Today I find myself in a very somber mood, I am home on my couch with my dogs surrounding me knowing they are loved and cared for yet, some animals’ fate literally hang in the balance over this holiday weekend.
Then it makes me think an article that was recently brought to my attention by two individuals. It discusses a case in Maryland District Court where a Rescue, Fancy Cats, sues a Baltimore Animal Shelter, Baldwin, for banning it’s volunteers from rescuing after they sent out an e-mail in 2013 that was critical of the shelter. The rescue then sued the Shelter stating that it was violating their volunteers’ first admendment rights. Maryland U.S. District Judge James Bredar agreed and said, “opportunity to serve as a volunteer or partner with a government organization as a rescuer is a constitutionally protected benefit and that volunteers and rescuers have the right to exercise constitutionally protected free speech, free of a state actor’s retaliatory adverse act”. (http://www.chicagotribune.com/lifestyles/pets/ct-pets-shelter-silence-0129-20150129-story.html)
Last Wednesday on May 24th, 2017, in Whitfield County, Commissioner Lynn Laughter, County Attorney Robert Smalley, County Adminstrator Mark Gibson, and Animal Control Manager David Hedden got together for a meeting that was against municpal code and violated the Georgia Sunshine Law because they conducted government business in secret which is against the law. They had been allowing volunteers and rescues to go in the back previously when they came to shelter to volunteer or pull dogs. One volunteers, Rebecca Rood, had been coming to take creative pictures of the shelter dogs that really told their stories, and to test their temperament so she could network the animals to rescues. Since she had been doing this, the number of animals going out the door to rescues has significantly increased. After this meeting on the 24th it was stated, “No Admittance” only Whitfield County Personnel Beyond This Door”.
The meeting on May 24th, 2017 was in response to a story run by Hamilton County Herald. This was stated by individuals involved in the Wednesday meeting. http://www.hamiltoncountyherald.com/Story.aspx?id=8606&date=4%2F28%2F2017 It was about a dog named Petey. He was originally from Whitfield but, was transferred to the Chattanooga Humane Society by Rita Burrows where he would have a better chance at being adopted. The gentleman who ended up adopting Petey was also the same man who wrote the story. When the story ran there was an e-mail sent out stating that what was stated was untrue and that it was slander. The evidence speaks for itself.
In the story, while discussing Petey a volunteer also discussed some of the issues at Whitfield. One incident that came up was something that happened between two dogs. Both animals were in the same kennel, neither had shown any signs of aggression, but when it was feeding time they were not fed separately and ended up getting into a fight. The smaller dog, a chihuahua, for end up being killed by the big dog, a pit mix, who then ended up being euthanized. There was a complaint filed with the Georgia Department of Agriculture regarding the incident, the shelter was cleared of any wrong doing but, the Inspector did go over the Classification and Seperation rules with the Manager. The complaint was filed on December 21st, 2016.
The next complaint addressed food being thrown on the ground among cleaning solution, urine, and sometimes even feces, it was filed on July 22nd, 2016. The shelter failed that inspection.
The final issue that was addressed in this article was their method of euthanasia. Whitfield has been euthanizing their animals Intraperitoneal, which takes 15- 30 mins before the animals die and can be an irritant versus intravenously which takes effect immediately and is the preferred method. (World Society For The Protection Of Animals) Again this can be backed up by records as the shelter is required to keep records on the animals they euthanized and the method they used to euthanize them by.
There has also been discussion of some policies that were put into place. It was stated that rescues were contacted and asked to help with the new policies. Several that work with the Shelter state they were never contacted regarding the new policies. What is interesting is the Shelter had Target Zero come in to evaluate and make suggestions as to what they think needed to be fixed. An important recommendation I saw was for them to form a strong working relationship with volunteers and rescues to help move animals out of the shelter. I will post the recommendations from Target Zero. The Shelter implemented zero of the recommendations, which included changing their form of euthanaisa to intravenous.
So now that we have discussed the story that brought about the meeting by Commissioner Laughter, County Attorney Smalley, County Administrator Mark Gibson, and Shelter Manager David Hedden. Now we are going to discuss Whitfield County Transparency Statement http://www.whitfieldcountyga.com. There is a tab you can click on, called Transparency. It states,”Whitfield County Administration and Officials believe in and support the principals of integrity and accountability in Government. Transparency in Government facilitates these principals. We strive to promote accountability and provide as much information as possible to the Citizens of Whitfield County”. (www.whitfieldcountyga.com) This is a guiding principle the County promotes to their citizens that they will always be open and forthcoming with all information pertaining to the County. Having a secret closed door meeting on the May 24th with Commissioner Laughter, County Attorney, County Administrator, and Animal Control Manager violated Municipal Code under Article IV Sec. 2-131, Sec. 2-139, Sec. 2-142, Sec. 2- Sec. 2-148, Sec. 2-149, Sec. 2-150 https://www.municode.com/library/ga/whitfield_county/codes/code_of_ordinances?nodeId=SUHITA_CH2AD_ARTIVMEBOCO_S2-131OPME and the Georgia State Sunshine Law. The Georgia Sunshine Law basically requires local Governments to be transparent with is citizens. If the local government fails to do so they can be punished with a fine or even be recalled and removed from their position. The fact that this was done with out following proper protocol and without the knowledge of other commissioners speaks volumes on the intentions of those involved. You can’t tell your community that you are transparent then try to hide unfavorable information or punish people for speaking up when you are doing the wrong thing.
Animals are not disposable, they aren’t trash to be thrown away. They deserve to have a voice and to have people speak up for them when others aren’t doing right by them. Comissioner Laughter, I am appalled that a person so highly respected in your community could show such a lack of respect for others by blatantly violating the citizens trust. Furthermore, allowing personal grudges, and preventing volunteers and Rescues to do whats needs to be done, is resulting in a lack of empathy towards the animals. I am going to say this to all parties involved: it’s not the humans that suffer, if you continue to bicker, argue, and carry on doing malicious things out of spite… it’s the Animals that suffer.
The Next Whitfield County Commissioners Meeting is on June 12 at 6pm at Whitfield Co. Admin Bldg # 2, I encourage everyone to go.