Thursday, October 08, 2015

Oconee County Animal Control Board Heard About Citizen Concerns Near End of Three-Hour Meeting

New Facility Needed

When the six members of the Oconee County Animal Control Advisory Board began their meeting last night, they were facing an audience of nearly 30 people in a small, overly warm room at the Community Center in Veterans Park.

A few people drifted in and out as the nearly three-hour meeting progressed, but when the Advisory Board let the citizens speak at two hours and 20 minutes into the meeting, 25 people were still present.

Nine of those took the opportunity to talk.

While speakers mixed in compliments for the Advisory Board, all also offered some criticism or urged the Advisory Board to be more aggressive in supporting the work of the county’s Animal Control Department.

The Board received its most vocal criticism for its unwillingness to consider strengthening the county’s existing animal control ordinance to ban tethering of dogs and hoarding of animals.

Enforcement Problems

Animal Control Director Catlyn Vickers and Crystal Berisko, adoption rescue coordinator, told the Board at several points during the meeting that they are frustrated with their inability to get the kinds of judgements they want in Oconee County Magistrate Court.

Magistrate Judge Eric Norris is too lenient and inconsistent in fining those the county brings before him for violations of the county animal control ordinance, they said.

Before the meeting Vickers had presented the Advisory Board records for the Sept. 11 session of the court, and those records show nine cases with fines ranging from $0 to $1,702 for a variety of offenses.

Norris is an appointee of the Oconee County Board of Commissioners, but the discussion about how to bring about the desired court outcomes was directed mostly at Norris.

Tougher Ordinance

Vickers and Berisko said they also need a tougher ordinance, and they specifically called for a ban on tethering of dogs and on hoarding of animals.

Animal Control Advisory Board Member Helen Fosgate agreed, but none of the other Board members joined her.

Board Chairman Susan Scheff Wells said that the existing ordinance is sufficient to deal with the problems presented by Vickers and Vickers, which were illustrated with a variety of pictures of sick and dead dogs and cats.

Tom Beacorn, a doctor of veterinary medicine and Advisory Board member, said the Board needs better data about the problems the Animal Control Department is confronting before making a decision. He also said it isn’t clear if the issue is a need for better enforcement or for a better ordinance.

Advisory Board member Claire Hamilton repeated her view, stated at the last meeting in July, that “there are times when tethering an animal is in the best interest of the animal.”

Meetings And Resolution

The Advisory Board struggled to agree on when to hold meetings and to even understand the rules that govern its behavior.

At the meeting in July, Oconee County Board of Commissioners Chairman Melvin Davis gave the Advisory Board members two resolutions passed by the Board of Commissioners governing the Animal Control Advisory Board.

One of those was passed on Jan. 3, 1989, and was signed by all five of the commissioners at the time.

It established for the first time in the county an Animal Control Board and said it should have five members.

The second resolution Davis gave the Advisory Board in July also was signed by five commissioners and was dated April 6, 2010.

Meetings And Bylaws

The second resolution amended the 1989 ordinance and created an Animal Control Advisory Board with six members.

Vickers and Wells could not agree on Wednesday night which of the resolutions governs the existing Board. The Board has six members and is called the Animal Control Advisory Board, consistent with the 2010 resolution.

In the end, the Advisory Board agreed to meet in February and July of 2016 and to call other meetings as needed.

The Bylaws of the Animal Control Advisory Board, dated April 5, 2011, stipulate that the Advisory Board is to meet four times a year, with specific meetings set for February and July.

According to those Bylaws, which were not discussed explicitly last night, the chairperson of the Advisory Board, the director of the Animal Control Department, or a majority of the Advisory Board members also can call a meeting.

Shelter Facilities

The Advisory Board did seem to come close to agreement on one important issue before it.

Advisory Board Member Janet Calpin told her colleagues she had visited the Animal Shelter recently and found major problems. She concluded that the existing building, because of flooding, either “needs to be put on stilts” or a new building needs to be built.

OCO: Calpin On Shelter from Lee Becker on Vimeo

Voters approved $750,000 in the 2015 Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax, which begins next month, for animal control.

The language of the SPLOST resolution passed by the Board of Commissioners on Aug. 5, 2014, does not specify anything more than that the money is for “animal control facilities.”

Calpin seemed to have swayed most of the Board members that a new facility is needed, though no formal vote was taken.

Foster Program

The Animal Control Board last night also expressed more support of the Animal Control Department’s foster program than had been the case at the July meeting.

At that, the most recent meeting before last night, Calpin had said the program should be spun off from the county and run by some other group.

Vickers and Berisko told the Advisory Board last night that the program is supported entirely by donations and that it has saved animal lives.

Berisko reviewed the data showing that adoptions are up and euthanasias are down since the program was put into place.

It was clear from the reaction of the citizens present and from their comments later that many were there to convince the Advisory Board of citizen support for the foster program.

Citizen Comments

Pamela Hendrix told the Advisory Board she was concerned about euthanasia at the animal shelter. She said the county needs to “tighten up on the definition of what is a truly unadoptable animal.”

Ed Pinson, a veterinarian in the county, praised the foster program, saying it “was the best I’ve ever seen.”

Pinson also was critical of tethering. “I don’t know that I’ve ever seen tethering done well,” he said.

Wendy Jackson, who is the special events coordinator for the Shelter, said “animal control needs to be made a priority to this Board, to the Board of Commissioners and to the community.”

“We have a community and county that loves our animals and loves our Animal Control,” she said. “We need to be working with them.”


The full video of the meeting is below.

OCO: Animal Control Board 10 7 15 from Lee Becker on Vimeo


Anonymous said...

Board Chairman Susan Scheff Wells is part of the problem. She does not represent the views of the majority of Oconeeians.

Advisory Board member Clarke Hamilton is RIDICULOUS!
“there are times when tethering an animal is in the best interest of the animal.” What the heck?? Bless her heart. We need better, more sane board members than her.

The staff of the shelter does a great job. It's too bad the Board of Commissioners have appointed a less than stellar board.

And note to King Melvin: Spend the $750k on a new!

Beanne said...

They don't meet again until Feb 2016 when there is a critical need for a new building now. How frustrating this must be for the Animal Control staff and the friends group.

Anonymous said...

I don't know what has been discussed at all the meetings, but this is my opinion. Tethering should be used for a short term as a means of control if you don't have a kennel or fence when you are at work etc. and not as a life long 24 hr. way of keeping an animal. They should have proper care of shelter, food and water etc. whether tethered or fenced or in your house.

Wendy said...

If you had seen the images of dogs that hung themselves on their 'tethers' aka chains, while their owners were at work etc. you would disagree. We have had 4 hanging deaths this year already. It is just not safe.

Anonymous said...

As a proud Oconee County resident, and one who attended the meeting last Wednesday, I was disheartened by the lack of support to strengthen some AC laws such at the law to prevent inhumane tethering of dogs. Research has proven that tethering is nothing but bad. (Look it up advisory board and you will see.) Also the Advisory Board did not seem to support AC regarding hording cases and stronger enforcement to prevent this practice in Oconee County. Clearly, both laws are to protect the public and animals. This is a public safety and public health concern as well. Not to down play the inhumane practice of both issues. Again google it!! It appeared to be a hot issue with those in attendance of the meeting. There were loud outbursts when one board member spoke out in favor of tethering, while there was a loud applause when another board member called out the 5 of the 6 who are in favor of tethering. I am not proud of the majority selection of an Advisory Board that is to support and represent the concerns of AC thus representing the citizens of our community. They do not represent the majority of Oconee County residence.

I was happy to hear they will support the Foster program and they did seem to see the benefit of this program. Good for them for at least giving a verbal thumbs up for this. They did at least one thing right.

I would like to see the board move forward on the AC building and replacing it ASAP!!

In addition to issues discussed it was such a waste to see the board, again they are to represent us, not make any move to vote or second any motion to move forward. They seem to want to kick the can down the road, probably hoping some of the issues go away.

The employees of AC are doing such a good job and truly doing a service to our community. Thank you for your service to our community. I know sometimes it might not be pleasant. I hope your Director supports all your efforts as well.

Anonymous said...

I wrote a comment about the meeting earlier which was not published. Again, I ask why is there a need for the Advisory Board? What has been accomplished by this board? They have four meetings a year. During the course of a three hour meeting, they did not come close to agreeing on even one important issue that was brought before them. I'm sure they are nice people, but is there actually a need for an advisory board for Animal Control when by all accounts they seem to be doing just fine without any meaningful input from the advisory board? Any actual policy change must be approved by the Board of Commissioners. The BOC are the ones who hand picked the Advisory Board. Come on people, if you were really interested in the best possible outcome for the citizens of Oconee and for the animals in this county, there would be at least one member on the Advisory Board that either works at the shelter or volunteers there so that the board would have a better understanding of what goes on there! (The founder of the Foster program ran for the board but was denied)It's time to hold the BOC responsible for making decisions. They ran for the office, now go do the job you said you wanted to do.

Lee Becker said...

I apologize if a comment was lost. I do moderate comments, as I say in the right-hand column of the blog. I have published every comment that came to me for review on this post.


Anonymous said...

I do not care how you control your dog.Just do it.

Anonymous said...

Helen had a WONDERFUL suggestion. There needs to be a VARIETY of members serving on the board. There should be a limit to one breeder so that animal welfare is put first and foremost and the values of the community are reflected. Maybe then there will not be a need for 3 hour long board meetings.

Xardox said...

"the judge is too lenient" yet there's a fine for $1701.
"concerned about euthanasia" must mean something about the number of animals subject to it. If the concern is there is too much, then fork over some money to buy some more cages and hire some more people. Or is this yet again another program for everyone to pay for but benefits a very small number of (human) lives.