April 28, 2013

Murray County sheriff to take on animal control this week

Charles Oliver

— CHATSWORTH — Murray County Sheriff Gary Langford and incoming animal control director Diane Franklin faced a skeptical and sometimes hostile audience Saturday at Chatsworth City Hall.

The sheriff’s office will begin handling animal control effective Wednesday. Langford and Franklin, along with County Finance Director Tommy Parker, met with about 80 citizens to discuss what the change will mean.

Animal control is currently an independent county agency, and many of those in the audience made it clear they’d like to see animal control, or at least shelter operations, remain independent. Many held signs supporting previous animal control director Pauline Davis.

“We’ve worked closely with Pauline and have pulled many, many dogs from Murray County,” said Jeff Howard of the Alpharetta-based Angels Among Us Pet Rescue.

Howard said that Davis and her staff have established a network of rescue agencies across the United States and even internationally to place animals. Several speakers said the shelter typically has an adoption rate of 80 percent or higher. They noted that Whitfield County, where Franklin had previously worked, has an adoption rate closer to 20 percent.

“Murray County has a shelter that is known nationally and internationally for its success in placing animals. Why would you want to tamper with that success?” said Dr. William H. Mathis, an animal rescue worker and semi-retired veterinarian who has worked closely with Murray County Animal Control for several years.

But Parker said he believes some falsehoods are fueling several concerns that some people have about changes in the department.

Several audience members said they had heard that the shelter will no longer work with out-of-state animal rescue groups to place dogs.

Franklin said the shelter will continue to work with such groups but they must have a Georgia animal control license.

“That’s required by the (state) Department of Agriculture, and we have to follow Department of Agriculture rules,” she said.

Laurel Kirkbride asked if the shelter would continue to allow private citizens to come in to adopt pets. Franklin said that it would. Kirkbride said after the meeting that she hoped that the Murray County shelter would continue to allow individuals to adopt pets.

Franklin said that placing animals is a top priority for her. But she said that an effective animal control strategy must consist of more than adoptions and must include spaying and neutering, education and addressing dangerous animals.

Langford said one reason that Sole Commissioner Brittany Pittman had asked the sheriff’s office to take over animal control is that current animal control officers are not certified peace officers and therefore can’t arrest people for crimes such as cruelty to animals or dog fighting.

“A deputy can. A certified deputy can bring those cases to Superior Court. We had a case several weeks ago where an animal control officer brought a case to Superior Court and the judge kicked it out because it was illegal for them to bring it to Superior Court,” he said.