Animal Control Director Jim Johnson is back in charge of the Macon animal shelter, and several local animal rescue groups are up in arms, alleging that in the past week he’s worsened conditions at the shelter and plans a “mass euthanization” of at least 16 dogs Wednesday or Thursday.
This comes five months after Johnson was fired and nearly eight months after his removal as shelter director.
“I have been getting phone call after phone call after phone call about what’s going on down at (Macon Animal Control),” said Anne Brennaman of animal rescue group Macon Purrs N Paws. “It’s my understanding that they’re planning like 16 or 17 euthanasias tomorrow.”
But she acknowledged that almost none of her information was firsthand and that much misinformation might be floating around.
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Purrs N Paws’ Facebook page alleged Tuesday that not only was “mass euthanasia” planned but that Johnson removed blankets from the dog runs, replacing them with beds that only the most dominant dogs got to use, and that each pen had only one food bowl for several animals.
Brennaman posted on Facebook that rescue groups may picket City Hall on Thursday.
Johnson, however, said Tuesday afternoon that he hasn’t made most of the alleged changes and has not planned a surge of animal euthanization.
He said he knows animal-rescue groups “want me gone,” and that Deputy Police Chief Mike Carswell is investigating the complaints.
“At the moment I really don’t have any comment,” Johnson said. “I’m answering these to the deputy (police) chief. All I can tell you is that I haven’t made any changes except the blankets, and I will be explaining that in the future.”
Johnson was removed as shelter director in May, replaced by police Sgt. Robert Carr. Carr was reassigned in October, and Animal Control Officer Van VanDeWalker became the new interim director. Johnson and his former assistant Paula Fuller were fired Aug. 29, months after an internal city audit found $18,408 in shelter funds unaccounted for.
Then on Jan. 19, Administrative Law Judge Robert Herndon ruled that Johnson and Fuller should be reinstated.
“Basically what this means is that the chief of police doesn’t have dominion over his department,” said Jami Gaudet, public information officer for the Macon Police Department.
Herndon said firing Johnson and Fuller was too severe and that a 30-day suspension would have sufficed. He ruled that both had violated city procedures, but that Johnson had an otherwise “unblemished record” in 20 years of service. Herndon also said there was no evidence Fuller actually stole money.
Fuller now works in an administrative office for the Georgia Department of Corrections, and Gaudet said Johnson returned to running the shelter early last week.
Since Monday night, she said, there’s been a steady flow of messages of protest, which she has forwarded to Police Chief Mike Burns and Carswell.
“I think the rescuers were very pleased with Van VanDeWalker and his care of the animals, and (now) their previous concerns have returned,” Gaudet said.
Mayoral spokesman Chris Floore as well as City Council members Beverly Olson and Nancy White said Tuesday they also have heard the allegations and have forwarded their concerns to Burns.
Under VanDeWalker, rescue groups would be notified when the shelter was at capacity, and the groups had been very successful in shifting animals to other states and placing them in homes, avoiding euthanization, Brennaman said.
“I think in three months only 19 had to be put down,” she said.
Johnson hasn’t said he’ll continue that policy, Brennaman said, also acknowledging she hasn’t spoken to him since his return.
“I don’t personally deal with Jim because before, he was not rescue-friendly,” she said. “This is why, in my opinion, the rescues are up in arms.”
Brennaman said she heard the accusations against Johnson from two associates. One of those was Myshea Robinson, co-president of ARC Humane Society.
Robinson said she initially had “no problem” with Johnson’s return, but that changed after encountering him outside the shelter this week.
“He said ‘16 dogs have to go this week, one way or the other,’” she said. Robinson said she understands plans to euthanize five sick dogs, but that she and another volunteer began photographing the rest in hopes of placing them.
As they did so, she noticed several pens which had one small food bowl for four dogs, she said.
”Pre-Jim Johnson, they never did that,” Robinson said.
She also alleges that since Johnson’s return, animal control officers treat animal rescue workers with contempt and that donated supplies have disappeared since Johnson’s return.
Brennaman said “maybe” there’ll be picketing at City Hall, but she wants people to “take a step back and get the truth.”
“What the rescues want is how it was being done before” under VanDeWalker, she said.
To contact writer Jim Gaines, call 744-4489.