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)

After a long search, Athens-Clarke County has finally found a new Animal Services director. An ACC news release reported that the county is appointing Kristall Barber to the role, which had been filled by interim director Selah Gardiner since Oct 2019.

This is welcome news. Barber will fill an important role in protecting animals in Athens and correcting some of the ACC Animal Services’ past errors. If she is successful, the lives of Athens animals will improve greatly.

Part of Barber’s responsibilities as ACC Animal Services director will be managing Animal Control, which had come under fire for its decisions last year. In July 2019, the ACC Animal Control Shelter euthanized more than 30 cats. The shelter at the time said it believed the cats had been exposed to feline panleukopenia, but an Aug. 29 ACC news release later revealed that testing found it “unlikely” the cats were infected by the virus.

Worse yet, there may have been many more avoidable deaths as well. On Sept. 3, 38 shelter volunteers and animal advocate groups wrote a letter alleging that a “disturbing pattern of poor and uninformed decision-making by shelter management” caused the needless deaths of “more than 100 cats” during 2018 and July 5-9, 2019.

The unnecessary deaths of so many cats are tragic. I care a great deal about animal rights, so I found their deaths especially upsetting and hope the shelter will improve immediately. Barber will need to work quickly to solve the failings of the shelter and to restore the public’s trust in Animal Control. She'll also need the knowledge to make informed decisions so that the shelter won't prematurely euthanize any more animals.

Thankfully, Barber has an extensive background that makes her qualified for the role. She has a Master of Science in Management from Warner University. She previously worked in Polk County Animal Control since 2006, where she held several jobs such as an enforcement officer, investigator, supervisor of customer service and administrator. And, with 66 employees, Polk County Animal Control is also much bigger than ACC Animal Services, which has 12 employees, meaning ACC Animal Services is probably easier to manage. This all suggests that Barber likely won’t find the workload overwhelming.

Our society needs to treat animals well. When they are taken into Animal Services, animals are dependent on the government to care for them responsibly. Though ACC Animal Services has struggled in the past, I believe that they can fix their problems. As someone who has worked extensively in Polk County Animal Control, Barber will hopefully bring the experience and expertise the job needs. In doing so, she can help build a kinder, more humane Athens.

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