Abuse, Neglect And Abandonment: This Is DeKalb County's Animal "Shelter"

Why you should care and what we can do.

by Chamblee Abernathy

Pet overpopulation, abuse, neglect and abandonment are at an all-time high in DeKalb County. The majority of DeKalb residents are not aware of the crisis nor the shortfall in the so-called "animal services" provided by our county government. The animals need for you to know their plight...for everyone in DeKalb to know.

After more than a decade of complaints to elected officials from members of the local animal rescue community, Burrell Ellis, our county's chief executive, and Board of Commissioners finally responded by creating the Animal Services Task Force in early 2011. The Task Force spent several months doing research and presented its findings and recommendations to the CEO and BOC in October.

To date, CEO Ellis and the BOC have done nothing to put a plan in action to address the animal crisis we have in DeKalb. We need to light a fire under them and that's why I'm writing to ask that you to recruit all your friends and neighbors in DeKalb. Theoretically, elected officials respond to the complaints and requests of their constituents. That's you! We need to bombard them with emails from thousands of their constituents from every part of DeKalb County!

I'm asking you to do four things:

  • E-mail your CEO and Commissioners asking them to address this crisis immediately;
  • Sign our Change.org petition;
  • Forward this piece to everyone you know in DeKalb;
  • And attend one of the upcoming town hall meetings to speak on behalf of the animals in our shelter, living stray on our streets or living neglected and abused in bad homes.

We're asking our CEO and BOC for two things. The first is to build a new shelter and the second is to restore the animal services budget to $3.2 million, rather than the current proposal of $2.7 million.

Why the new shelter?

DeKalb County has one of the oldest shelters in the state and our shelter is the oldest facility currently in use in Dekalb County. Due to space limitations, our shelter euthanizes more than 60 percent of the animals every year and another 10 percent die in the shelter or are unaccounted for.

The statistics are sobering. Between 2008 and 2010:

  • 25,662 animals were taken into the DeKalb County Animal Shelter
  • 15,676 — 60 percent — were euthanized
  • 3,154 — 12 percent — were taken by rescue groups
  • 2,605 — 10 percent — were adopted
  • 2,060 — 8 percent — were reclaimed by their owners
  • 2,370 — 7 percent — are unaccounted for
  • 719 — 3 percent — were found dead in the facility

The shelter is dirty, covered in black mold, has poor drainage — which results in standing water at all times. The shelter is infested with roaches and rats, has no heat or air conditioning, no hot water for disinfecting and is plagued by poor insulation, poor air quality and sick animals. If you visited the shelter, as I did recently, you'd be overwhelmed by the stench and crowded cages. It is not a pleasant experience nor one I want to repeat if I can avoid it.

I have witnessed, first-hand, many puppies "pulled" from our shelter in recent months by rescue organizations, including myself, coming down with the deadly parvo virus within days of leaving the shelter. Some of these puppies are treated and survive, but it costs rougly $1,000 per puppy for the treatment and non-profit rescue groups are devastated by this expense on very tight budgets. Rescuers have found puppies already dead, probably from parvo, in their cages in the shelter. Parvo, upper respiratory infection, ringworm and other illnesses are rampant in our shelter and cannot be stopped because of the standing water, lack of hot water for disinfection and poor air quality and circulation. In the summer, temperatures in the shelter soar into the 90s. Animals die from the heat. Roaches swarm the food bowls before the animals can even eat.

Our shelter is not safe, healthy or adequate for animals, much less the employees working in it. We need a shelter that is safe and healthy for the thousands of animals entering it every year and that is comfortable and inviting for residents and families [with children] to go to adopt a pet. Our shelter is not a place anyone wants to visit, which is why adoptions are shamefully low. Nor is our shelter a place where anyone, like you, wants to take a stray dog or cat they've found. Why would you, when you know the chances of that animal making it out alive are slim-to-none?

Imagine the day when you can take a stray animal to our Dekalb County shelter with the certainty it will be safe and eventually adopted, rather than the certainty it will be destroyed! After all, isn't that the service a county "shelter" is supposed to provide?

Adding insult to injury, the CEO’s budget proposal for 2012 shows a 12 percent reduction in resources for Animal Services, a reduction much larger than other departments  ...down from $3.2 million to the current proposal of $2.7 million. While some might cite a need to reduce expenses as a rationale, Animal Services is already under-staffed and under-resourced, the principle reason conditions and outcomes are so poor. This cut is ridiculous in that the budget for animal services is 1/2 of 1 percent of the entire county budget. Given the extraordinary need for animal services in our county, the proposed reduction is ridiculous!
Did you know that in 2010, there were 16 animal control officers in the field, and now there are only 8 officers working in the field. Why? Because our CEO and BOC have not given the funds to replace officers who've resigned. The kennel has only 9 employees to feed, clean, exercise and socialize nearly 400 animals every day! And just one person handles ALL the adoptions, rescue group outreach, web/Petfinder postings and volunteer coordination.

How do we change this? By getting involved. Please, sign our petition and friend us on Facebook.

Send e-mails to CEO Ellis and your two county commissioners.

In East Atlanta Patch, Jeff Rader and Kathie Gannon repesent Candler Park and Lake Claire. The East Atlanta/Key Road, East Lake, Gresham Park and Kirkwood communities are represented by Larry Johnson and Kathie Gannon.

The content of your email is not critical. What matters is that CEO Elllis and every Commissioner receive HUNDREDS of emails from their constituents. You can say as little or as much as you like. If you want to keep it quick and simple, just say something like: "I'm writing to let you know I support the Animal Services Task Force's recommendations for a new shelter and budget restored to $3.2 million or increased to meet the demand created by irresponsible pet owners in DeKalb County. I am requesting you take action immediately to address the animal services crisis in DeKalb." Be sure you include your name, street address and zip code so your Commisioners can be certain you are their constituent.

Ms. Abernathy is a co-founder of Southern Animal Rescue.

Harley Mysteria Coro January 25, 2012 at 07:18 PM
I live in Dekalb county. I've actually helped feed a colony of stray (abandoned rather) cats. Through some kind of program they were all fixed thankfully but they still live at an abandoned house on the end of a dead end road. The story I was told was the lack of attention that was given to the situation was the reason the colony grew to 13 cats give or take before all were fixed. But they still remain at the abandoned house. People go and feed them everyday but that's it. It's sad really. And in my neighborhood cats keep appearing. I have taken in 3 and I'm desperately trying to come up with the funds to get them fixed. I think I've got it taken care of though. The thought had crossed my mind at one time to take them to the shelter. But I had no idea conditions were like this. I've worked in a shelter. Back when I lived in Alabama. It was a kill shelter and I dealt with many of the situations this story tells about. I'm disgusted that people we are suppose to trust for funding for the shelter don't seem to see that there is an issue. They might as well be putting their hands around the throats of the animals themselves. Their lack of support is doing nothing but killing animals that all want to be loving companions. I could go on and on. I'm going to spread this article all over creation. And after reading this, I'm not worried about having more than 3 animals and breaking the law. I know I've saved these animals from certain death. I will fight for their lives!


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