Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Gwinnett Revised Animal Ordinance

Last night after a very lengthy board meeting I was able to give comments to the commissioners which addressed many of the issues surrounding Gwinnett's new revised animal ordinance.

There are several points that I addressed. They include issues of sentencing and killing dogs on ordinance violations. I also discussed more precisely the way that the animal advisory board drafted and passed this law. In a packet that was given to each of the commissioners I included the open records copies of the animal advisory board meeting from 2006 onward.

Additionally, copies of the animal advisory bylaws, copies of the Georgia Canine Coalition board of directors and copies of all the donors who contribute to Gail's political action coalition that serves to protect the interest of many of Georgia's kennel clubs.

The entire draft of my presentation (which I condensed in my comments to the board) was also included. What follows are my prepared comments that clearly ask to have the revised animal ordinance retracted with public hearings being scheduled to help draft a RESPONSIBLE animal ordinance in Gwinnett that serves not only the public that owns pets but more importantly a law that serves the best interests of the pets themselves. Any such responsible law should include:

To support and promote laws, regulations and court decisions which positively benefit the lives of wild, exotic, farm and companion animals in the State of Georgia, and to oppose existing or proposed legislation negatively impacting animal welfare;

To advocate for the effective enforcement and prosecution of Georgia laws designed to protect wild, exotic, farm and companion animals, and in particular, to advocate felony prosecutions when applicable and appropriate, and to facilitate educational opportunities for those involved with such enforcement and prosecution; and

To support the strengthening of spay/neuter initiatives designed to address companion animal overpopulation in the State of Georgia.

Those last three comments come from the mission statement for the Georgia Legal Professionals for Animals web site. One would question how the current law addresses these concerns especially in light of the fact that both the President and Vice President of GLPA were provided input in drafting this revised law.

It is one thing for the Georgia Legal Professionals for Animals, Inc. to espouse an ethical and moral precept which maintains that animals are sentient beings, with a capacity for pain and suffering and an intrinsic right to their own lives. It is an entirely different concept to understand the rationale of forcing impound on those same pets who already enjoy living safely in responsible homes.

The concept of protecting and serving the needs of ALL of my pets from a cruel and inhumane sentence of ending up in our county's shelter is what I will continue to advocate for.

Board of Commissioner’s Meeting June 24th, 2008

I am here to discuss the revised animal ordinance passed by this Board of Commissioners in January of 2007. This ordinance was passed without allowing any public reading of the proposed changes or even more importantly – asking local pet owners for their comments on the new law.

Thousands of pet owners are now discovering that even being a responsible pet owner can lead to criminal charges being filed for such minor infractions as barking dogs, dogs tethered for short periods of time and a number of other issues that micro-manage the care we provide our pets.

Instead of focusing our animal resources on educating citizens on how to be responsible pet owners, our resources are being directed towards prosecuting and impounding pets with the worst possible consequences leading to more deaths at our brand new $15 million dollar shelter.

Gwinnett has historically been a pet friendly place to raise our families – including our family of pets. Funding for pet friendly projects, be that new dog parks or more recently our new shelter have met with overwhelmingly approval of these expenditures. This revised law allows for sentencing our family pets into impound situations that will fill this shelter with barking dogs.

It is the outrageous penalties that the ordinance authorizes that have the pet owners outraged. I am facing twelve years in jail and up to $24,000 fines for what is a first time citation for alleged dog barking. That threat has been clearly presented during the negotiation process trying to force me to surrender my family of hounds.

We are outraged with the board of commissioners for authorizing a law that would seize and dispose of property by ending the lives of our pets in sentencing. Those who support such draconian punishment not only lose our respect but our future votes as well. You do not force responsible pet ownership with irresponsible punishment that leads to killing our family pets.

The Nuisance Animal "dog barking" statute does nothing towards drawing our neighborhoods together but instead serve as a catalyst for ripping them apart.

This revised ordinance allows for any entity to persecute and manipulate the court systems to rid neighborhoods of our family pets. This includes “predatory” realtors and speculators who purchase properties in our neighborhoods merely to make a quick profit. Selling these homes at all cost, including the lives of our family of pets, only to move on once that sale is completed.

With this developer’s mantra of “dead dogs don’t bark”, anyone who allows their pets outdoors where barking may occur can now be cited. Even if the dog is barking at a squirrel it is in violation of the ordinance if the complaining party hears the barking.

Since the law YOU passed doesn’t require any investigation by animal control – doesn’t require that any noise level requirements be met or proved – it makes defending this law virtually impossible. This law leaves open for interpretation under what guidelines how even the word intruder comes into play.

Witnesses who live miles away can still file complaints under this ordinance.

Even though I am facing twelve years in jail, huge financial fines if convicted, recorder’s court has denied me a jury trial because ordinances citations don’t qualify under county rules.

Recorders Court apparently isn’t familiar or doesn’t follow a document called the U.S. Constitution that entitles all citizens the right to be heard by a jury of our peers.

No one wants to live in a community where and live in fear - fear that their family pet could very well be next to be accused of being a "public nuisance". This law doesn’t support responsible pet ownership but instead criminalizes the ownership of pets.

As disturbing as the revised animal ordinances are what is more disturbing is the blatant way that this law was created.

In March of 1993 a resolution of the board of commissioners created the Animal Advisory Council. The purpose of this group to provide a CLEAR CHANNEL for communication and dialog with citizens who responsibly own and cherish their families pets and the Board of Commissioners.

I don't think I need to clarify that transparent government is essential in allowing all citizens voices to be heard on important issues in our community. To those of us who own and cherish our pets there would be nothing MORE important then the passage of revisions to our animal ordinances.

How the Animal Advisory Council drafted and agreed on the new revised law remains a mystery. Those revisions were passed on "staff recommendations" in a total elapsed time of SIXTEEN SECONDS. No public reading of the amendments were posted nor was citizen comments allowed prior to this becoming the new animal ordinance.

The real problem with the passage of this law is HOW it became law in the first place. Despite several attempts at trying to determine when, why and how this bill morphed into the nightmare that it is - there is NO DOCUMENTATION on how the revised bill was even created. It appears to have grown like a mushroom in the dark of night.

During the process of drafting this revised ordinance in 2006, AAC meetings were routinely moved from location to location, scheduled meetings appear to have only minimal information available or minutes have been misplaced. Minutes approved by the council don’t even exist.

In an even more flagrant abuse of the open meetings act the last meeting was held in a Lawrenceville Restaurant where COUNTY business was discussed. I would hope that NO ONE on this board is going to suggest that having to purchase a meal to attend an animal advisory meeting even remotely complies with Georgia's Open Meeting Act.

The current Animal Advisory Council has become a special interest advisory group as opposed to providing locals pet owners with a say in our county’s animal policies. NO ONE on that group represents your average pet owner yet there are TWO members who represent the breeders and kennel clubs.

These two members, Gail Laberge and Clara Seals also serve as board members for the Georgia Canine Coalition – a political action group that takes money from breed clubs in Georgia. Having the Georgia Canine Coalition involved in setting animal welfare policy in Gwinnett is as offensive as allowing a coalition of developers with their special interests run the county’s planning council.

One needs to question whether the needs of pet owners and rescue groups are being circumvented to the special interest needs of local breed clubs instead?

Why should issues of saving shelter pets become a priority when the kennel clubs are competing for the very same pet homes in our community?

Officers chosen for the Animal Advisory Council, Gail Laberge and Clara Seals are expected to do their jobs – they hold key positions on the board being the chairperson and secretary that controls and approves vital meeting functions including scheduling, meeting agenda’s and keeping of council’s records.

These are standard procedures clearly spelled out in the Animal Advisory Council’s bylaws. These standard procedures once enacted should have lead to proper ordinances being proposed instead of this controversial ordinance that was recommended for passage.

As officers who should be following parliamentary procedures it appears from open records requests that this council has failed miserably in that responsibility.

It bewilders the average citizen that meetings that were held two years ago still have records being stored and kept under Ms.Laberge’s control. This is NOT open government but a governmental entity that drafts laws for approval under a veil of secrecy and EXCLUDES the local citizens from that process.

My question for all of you is what are YOU going to do about this? Obviously those of us who own pets and vote are totally outraged at these abuses in open government.

Nothing short of removing both Laberge and Seals will restore confidence in the Animal Advisory Council. They need to be replaced by an open process that includes members of the community who own and rescue pets. Otherwise, if THIS Board of Commissioner’s cannot or will not provide the oversight the law requires then this council needs to be disbanded.

Citizens are simply tired of the same old worn out promises of our elected officials who promise to watch out for our interest up until they are elected, only to have the same officials serve the special interests groups once elected.

There are several coalitions of pet interest groups being formed now that these issues are in the public’s eye. The worst-case scenario of a “perfect storm of outrage” will be a joining of all these groups to form ONE voice in making sure our voices are heard. If we can’t get our voices heard through the current Board of Commissioners then rest assured we can and will have our voices heard in the election booths in November.

Randy DeCarlo

Finally, Jock Connell mentions that the new shelter has increased the number of hours the shelter is open for the public to adopt pets. That information is NOT currently on the county's shelter web page. I might also suggest if serving the needs of our community's pet owners is a priority then maintaining accuracy on the shelter's petfinder's site should be important as well.

Those who agree that we need to completely reevaluate our animal ordinances through public hearings should please email the county commissioners with that request.

Current Animal Advisory Board Tricia Smith Dennis Kronenfield - Feline Issues Gloria Kennedy = Gwinnett Humane Society Gail Leberge Chairperson and Lawrenceville Kennel Club Allison Wilkerson Rooks Gwinnett Municipal Association Clara P. Seals Member at Large Carla Brown Member at Large Mary Lou Repress New Shelter Director

County Commissioners
Commission Chairman:Charles Bannister770.822.7010

District 1 Commissioner: Lorraine Green 770.822.7001

District 2 Commissioner: Bert Nasuti770.822.7002

District 3 Commissioner: Mike Beaudreau770.822.7003

District 4 Commissioner: Kevin Kenerly 770.822.7004

Crosspost freely

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Speaking out for Gwinnett's pets....

A now controversial revised animal ordinance passed in Gwinnett by our Board of Commissioners in January of 2007. This ordinance was passed in all of SIXTEEN seconds without allowing any public reading of the proposed changes or even more importantly – asking Gwinnett’s County of pet owners and rescuers for their comments on the new law.

Now, thousands of pet owners throughout the county are discovering that even being a responsible pet owner in Gwinnett can lead to criminal charges being filed for such minor infractions as barking dogs, dogs tethered for short periods of time, no tags, and a number of other issues that micro-manage the care we provide our pets.

Even issues of veterinarian care which should be a decision made between a pet owner and their family vet now comes under scrutiny of animal control's discretion. All of these offenses should be "fix it" citations but instead the new revised ordinance allows the county to impound your pet. Pet owners sentenced to jail for not complying with judicial sentencing are being threatened with jail terms only further endangering their ability to care for their family pets.

Instead of focusing our animal control resources on educating citizens on how to be responsible pet owners our animal control resources are being directed towards prosecuting and impounding dogs with the worst possible consequences leading to more deaths at our brand new $15 millon dollar shelter.

How this revised ordinance became "law" is even more disturbing. This revision of animal issues in Gwinnett was passed solely on the recommendations of the county attorney's with the blessing of Gwinnett's dysfunctional and highly secretive Animal Advisory Council.

Gail Laberge, the long time or should I say "life long" chair of AAC claims this group has "no power" but only acts as an advisory for the Board of Commissioners. To be clear, Gail represents the interest of local kennel clubs and not the interest of those pet owners and rescue volunteers with a vested interest in preventing pets from entering our animal shelter.

This law needs to be retracted and a dialog with the community's pet owners and rescue volunteers needs to be heard before any changes in our ordinances are passed into law.

More importantly the makeup of the Animal Advisory Board is in serious need of new blood which will include active participation by local pet owners and private volunteer rescuers who have for too long now been silenced from this process. While Laberge may be powerless to do anything but protect her own special interests WE do have the power of electing our commissioners to protect our family interests INCLUDING our families of pets.

There will be an evening session with the Board of Commissioner's on Tuesday June 24th at Gwinnett's Judicial Center. The meeting starts at 7:00 PM and the public is permitted to speak at the end. With the entire Board running for re-election it is imperative that the voices of our community's pets be represented as well as Gwinnett's other "important issues. Those of you who have something to add to this dialog are encouraged to write out your thoughts which can also be presented to the commissioners for public consideration.

WE all have strong feelings on making Gwinnett a more humane community and for moving towards a direction of building a no kill community. Aren't we tired of all the dire excuses of blame that changes nothing and allows the killing as usual become our standard animal control policy?

I look forward to seeing you there.

Permission to cross post

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

AJC - Man won't take probation, give up dogs to avoid jail

The following article has been printed in the AJC. I have prepared comments to present to our county commissioners which will address the serious problems with Gwinnett's revised animal ordinances.

It is one thing to complain about the problems these laws cause especially the resulting impact of pet owners forced to surrender their family pets or who simply dump the family pet to prevent facing being cited under the new ordinances.

Gail Laberge can claim that the animal advisory council acts only as an advisory group but it is in that capacity that this group has failed to protect responsible pet owners and more importantly the very lives of pets now at risk. Gail Laberge does not represent the interests of thousand of Gwinnett pet owners who are responsible for their family pets. She doesn't represent the rescue community either.

Holding animal advisory meetings at local resteraunts and having AAC records in disarray does not come close to complying with the laws concerning open records or open meetings.

Gwinnett's Animal Advisory Council is in need of new leadership which understands how to reach out to pet owners in the community instead of simply providing meaningless lip service instead.

Man won't take probation, give up dogs to avoid jail
Randy DeCarlo intends to complain to Gwinnett commission
The Atlanta Journal-ConstitutionPublished on: 06/18/08

A Lilburn man accused of violating the county's noise ordinance with his pack of two dozen hound dogs plans to bark at the county commission Tuesday.

Randy DeCarlo said Wednesday that he wants the commission to address his concerns about Gwinnett County's new animal ordinance and the policies — including those governing euthanizing cats and dogs — of Gwinnett's animal control department, and the county's animal advisory council.

Georgie Chidi/AJC
Gwinnett County Solicitor Joe Randazzo has offered Randy DeCarlo, seen here with a few of his dogs, a deal to avoid trial and jail: give up 10 of the 25 dogs, and accept 24 months on probation, but the 55-year-old animal rescue advocate has refused.

"Obviously, the first thing we're going to discuss is the animal ordinance and how it effect responsible pet owners," DeCarlo said.

Police issued DeCarlo 24 citations for violating Gwinnett County's nuisance noise ordinance last year. DeCarlo potentially faces 12 years in jail — six months for each of the 24 charges. Gwinnett County Solicitor Joe Randazzo has offered DeCarlo a deal to avoid trial and jail: give up 10 of the 25 dogs, and accept 24 months on probation, but the 55-year-old animal rescue advocate has refused.

DeCarlo's case, originally scheduled for trial this month, has been pushed back to August 26 in Gwinnett County Recorder's Court. DeCarlo has replaced his attorney and is seeking a dismissal, he said. He has also made open records requests of the county's animal advisory council for meeting minutes, seeking information to bolster his claim that the county's policy-making process on animal issues hasn't been open to public scrutiny.

Gail Leberge, chairwoman of the council, said her group has been in compliance with the state's open meetings laws and is open to the public. "We're strictly an advisory group," she said. "We have no powers."

Georgia Canine Coalition Opposes Banning Gas in Shelters

While the rescue community has worked long and hard trying to change the inhumane practice of ending a pet's life with the use of gas - the same kennel clubs who support GCC oppose these changes as well.

Gail Laberge, however, through her Georgia Canine Coalition OPPOSES HB 1060. Laberge wear several hats in lobbying for laws that concern our family pets. She is the longtime chairperson for Gwinnett's Animal Advisory Council which helped draft and passed one of the most repressive animal ordinances in Georgia.

Apparently the Gwinnett bill's wording which allows sentencing of six months in jail, up to $1,000 in fines and impounding of the family pet for such minor first time offenses such as dog barking, fifteen minute tethering violations, no tags on collar ect doesn't bother Gail as much as the wording on a law that outlaws the use of gas in Georgia's shelters.

Gail is also the AKC's Board Member for legislative liaison meaning she claims the knowledge and determination to protect pet owners from abusive regulations that threaten our family of pets - well, that is everyone except those who live in Gail's home county of Gwinnett.

Here's Gail's position on supporting the current laws that allow gassing in our shelters.

Georgia Canine Coalition's policy position on "HB 1060: Ban use of Gas Chambers." OPPOSE!!! The bill is currently pending before the House Committee on Agriculture & Consumer Affairs."

House Bill 1060 was introduced on January 31, 2008 and is in the House Agriculture and Consumer Affairs Committee. This bill deals with euthanasia in shelters, training and certification of certain persons authorized to euthanize animals, and the record keeping and public reporting of certain information by all rescue groups and those designated as a “public shelter agency”. It defines a “public shelter agency” as “any facility operated by or under contract with the state or any political subdivision of the state for the purpose of impounding or harboring seized, stray, homeless, abandoned or unwanted animals. Such term shall include any veterinarian or veterinary clinic which operates for such purpose n addition to its customary practice”. The GCC has serious concerns with this bill as it is written and therefore opposes it.

(G.C.C. Item 9.) HB 1060: Ban use of Gas Chambers. OPPOSE!!! The bill is currently pending before the House Committee on Agriculture & Consumer Affairs. Write (faxes are best) and urge a public hearing on this bill; tell committee members to vote NO on H.B. 1060.

Here is HB 1060 which would ban the use of gas in euthanasia of shelter animals. It always amazes me that Gail would have a problem with the wording of bills like HB 1060 but seems completely oblivious to the wording in Gwinnett's Revised Animal Ordinance.

Can we really trust Gal Laberge to protect our pets in Gwinnett?