Last night, the Coweta County Commission approved amendments to their animal control ordinances, including one which requires rescue groups to obtain business licenses, and to submit to inspections from Coweta County Animal Control. This new rule comes just over a week after the uproar over the way Coweta County Animal Control treated a dog known first as Old Yeller, then renamed JoJo by his rescuers, the Georgia Humane Society. Many find the timing of this new rule highly suspect and openly wonder what business they think they have inspecting groups who save animals from the shelter when they can’t maintain acceptable standards of care in the shelter itself. Rescues are already licensed and inspected by the state, but Coweta County Animal Control wants a piece of the regulatory action too and the Coweta County Commission gave it to them. Will they use it in a retaliatory fashion against rescuers who speak out about the killing and inhumane conditions at CCAC? We’re going to find out.
JoJo was brought to the Coweta County Animal Control on The afternoon of Thursday August 5, 2010*. He’d been picked up subsequent to a complaint about a dog underneath a house. Animal Control spokespersons have repeatedly insisted that he was able to stand, walk and eat when he arrived at the shelter. He was placed in isolation in a cage with a hard floor and no bedding. Shelter spokespersons described him as an old, dying dog. The Georgia Humane Society decided to take him into their sanctuary program to provide him the opportunity to live out his remaining time in comfort. They began raising funds for the vet care that they anticipated that he would require once they “pulled” him from the pound. By Monday morning they had raised the money and Michelle Humphries called to arrange the pull. She was told that he’d died in his cage over the weekend.** She began contacting donors tell them the sad news and to offer them refunds. She was then informed that, no, he wasn’t dead. Thus began the next phase of the emotional roller coaster. She went to the shelter to pick him up and take him to the vet.
The veterinarian determined that he was not an elderly dog, but was actually between five and seven years old. His incredibly poor condition made him appear, at first glance, to be much older than he was. A veterinary exam revealed that he was emaciated, covered in pressure sores and had lockjaw and four broken legs. These conditions contradict the claim that he was standing, walking and eating a few days earlier. In actuality, he hadn’t been capable of any of those things. There has been much speculation as to how he came to be in this condition underneath a house. Was he hit by a car? When? How did he get under the house and for how long was he there? Who did he belong to? He was neutered. He’d once known better days. At some point, he’d been some family’s pet.
An investigation may yield some answers to those questions, but there is no question that Coweta County Animal Control let a dog in obvious need of veterinary care lay in a cage with a hard floor for four days at their facility. According to spokespersons, he was not examined by the shelter’s veterinarian Christy Stoffle until Monday afternoon, shortly before he was picked up by Georgia Humane. She determined that he was an extremely old dog whose legs were not broken and who did not have lockjaw, and recommended that he be euthanized. She printed out the medical records and handed them over to Michelle Humphries when she arrived to pick up JoJo.
Why was he not examined by the shelter’s veterinarian sooner? According to a spokesperson, the vet is “not in every day and we never know when she will come”. And apparently they couldn’t be bothered to call her either.
Despite their own veterinarian’s recommendation, Animal Control was reluctant to grant the rescue group permission to euthanize JoJo when their vet determined that he was medically hopeless and suffering, citing the mandatory stray hold period which would not expire until the twelfth–three days hence.
In spite of, or perhaps, because of, the inadequacies of Coweta County Animal Control, the County Commission approved an amendment to the animal control ordinances that would require rescue groups to obtain a business license and to submit to inspections by Animal Control as a condition of having said license.
Towards the end of the meeting, rescuers and concerned citizens called upon the Commissioners to examine successful shelters and to adopt some of their policies and programs and asked some pointed questions. One pointed out that Coweta County Animal Control is licensed by the Georgia Department of Agriculture, as are rescue groups–they are peers, not superiors. This requirement is redundant since rescues are already licensed and inspected by the state. One asked if the inspection requirement would be stricken, but no, the inspection provision would not be stricken, it was a provision to prevent hoarding. Never mind that hoarding is rare (though it does get a lot of press) and that Animal Control is already authorized to enforce laws concerning cruelty. Irony of ironies, they even have those laws prominently displayed on their webpage.
When pressed by a persistent rescuer, Commissioners stated that 501c.3 nonprofit rescues would not have to pay the fee for the business license, as they are tax exempt. They further stated that ACOs would only inspect rescues “if there are complaints” and “if you are doing a good job there are no issues”. Rescuers need to know their rights.
The Warden then introduced several ACOs to the 50 or so people still in attendance.
Then came the note on which the evening ended. The Commission Chair praised the Animal Control staff for doing a “tough job”, for doing a “good job”, praised their vet for responding immediately, praised them for so graciously letting the rescue group take the animal, praised them because they “love animals as much as anyone else”, and praised them for “doing the best that you humanly could”. He went on to say, “The dog did not have four broke legs, period.” He reiterated the claim that JoJo could walk, that he walked to the truck when he was picked up on Thursday, that he was an old dog and walked to the cage himself.
As if that wasn’t enough, he proceeded to lay it on with a trowel: he wanted to publicly apologize to the ACOs for all of the “rude comments” directed at Animal Control as a result of all of the publicity. “I want to thank y’all for all y’all done.” He wanted it to be known that they “did not appreciate” the news coverage, that it “highlighted what was not correct”, and that he had gotten complaints about Old Yeller from as far away as Washington, DC and Montana.
Rescuers and concerned citizens who contacted Animal Control were laughed at and ridiculed, told to “find something better to do”, told to “worry about yourself”, none of which they appreciated. JoJo was sick, injured and starving and left on the cold hard cage floor without medical attention or bedding by people who couldn’t tell if he was alive or dead. Presumably he did not appreciate that. There are a great many things not to appreciate about this situation.
What is there to appreciate? People all over the county, the country and even the world who cared enough about a forlorn creature trapped in a vicious system to try to help him, and who, when he proved beyond help, when his body could no longer go on living, resolved to keep hope alive, to work to fix the terribly broken system that failed JoJo so miserably and which continues to fail other animals every day.
Hope turns up in some pretty unlikely places.
Through change, JoJo will live on.
It looks like things are just starting to heat up in Coweta County.
*When I called the facility last week, I was told that he was picked up on Friday, however last night the Chair of the County Commission stated that he was brought in Thursday, so I’m going with that.
**This wouldn’t be the first time an animal languished and died at CCAC without needed vet care. In the wake of the JoJo case, many other stories are emerging.
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