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Animal rescue groups, city officials talk progress; During forum, city manager says animal ordinances need updating

Roswell City Manager Joseph Neeb says that the city is ready to make changes in its Animal Services operations and its shelter to address issues of concern to the public and the city. Neeb is seen here leading discussions at a Tuesday night Animal Issues Forum at the Roswell Museum and Art Center. (Lisa Dunlap Photo)

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Both animal rescue volunteers and city officials expressed optimism following Tuesday night’s Animal Issues Forum hosted by the city of Roswell, with City Manager Joseph Neeb saying that a reworking and updating of animal control ordinances will come next and volunteers saying that they appreciated that the city is willing to listen and make changes.

The City of Roswell Animal Shelter at 705 E. McGaffey St. has 142 kennels for cats, dogs and other animals, as well as other kennels for quarantine or emergencies. According to Animal Services Supervisor Joseph Pacheco, the shelter stays close to full most of the time. (Lisa Dunlap Photo)

In a city that at times has seen extremely tense relationships between animal rescue groups and the city’s Animal Services, one notable sign of progress was when a member of the public praised the city’s Animal Services workers, all seven of whom attended the meeting at the Roswell Museum and Art Center.
“I cannot believe that this small amount of people get as much done as they do for the city,” said a man to the applause of many.
Besides the Animal Services staff, the audience included about 60 people, most members of animal rescue groups but also several city staff and City Councilors Jeanine Corn Best and Jason Perry.
Neeb pointed out that the appreciation voiced by the man and others in the audience represented a significant contrast from the angry emails and comments some have sent him since he joined the city in April. He said that people have called Animal Services staff “murderers” and “torturers” for euthanizing dogs and cats.
Neeb pointed out that the number of euthanized animals has decreased by more than 11 percent. By August 2016, the shelter had euthanized 855 animals. So far in 2017, it has euthanized 754 animals.
Sammye Leflar, president of Friends of Roswell Animals, said after the meeting that, when she first began in 2013 to work with the shelter to save animals, it was euthanizing about 95 percent of the adoptable animals they took in.
“We kind of started a movement,” Leflar said. “There has been great progress, there has.”
Neeb said that he knows that the current animal ordinances, most of them written in 1984, need updating to incorporate what animal rescue groups want, including better notification and coordination when animals are nearing the 21st day of their stay, the last day before they will be put down, or when the shelter is full but needs to make room for more animals.
“I think one of the big things we have to do is kind of get together as a staff and really work through our standards and our ordinances and make sure they are still fitting,” Neeb said after the meeting. “We will take all of this information and we will try to package them into some sort of draft amendments or anything of that nature and then try to get them out to all the groups and see if we are on target. If we aren’t on target, I guarantee you, we will have another meeting.”
Audience members gave two poster-board pages full of ideas for changes they would like to see. Suggestions included: Allowing volunteers from rescue groups and youth groups into the shelter to walk animals or help clean kennels, creating a no-kill shelter in the city, charging higher adoption fees of rescue groups and then using the money to do more testing upon intake for diseases, learning from other cities that run successful shelter and spay-and-neuter programs, developing an awareness campaign to educate the public about responsible animal care and ownership, hiring a vet tech to examine all animals upon intake, better enforcing existing codes and carrying through on criminal penalties for violating them, improving temperature control inside kennels, finding alternatives to washing out kennels but leaving animals to sit on wet concrete, and allowing rescue groups to coordinate adoption days at the shelter.

All who spoke agreed on the overarching principles, to reduce the number of strays or abandoned animals taken in by the shelter and to get as many adoptable animals as possible to owners or rescue homes.
“I believe the fundamental problem is this. We have too many animals,” said Mayor Dennis Kintigh in introductory remarks at the forum. “And what we have to do is change the attitudes of the community. That is easy to say and extremely difficult to do. The people at Animal Control, you work hard. This is a hard job. We would all rather not be picking up animals. That would be the ideal situation.”
Some animal rescue volunteers in the audience said that they think their work over the years has helped improve the situation and perhaps have reduced shelter costs and are hopeful more progress will occur in the future.
“I think it is great to have (a city manager) who is listening to the public and is willing to make some changes,” said Leflar.
“This city manager already gave some answers that we wanted to hear in regard to setting standards,” said Julie Corbell.
She explained that one example is that shelter workers are now expected to wash bleach away rather than allowing it to stay on the kennel floors or the animals’ feet and legs.
Neeb said he thinks that the community has to be a contributing part of a city operation.
“Let’s figure out what we can do better, what we are doing well,” said Neeb. “And, again, just trying to work it together. It is not good for the city to have a service that is not functioning as well as everyone would like it to function.”
Neeb acknowledged that solutions will have to include realistic ideas about finances. Animal Services has a $669,282 budget this fiscal year, which is funded by sales, property taxes and some user fees. Neeb said its costs are exceeding its revenue sources at this point. He said making the changes people want will not only require continued help from volunteers and donations but also will probably entail adding or increasing some user fees.
Senior Writer Lisa Dunlap can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 310, or at reporter02@rdrnews.com.

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Lisa Dunlap is a general assignment reporter for the Roswell Daily Record.