A sign for the Athens-Clarke County Animal Control stands in the midst of pine trees on Wednesday, Sept. 11, 2019, in Athens, Georgia. ACC Animal Services is now its own department. (Photo/Gabriella Audi, www.gabbyaudi10.wixsite.com/mysite-1)

More than 50 animal advocates attended a town hall meeting hosted by Athens-Clarke County District 5 Commissioner Tim Denson on the evening of Sept. 25 to discuss the past, present, and future of ACC Animal Control.

The meeting’s panel included ACC Unified Government Manager Blaine Williams, Athenspets Executive Director Lisa Milot, and Athens Area Humane Society Executive Director Jane Stewart to speak on the changes coming in light of controversy at the Animal Control shelter.

Within the next 30 days, Williams said he and Assistant Manager Josh Edwards, who also attended the meeting, will work to create a strategic “process mapping” plan with “milestones we can all track.” Williams estimates it will take about four months before the plan is put into action due to proposal and approval processes.

Some of the “abundantly clear” issues Williams addressed include understaffing, lack of formalized relationships with volunteer groups and other shelter partners, and policies regarding vaccinations, cleaning processes and how shelter staff determine what constitutes an adoptable animal.

“Most of our departments are models in the state, there’s no reason Animal Services should not be that,” Williams said.

On Oct. 1, the Mayor and Commission will vote to move Animal Control from the Central Services Department to its own department named “Animal Services,” Denson said at the Sept. 25 town hall. According to Williams, this decision will allow more direct management of the shelter to solve the complaint of faulty management.

“We can make sure that we have a department head there who has the expertise needed to lead a department like that, and also so we can have more direct oversight from the county manager’s office,” Denson said at the Sept. 25 meeting.

The commission will also vote on a proposed audit of Animal Control at its Oct. 1 meeting. The scope of the audit includes analyzing staffing needs, euthanasia protocols, budget allocation, and shelter maintenance and protocols to prevent the spread of disease.

Animal advocates didn’t hold back their suggestions and hopes for the shelter, with some discussing a spay and neuter program.

As the group discussed reform, many in attendance emphasized their feelings about the euthanizations from this summer.

One attendee asked who was responsible for the decision to euthanize the cats in July, as the Aug. 29 release posted by the ACC Public Information Office said “staff” made the decision to euthanize the 31 cats in July. Williams said he did not know who made the decision, but he said Animal Control management consulted with the Georgia Department of Agriculture regarding the cat euthanizations.

It’s not a “normal thing” for the Department of Agriculture to recommend euthanasia, said Stewart regarding the 31 cats euthanized for feline panleukopenia in July.

“It was a fail on a whole lot of levels,” Stewart said.

Town hall attendees asked for answers about past management practices.

“To know that someone who made a decision that bad and that consequential is still in a position of power and a position to make decisions erodes [trust],” one advocate said. “I just don’t have confidence in management.”

Williams repeatedly asked for time and “a little bit of trust” from the doubtful attendees to implement changes.

“All I can do is make good decisions and you see them happen,” Williams said.

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