Copyright © 2021 Roswell Daily Record
Copyright © 2021 Roswell Daily Record
Two animal rescue groups that regularly work with Roswell Animal Services say revisions to the city’s animal codes have helped improve the welfare of adoptable animals but are concerned recent policy changes could result in an increase in euthanasia at the city’s animal shelter. The city official who oversees the department said the changes are data-based decisions in the best interest of the animals and the city.
Over seven months in 2019, the Roswell City Council’s Public Safety Committee worked to revise and condense Chapter 4 of the city code pertaining to animals, and a resolution containing the changes was approved by the city council in January 2020. Among the changes were new fees and the requirement for owners to microchip their pets rather than registering them each year with the city.
“Talk about forward thinking. I was so proud of the city,” said Sammye Leflar, president of rescue group Friends of Roswell Animals (FORA).
“We haven’t lost a healthy, adoptable dog in probably a year and a half now, and that’s huge,” she said.
However, another change to the code and subsequent policy changes have caused concern for the rescue groups.
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Prior to the revisions, the code addressing unclaimed animals stated any dog or cat not reclaimed by its owner or adopted within seven days of impoundment “shall be disposed of in any humane manner” as prescribed by the American Veterinary Medical Association, but also provided that at the discretion of the city manager or a designee, an animal could be held up to 21 days.
Other than allowing four days for an owner to reclaim their pet, the new code removed specific time references for holding an animal.
Section 4-76 on unclaimed animals reads: “Animals not reclaimed by the responsible party shall be held for adoption, as provided for above, by animal services at the animal services facility or other appropriate facility based upon animal services policies and procedures. Such animals shall be retained by animal services until such time as space is no longer available or the animal is deemed unadoptable, based upon animal services’ standard operating procedures.”
Leflar and Suzie Fares, president of Peace of Mind Rescue, Santa Fe, said Jim Burress, director of special services for the city of Roswell, has in recent months changed Animal Services policy that will endanger their ability to rescue dogs and cats.
Rescue groups can “tag” an animal — or indicate they will take it if it is not reclaimed — from the first day it is brought to the shelter. Both groups transport animals to rescue groups in other states that put them up for adoption and usually tag an animal once an out-of-state group indicates it is interested in the animal.
About six months ago, Leflar said, Burress notified the groups they would have 30 days after an unclaimed animal was brought in for it to be picked up. About a month ago, he notified them Animal Services would be moving to allow 20 days.
Leflar said that FORA, which takes mostly dogs, had to initially scramble to meet the 30-day requirement but they were able to make it work. But she said 20 days is not enough.
“The cuter dogs and more adoptable ones get tagged first. The ones that end up in there closing in at 30 days are the ones that are harder to adopt, so those are the ones that we have to work hard for and those are the ones that we need time for,” Leflar said.
“We’re going to lose dogs. That’s not enough time, especially with COVID,” she said. “There are circumstances right now where all the vets are backed up and it’s taking rescues even a little bit longer to get the animals run through,” she said.
Fares, whose group rescues mostly cats, agreed.
“We are scrambling to be able to find someplace for them to go,” she said.
“The less time that we have to be able to do this makes it very difficult and very straining on both dog and cat rescues that pull,” Fares said.
For animals pulled from the shelter before the rescues are ready to transport them, foster homes or funds to board them must be found. Both are in short supply, Leflar and Fares said.
Burress said he understands the position the rescues are in, but said the city shelter is under similar constraints of space. Reducing the number of days for the rescues to pick up animals is part of a bigger plan — one he said is in his head and not on paper — to improve conditions at the shelter for both animals and the employees.
“There are actually data reasons that are driving the decisions I make, not just I want to put animals down. It doesn’t work that way,” Burress said.
“One thing I’m proud of is we’ve not put down an adoptable dog in a year,” he said.
Things were much worse at Roswell Animal Services a year ago when he took over the department, Burress said.
It was in April of last year when, in a reorganization of city administration, Animal Services was moved from under the Roswell Police Department’s purview to Special Services.
“A year ago, there were animals in there 120 days, 90 days,” Burress said. “They weren’t adoptable any more. They were crazy.”
The shelter’s 70 kennels were constantly full, Burress said, due in part to animal control officers patrolling the streets and bringing in animals.
“You stop the process of shopping for animals and then the space takes care of itself,” Burress said.
Animal control officers now only respond to calls of at-large dogs if it is vicious or creating a nuisance such as running in traffic. The idea is that most dogs that roam will eventually go home, one that Leflar said she agrees with.
“We changed the dynamic. They’re not in the trucks all day long looking for animals to bring in,” Burress said.
According to data provided by Burress, in 2019 Animal Services took in 4,450 animals, an average of 371 per month. In 2020, it took in 3,423 animals or an average of 285 per month. For the first quarter of 2021, Animal Services has taken in 707 animals, an average of 236 per month.
The numbers show the decrease in animal control officer call-outs as well. In 2019, ACOs responded to 8,295 calls or 691 per month. In 2020, they were called out 7,063 times or an average of 589 times per month. In the first quarter of 2021, they have responded to 1,582 calls, an average of 527 per month.
The ACOs help clean the shelter when they don’t need to be elsewhere, Burress said, but the officers’ duties also include accompanying law enforcement in serving an arrest or search warrant, appearing in court on animal-related cases, investigating dog bites, speaking with a pet owner to educate them about the city’s animal laws and answering calls about skunks or other wildlife.
Burress also reserved 15 kennels as a quarantine space for animals brought into the shelter. That number can increase as needed, such as on weekends or if there are animals held for biting someone or for court cases, Burress said. That prompted further concern from the rescue groups about the diminished space available.
Leflar said the groups, including FORA, that worked with the city on the new codes agreed fewer kennels would be needed kept open.
“We had agreed with the city council that having five kennels open would be workable,” she said. She said most shelters operate with that number as a reserve.
Burress said the 15 kennels — which are all in one of the shelter’s four sections — are based on how many animals are typically brought in over a weekend and are necessary to keep disease from spreading in the kennels. The animals are held for seven to 12 days in quarantine for observation, he said. That helps ensure people who adopt an animal don’t take home a sick pet, Burress said.
If a disease were to be introduced to the larger animal population in the shelter, Burress said, every animal would have to be put down and the kennels all cleaned.
“It comes down to being responsible for the animal and for whoever’s going to adopt it,” he said.
Reducing the intake of animals is a key part of Burress’ plan. Ultimately he would like fewer animals coming into the shelter so that they spend no more than seven days there before they are reclaimed, adopted or claimed by a rescue group.
To reach that goal, Animal Services will ramp up its efforts to educate the public and conduct more of its own adoption events, Burress said. Two trucks from the department are being repurposed with flatbeds and welded-on kennels to use for adoption events around town.
The city is also planning to hire a veterinarian who would work with not only Animal Services, but also the Spring River Zoo and the Roswell Police Department’s K-9 unit. That would allow Animal Services to offer a low-cost spay and neuter program.
A big part of the education push will be to enforce with the public that under the city code, a permit is required to breed, sell or give away dogs and cats.
“We have animals because we have people,” Burress said.
People frequently sell puppies or kittens from their cars at store parking lots and in online groups, Burress said. “Unless you have a breeder’s license, that’s against the law,” he said.
Burress said he’s proud of how the Animal Services staff has worked with and even contributed to the department’s policy changes over the last year. Staff morale is much better than it was a year ago, he said.
“When we took over, we took a look around. Had a really good staff, bless their hearts, and they started to clean and they painted the place two or three times and it changed the atmosphere. We made it a point to try and listen and solve problems, which helped,” he said.
He said he’s also grateful for the rescue groups stepping up and working with the changes, but said the department has to work with a bigger goal in mind.
“We want to work with rescue groups, but we have a responsibility to the citizens,” Burress said.
City/RISD reporter Juno Ogle can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 205, or firstname.lastname@example.org.