Furor over Macon animal shelter continues

Telegraph staffApril 20, 2012 

Animal rescue volunteers are up in arms about conditions at the Macon Animal Shelter, which they say are tantamount to animal cruelty.

Allegations include dog water bowls that are empty or filthy, overflowing cat litter boxes, dog food thrown by Animal Control workers on pen floors that have not been cleaned, and mold growing on soiled puppy pads.

Among the most troubling allegations made by volunteers is a dog water bowl holding a urine-colored liquid and roundworms, and a paralyzed beagle that was left to lie in its own urine and feces last weekend before a volunteer was allowed to take it to a veterinarian earlier this week. The dog was euthanized.

“The animals are living in filth,” said Susan Helton, the Middle Georgia representative for Have A Heart Save A Pet, a nonprofit group that rescues animals from Macon Animal Control and finds homes for them across the country.

A photograph of the dirty water bowl that Helton took in the shelter has been sent to several city officials, including Jami Gaudet, spokeswoman for the Macon Police Department.

Gaudet said the police department, which oversees the shelter, is aware of the complaints.

“We are sensitive to every animal and every concern, and I can assure you that we are working on a viable solution,” said Gaudet, who has adopted three dogs from the Macon shelter over the years. “I can’t tell you what the outcome will be, but the chief and deputy chief are working right now on a viable solution.”

Police Capt. Jimmy Barbee said Friday there is no internal investigation into conditions at animal control.

“We went down and looked (Thursday), and the water bowls were full and the floor was clean,” Barbee said.

But rescue volunteers are quick to say that wasn’t the case before city officials began learning of the problems.

Helton said floor drains recently were clogged, causing a dirty mix of feces and water to back up at the facility. Others say the problems go far beyond cleanliness and are about flawed practices. For example, when several dogs in the same pen are fed from a single bowl, the stronger, larger dogs often get a full meal while smaller, weaker ones go without.

Jim Johnson, manager of animal control, said Friday he knows nothing about the beagle with the broken back and that he has only “heard rumors” about other complaints of poor conditions. He said he has not seen them himself and insisted that animals constantly have fresh water in their bowls.

Johnson said nobody has approached him directly with any concerns.

However, Helton said Johnson attends twice-monthly meetings with board members of Central Georgia CARES, Gaudet and Deputy Police Chief Mike Carswell, and is aware of ongoing complaints.

Helton said the meetings haven’t been the fix she had hoped.

“Nothing is getting done,” she said. “Nothing.”

Johnson, however, said animal control is operating “as well as it can be” and that he is looking forward to a new shelter to be built with $3 million of the proceeds from a $190 million sales tax approved by Bibb County voters in November.

Many of the rescue volunteers say blame for the problems lie squarely at the feet of Johnson.

Johnson, who declined to respond to the allegations Friday, has been in the middle of controversy for months.

He and his former assistant, Paula Fuller, were fired in August 2011 after an internal city audit found more than $18,000 in shelter money unaccounted for. Then, in January, he was returned to his job by an administrative law judge. The judge also said there was no evidence that Fuller took any money.

Animal rescue groups cried foul earlier this year, insisting that shelter conditions had worsened with Johnson’s return.

Helton said a solution to the problem would be to remove Johnson as shelter director and reinstate former interim Director Van VanDeWalker, who instituted a pardon week there and has worked well with animal rescue groups who pulled animals from the shelter.

Some disturbed, some not

Myshea Robinson, president of ARC Humane Society, said Friday she’s disappointed in the direction the city shelter has taken.

“The volunteers are dropping like flies,” she said. “And (the animals) are back to living in their own feces. It’s becoming not rescue-friendly anymore. ... It’s such a sad situation.”

Lisa Gilbert, a spokeswoman for rescue group Central Georgia CARES, also thinks a “lack of leadership” is at the root of the problems.

“We had an interim director (VanDeWalker) who received a proclamation from the lieutenant governor for his work at Macon Animal Control,” Gilbert said. “He has shown it can be kept clean. The bar has been raised.”

Gilbert said it’s the duty of Central Georgia CARES to bring issues at the shelter to city leaders for action.

“We’re hopeful something can be done,” she said.

Anne Brennaman, who heads the Macon Purrs N Paws that largely focuses on cat rescue, said she stopped pulling animals from the Macon shelter for a while because of poor conditions.

“The cats were so crammed in cages that were not being cleaned,” she said. “This was not the case when the interim director was in place. ... I’m not anti-animal control. (Euthanizing some animals is) an unfortunate fact of life, but it was so different under (previous leadership.) The dogs had blankets that were changed daily, and they were gaining weight. It’s not like that now.”

City Council President James Timley said Friday he knows the shelter is in a deteriorating building, but he doesn’t think any problems there are very serious.

“It’s been in disrepair for some time now,” he said of the building, but he doesn’t think problems there rate higher than problems elsewhere in the city.

“It’s a priority just like many other things in the city are,” he said.

However, City Councilwoman Nancy White, who said she has not seen the problems firsthand, said she has heard plenty from others who volunteer at the shelter.

Although Bibb County takes responsibility for animal control July 1, White said the city government is not absolved of responsibility until then.

White was emphatic that the problems at animal control are caused by the current management.

“If you’re going to do something, do it right. I just don’t understand not wanting to take pride in what you do.”

To contact writer Andy M. Drury, call 744-4477. To contact writer Liz Bibb, call 744-7425.

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