animal Shelter page for a few months...you can reach them here: animaltaskforce@gwinnettcounty.com. Check out the Task Force reports here: http://www.gwinnettcounty.com/portal/gwinnett/Departments/Police/AnimalWelfareandEnforcementNew/AnimalTaskForce


R 2 years, 9 months ago

"Maybe more dogs would not be put to sleep if prospective owners could "touch more than 2 pets per visit". Yes, you have that right. When someone goes to the shelter, they walk around, choose a dog or cat to visit with, go to the "bonding room", then the dog or cat is brought in there. If for whatever reason the adult believes that pet is not a good match, then he/she can choose only one more animal to visit with in the bonding room. Once you've touched 2 animals, that's it. You can come back another day."

This DOES seem out of whack, can anyone identify the reason or situation that caused this policy to come about originally? If it can't be clearly explained - it's now time to revise.


bridgetbordeaux 2 years, 9 months ago

When my daughter and I volunteered at the shelter, we were told that the public could only touch 2 dogs or cats per day because of the threat of disease. I know that parvo is very contagious and an outbreak can be devastating, but I feel that the animal control workers just didn't want to keep getting animals out of the cages. I really loved volunteering there but my daughter was not old enough so we had to stop.
If the rules could be relaxed, maybe more people would volunteer and the public could see more animals and less animals would be euthanized.


OoohYouDontSay 2 years, 9 months ago

I didn't know about this "touch two animals" policy. What crazy person came up with THAT?? Clearly, that's not a pro-adoption stance, is it? Just one more reason why the shelter needs someone who's professional, who has experience running a shelter, who knows about marketing, interacting with the public, making sure the animals are on the web each day, putting up a Facebook page, which I've heard is "against policy." Now that's ANOTHER dumb thing! In this day and age, it's "against policy" to have a Facebook page???? There are so many whacky policies and/or ideas coming out of that shelter. The police do a great job at police work, but running an animal shelter is NOT police work. And when we write the commissioners, they don't seem to absorb what we write about. Nash is the only one who ever responds to me -- not even my own commissioner bothers. I get the feeling none have visited the shelter and they don't seem to care what's going on. With the excellent facility we have,we could be a shelter others seek to copy, but not with the policies they have. And try to volunteer. Are fingerprints still required? The place could be full of volunteers if the management made it volunteer-friendly, but they seem to run off the few who are tough enough to try to help.


GwinnettDogLover 2 years, 9 months ago

In order for effective change to take place, Gwinnett needs to move the shelter portion of their operation out from under the police department. The gross mismanagement of this shelter using taxpayers dollars is rediculous. It has cost the lives of way too many companion animals! Supposedly there has been an internal investigation into the shelter director and others and now she has "retired", as well as the Kennel Supervisor and the person who coordinated rescues who "resigned". I think the police should stick with what they know and do well which is enforcing the codes and ordinances and they should leave the sheltering of animals to experts. Hopefully with the upheaval of some of the top positions this will happen. Seems like the logical time for it take place. I have been to the shelter several times so far this year and usually see the staff just sitting around. One was reading the newspaper and others just sit at the front or lean against the walls. Many volunteers are sitting around, too though most of them seem more approachable then the officers. Would be nice if they put a leash on a dog or two and walked them as they appear to have the time. I was told I could not take a dog out because my whole family was not with me. I was trying to "screen" a dog before I brought my husband and kids down and everyone got all excited. I basically know what fits in my family. Plus...it is very hard to get my husband there due to his work hours. The shelter closes at 4pm each day which is not practical. I hope the Board of Commissioners takes the recommendations made by the Task Force to heart and initiates the many needed changes. After all, it is an election year and there are a lot of pet lovers in Gwinnett County!


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