Monday, January 26, 2009

County Attorney's seek to tighten the noose on barking dogs

County attorney's are recommended changes in the wording of Gwinnett's controversial dog barking ordinance which will all but doom that barks in Gwinnett County.

Gwinnett's County Attorney's office has taken a new approach in trying to sell it's latest version of the county's "get tough" approach on dog barking. The new ordinance proposal has moved "nuisance barking" out of section 10-33 Public Nuisance Animals and created an new

section 10-51 "Duty of animal owners to be responsible owners.

It reads:

Sec 10-51 Duty of animal owners to be responsible owners.

a) It shall be the duty of every owner or custodian of any animal to exercise reasonable care and take all the necessary steps and precautions to protect other people, property, and animals from injuries or damage which might result from their animals's behavior.

Similar to the current ordinance the county defines ordinance violations as "ANY vocalizations which are plainly audible to a person of ordinary hearing ability not located on same property as the animal or animals making such vocalizations for more then fifteen minutes without interruption" or "more then thirty minutes if the vocalization is intermittent."

The new twist is the county solicitor Allison Cauthon's explanation that the county defines intermittent barking to be any "vocalization of any animal or animals for a continuing period of thirty seconds or more on five or more occasions in any thirty minute period."

What this means for a typical owner of three dogs is if those three dogs barked for thirty seconds, stopped and then resumed barking for another thirty seconds the pet owner would be in violation of the ordinance, even if that barking was only dogs playfully chasing down local squirrels. The pet owner could face up to three terms of six months jail time, up to $3,000 in fines and court ordered disposal of all three family dogs even for an innocuous first offense.

There is nothing in this ordinance that would prohibit people from provoking dogs into barking by either making deliberate bursts of noise, rattling a fence or pointing a video camera or cell phone at one's property and filming that outburst as evidence of barking violation. Nor does the ordinance allow dogs to bark or communicate with other animals in near proximity to your property.

Unethical realtors or property owners who hate dogs could simply choose to stalk your property and film a dog's natural defensive tendency of warning of an impending breach of the domain. If your dog stands in the way of making a quick sale in this housing market your pets could simply become collateral damage in a down market.

It was clear as county solicitor who prosecutes these misdemeanor animal cases, Allison Cauthen argued over the concepts of a dog genetically inclined to bark at any person, animal or thing it would view as an intruder. This would include complaintants armed with video camera's seeking to "manufacture" evidence of barking violations to be used in criminal prosecutions.

An unknown person holding and pointing a video camera aimed at a dog should be a reasonable defense that a dog determines a threat is present, yet, our solicitor routinely uses this as evidence to convict.

While Allison claims to have been involved with animal protection issues since she was a small child and that it was this passion of protecting animals formed the very reason she attended law school she fails to understand that dogs use barking as their primary method of communication.

It would be inhumane and cruel to force pet owners, who have fenced yards, to confine their pets in cages for over 23 hours a day in order to be in compliance with the county's barking ordinance.

In an even more disturbing twist the county has thrown out to current law which states "the vocalization does not apply if the vocalization(s) are given as a warning to the presence of an intruder".

That language has been changed to "these time limits do not apply if the vocalizations are given as a warning to the presence of a person trespassing on the property where the animal or animals are located."

In effect, if enacted a pet owner would be in violation if a neighborhood thug menaced or threatened the property was located as long as that thug didn't enter or trespass on the pet owners property.

Since anyone living in a near proximity of the barking dog CAN file a complaint that leads to a citation, criminals will be rejoicing in being able to remove an animal who's tirelessly protects the property and lives of their "family".

Home owners will lose a valuable tool in preventing criminals from launching home invasions. Criminals will be protected with the use of video camera's that can remove obstacles to their criminal future criminal behavior - your dogs.

Once the dogs are gone they are free to replace the video camera with masks and weapons - this law does nothing to prevent home invasions, burglaries or other acts of violence against otherwise law abiding citizens.

The only real winners will be the criminals who prey on our neighborhoods. Once a criminal has gained access to your home often times it is too late. Dogs act as a deterrent to neighborhood crime - something that our county attorney's office seem to overlook in their quest in increasing the conviction rate on dog barking cases. Will our elected officials be equally negligent and over look thr role dogs play in protecting our homes as well?

Under these revised changes community watch programs will change dramatically. The ever vigilant canine would be disposed of, sent to our community kill shelter and disposed of as a reward for protecting the family home. Our new pet free neighborhoods might be silenced by our new found fears.

Barking is a mode of communication that is common in dogs, it may even be the result of human encouragement. Certain breeds have been bred to bark as part of their watchdog or herding duties.

Barking is used to alert or warn others and defend a territory, to seek attention or play, to identify oneself to another dog, and as a response to boredom, excitement, being startled, lonely, anxious, or teased.

Dog owners learn to understand this as a communication between them and their pets. We learn to understand when our dogs want attention or want to play. We also learn to understand when our dogs are warning us of impending threats or fear. A true animal advocate and protector cherishes and respects this as an unconditional bond between humans and their canine friends.

Barking laws in Gwinnett are the only ordinance violation that relies solely on citizen driven complaints that are typically never verified. It remains unclear what role animal control holds in investigating these violations or if an investigation is even required. Even though these charges carry potential jail time jury trials are not allowed under recorder's court rules. Animal owners are denied the same due process rights that are routinely provided thugs and criminals.

The law doesn't allow ANY barking - even if that barking is the result of an effort to train your pet. If enacted, pet owners would face serious obstacles with training a playful pup or a poorly socialized shelter or rescue dog. What effect will these laws have on anyone considering adding a dog from our shelter who might need training or a period of time to adjust. Since the law also allows ALL your dogs to be cited, even if only one or a few are actually barking, pet owners will and should be concerned about adding any dogs in the future.

Also excluded would be pet owners or their children who might want to exercise or play with their dogs in THEIR fenced yards if that play activity included playful barking with five intermittent bursts of thirty seconds or more.

This law is easily manipulated by neighbors who have issues or squabbles that have absolutely nothing to do with the dogs involved. Rather then drawing our neighborhoods together squabbles that lead to the loss of our family pets will instead serve as a catalyst for ripping them apart.

Long time residents who have chosen their homes BECAUSE of the right to responsibly have family pets can easily be manipulated and forced out by unethical realtors and home owners who don't share those values.

Over 60,000 citizens in the un incorporated parts of Gwinnett have a love affair with their family pets. The image of having Fluffy or Fido ripped from the family home is one that will serious damage an already depressed market for the homes we own.

No one wants to live in a community where a family lives in fear - that fear that their family pet could very well be next to be accused of being a "public nuisance". Our community will be judged on how we treat our elderly, our children and our family pets. That is the core values of family values.

Dog barking offenses should be treated like every other noise ordinance on the books. It is disingenuous that a property owner has the right to unlimited access to noise emitting devices not limited to power mowers, leaf blowers and an assortment of other devices while pet owners are forced to all but silence their pets to protect them from court ordered seizure, huge fines and potential jail time simply because they choose to live in and own a dog in Gwinnett.

As pet owners, we are responsible for providing the same protection to our pets as they provide our families, even if our county attorney's office does not share those same values. Pets are not disposable, you do not replace them like some worn out lawnmower an d you do speak out loudly against any government attempt that endangers them.

Advocating for animals involves fairness in our laws that protect our pets from being abused - even if that abuse comes from our judicial system that places unfair expectations on dogs who behave simply as they are supposed to behave.

Contact information for the county attorney's office who are drafting these changes:

Please forward your comments to our elected officials and remind them that your vote includes protecting our family pets. Any vote in support of these changes will be cause not only to lose that vote but our respect as well.

Polite but firm phone calls please.

Gwinnett Board of Commssioners

Commission Chairman:
Charles Bannister770.822.7010
District 1 Commissioner: Shirley Lassiter 770.822.7001
District 2 Commissioner: Bert Nasuti 770.822.7002

District 3 Commissioner: Mike Beaudreau 770.822.7003
District 4 Commissioner: Kevin Kenerly 770.822.7004

Gwinnett Animal Advisory Council

Gail Laberge Chairperson - Lawrenceville Kennel Club

Dennis Kronenfeld - Feline Issues

Dr.Timothy Montgomery - Gwinnett Municipal Association

Tricia Smith - Gwinnett Extension Service

Gloria Kennedy - Gwinnett Humane Society

Carla Brown - Member at Large

Clara Seals - Shetland Sheepdog Club of Georgia, Inc. Member at Large

Mary Lou Repress - Gwinnett Animal Shelter Director

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Yes we can change our animal welfare culture

Studies show that over 66,000 households in un incorporated Gwinnett own on the average 1.2 dogs as family pets. Over 53,000 households own on the average 1.7 cats and an even more astounding number of families in pet rich Gwinnett own both. The needs and wishes of this large voting and taxpaying block has all but been ignored for years in helping to shape the county's animal welfare policies.

One of the agenda issues for tonight's animal advisory council meeting in Gwinnett is a discussion on what the focus of the county's animal advisory council should be. Should this group be beholden to those who own and fund our county's pets OR should it simply be a special interest group that isolates county animal control and leadership with policies that control rather then serve the county's animal needs.

The Board of Commissioners created the Animal Advisory Council (AAC) in 1993 to study animal-related issues in Gwinnett, to provide a channel for dialogue, and to offer advice and recommendations to Animal Control and the Board.

It was created under the auspices that the CITIZENS of Gwinnett were desirous of establishing an animal council to study, make recommendations, and to offer professional advise to the Board of Commissioners regarding animal welfare issues. More importantly, this AAC was created to provide a channel for dialog between the citizens of Gwinnett and the Board of Commissioners they have elected. Only though this open dialog could the community's pet owners maximize the coordination of resources towards resolving the county's animal welfare issues.

Unfortunately, through the years the original inclusive membership of the AAC has morphed into a group that effectively excludes that same open and honest dialog with it's citizens. While many of the county's other "advisory committee's" include members appointed by individual commissioner's representing their district's interest - the AAC does not.

Groups like the County Transit System, Historical Restoration and Preservation, Merit Board, Planning Commission, Recreational Authority, Springfield Golf Course Commission, Tree Advisory Committee and Water & Sewerage Authority (to name a few) all include nominating processes with members from each district and one at large appointed by the county chair. The Animal Advisory Council instead relies solely on members appointed by and only with the approval of animal control.

With the dramatic increases in dogs and cats being killed at the new Gwinnett's Animal Shelter, the focus has shifted to the role the county's animal advisory council should have moving forward. Obviously, the AAC is hesitant about making any professional recommendations that might suggest changes in animal welfare policies that effect the same group that is solely responsible for approving their membership.

Commissioner Mike Beaudreau has recommended a dialog be opened with local animal advocates and pet owners on alternatives that would open up county animal welfare policies and solutions to those who feel disenfranchised in the process.

Proposals that are being raised that include term limits on how long volunteers can serve on the AAC and a process of having each of the four elected commissioners nominate one dog owner and/or one cat owner to the council therefore giving pet owners a voice in developing animal welfare policies in the county. This would be a stark contrast to the current makeup of the council which is and has been controlled by special interests if that special interest is merely appeasing the animal control interest that control their appointments..

Changing the stagnation of ideas coming out of the current AAC is only the first process in turning the tide in our shared animal welfare policies. Many local animal advocates feel that wholesale changes in the makeup of the AAC are in order to bring about fresh ideas that would save hundreds of pets that otherwise are being euthanized. This stagnation in having a voice in developing alternatives to catch, hold and kill policies is a major influence in the dramatic drop in rescue participation at the new shelter - which has seen a drop in the last year of over 30% in the number of animals moved into rescue.

While the problems associated with numbers of pets increasing in the new shelter makes finding solutions more tenuous the issue of a dramatic reduction in the number of pets going to rescue groups is more problematic. There is clear evidence that the rescue community feels not only disenfranchised in the process but fears the intimidation issues as well. The new AAC must be able to rebuild these fears with a new partnership of shared respect between the two factions.

The problems of functionality of the current makeup of the AAC runs deeper then just the process of who and how members get appointed to this exclusive group. The bylaws that created this group all but stifle off any creative thinking that might bring about improvement in operational aspects of the shelter.

Section 4 of the bylaws quite clearly states "The AAC has no independent authority to act on any of it's own recommendations" and in fact under Section 6 of the same bylaws it states "The AAC shall only submit recommendations which have been approved by a majority vote. All recommendations for action MUST be submitted in writing to the Chief of Police and Animal Control Manager. Any recommendations to the Board of Commissioners MUST be authorized by and coordianted through the Chief of Police and County Administrator.

With stringent rules like this is there any wonder that no ideas of merit ever surface upwards to our elected commissioners relaying the wants and concerns of the very citizens this group is suppose to provide dialog for? Is it any wonder that the only ideas that have come out of this group of late was the recent passage of the draconian revisions in our county's animal ordinance which not only criminalized many aspects of normal pet behavior but relieved animal control of any responsibility in investigation violations of many aspects of those ordinances?

Those entrusted with the decision making in setting animal shelter policy try to create order by closing off and isolating themselves from those and that which does not fit. They become bureaucratic with an obscured vision to the community's wants and needs while lacking the clarity needed to truly implement successful no kill policies.

Killing and control simply becomes a means to the end.

Over the next few years Gwinnett is in serious need of major changes in nor only our poorly written animal ordinances but more importantly how the county handles it's animal control issues.

We need a serious cultural shift from controlling our animal issues to providing animal services that enhance responsibly owning pets in our county.

Common sense dictates that pet owners/taxpayers are relied on to fund animal control and therefore should be entitled to help direct the county's animal policies in a "no kill" or "less kill" direction.

In an era of recessionary times animal welfare issues face the same budgetary struggles as other critical community service programs and are best served by seeking alternatives that not only point a community in a "less kill" direction but drastically reduce the costs of animal control as well.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Judges rule on proper value of a dog's life

What is the proper value of a "dog's" life? That is a question debated in legal circles for decades.

The law in Georgia still views pets as nothing more then a person's property. Yet, many county's have implemented new animal ordinances which seem to ignore both the premise that the state is not entitled to seize property without "due cause" and without upholding the constitutional issues related to due process.

"Freedom just around the corner from you
But with the truth so far off, what good will it do?"

The truth is Gwinnett's revised animal ordnances, passed in January of 2007, grant huge discretionary power to the county attorney's office in seizing, impounding, or forcing citizens through threats and intimidation to get rid of pets even over such mundane violations of the county's public nuisance animal laws.

What is even more ironic is the law was drafted, passed and is now being enforced by the county solicitor who lauds herself as an animal advocate.

"Friend to the martyr, a friend to the woman of shame,
You look into the fiery furnace, see the rich man without any name."

There is an extreme disconnect between advocating for the safety and well being of animals while proposing laws that land these animals in high kill shelters for minor infractions.

Drafting and passing an ordinance which even allows fines of up to $1,000 and jail time for up to six months on pet owners is an unusual way for the county to advertise itself as a great place to raise your family especially if that quality of life includes owning pets.

If the county continues with it's policy of treating pet owners as criminals won't we morph into a community where only criminals will own pets?

Those of us who "own" pets know better. We do not place a "replacement' value on what we view as a priceless part of our lives. A true animal advocate understands that domesticated pets are far more then simply pieces of property we own but intrinsic parts of our family that are entitled to be kept safe and protected - even if that protection is against the county judicial system itself.

"Well, the rifleman's stalking the sick and the lame,
Preacherman seeks the same, who'll get there first is uncertain.
Nightsticks and water cannons, tear gas, padlocks,
Molotov cocktails and rocks behind every curtain,
False-hearted judges dying in the webs that they spin,
Only a matter of time 'til night comes steppin' in."

Is the Gwinnett of the future nothing more then the mess we now call Atlanta? Will Gwinnett continue to push aside responsible citizens turning this county into a Clayton County quagmire? Affluent communities are nothing more then the sum product of those who choose to call it home. When that product is made up of negative influences Is it only a matter of time before night comes steppin in?

There has been an outpouring of opposition to the county's flagrant attacks on pet owners with demands that the animal ordinances once again be revisited in order that those laws represent the core values of our citizens concerning the role of our family pets. The county attorney's have once again missed the entire point in that the minor changes that have been proposed do not deal with the core issue that the county does not have the right to take property from it's citizens without equal due process being afforded to those charged with violating that same ordinance.

Just to be clear, pet owners are not entitled to a trial by jury in recorder's court. Further, there seems to be an air of arrogance with a county solicitor's animal advocating office that makes it it's own rules of discovery by lowering the bar of a defendant being guilty until and if they can prove innocence beyond a reasonable doubt as opposed to a recognized standard that people are indeed innocent until the state proves their guilt.

This whole process makes a mockery of justice in our county court with an assumption that the court's primary function is to extract and generate revenue for the county as opposed to being a court room where justice is served. Maybe it's a little too much to expect our county courts to understand the role pet's play in a community's vibrant lifestyle but what excuse do our elected officials have?

Judges rule on the proper value of a dog's life

Some families wouldn’t take a million dollars for their pet. But, to the law, a family pet may be nothing more than a piece of property.Molly is a dachshund and is part of the family as far as Mark and Mindy Leith and their boys, Corbin and Colby, are concerned.
At the end of April 2006, Molly, who was 7 years old then, was in the Leiths’ back yard in Lincoln. Another dog, allegedly their neighbor’s Siberian husky, Cosmo, got out of its yard, over or under two fences, and attacked Molly.When Mindy Leith got home, the attack was under way. She saw Molly being ripped apart by the bigger dog she recognized as Cosmo. Mindy got between the dogs, kicking the attacker, which growled and lunged at her while a bleeding Molly crawled under a table, her body torn open.
The Leiths rushed Molly to their veterinarian in Atlanta. They were told to take their dog to the animal hospital at the University of Illinois immediately if they wanted to save her. There was no hesitation.Molly spent three days in intensive care in Urbana.
The Leiths visited every day. Their dog had four broken ribs, muscle damage, a punctured lung and cracked vertebrae, but she lived. The cost of keeping Molly alive was $4,784.72.
The Leiths took out a loan to pay the bill.In 2007, the Leiths sued Cosmo’s owner, Andrew Frost of Lincoln, for their medical and travel costs.
On Sept. 26, 2007, in Lincoln, 11th Circuit Court Judge Paul Lawrence found Frost negligent and that Cosmo had indeed attacked Molly. However, the judge awarded the Leiths just $200 despite the fact that they were out more than $4,700 in vet bills.
The judge based the damages on testimony from an area kennel owner and dachshund breeder. She testified that a dog Molly’s age and breed is worth $200, tops. The judge found that, according to Illinois law, the damages awarded by the court could not be more than the dog — their property — is worth.Illinois law can treat a pet as if it were a car. If a car is worth $5,000 and the owner pays a repair bill twice that amount, then goes to court to recover the $10,000 from the driver who hit him, the court would probably rule that the owner cannot be awarded more than the value of the car.
The only time intangibles come into play is if the monetary value of the car, pet or family picture of Aunt Matilda is negligible, perhaps having only emotional value to the owner.
Both sides appealed Lawrence’s ruling to the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals in Springfield. The Leiths argued that the damages should be higher. Frost said there is no proof that it was his dog that attacked Molly so he shouldn’t have to pay anything. Attorney Nick Burgrabe of Lincoln represented the Leiths, and Andres Padua of Bloomington argued on behalf of Frost.
The Leiths testified that Molly is like a member of their family. She goes with them on vacation. She sleeps with the boys. Anyone who has ever had a beloved pet knows you can’t put a price tag on that. But if you could, it would be more than $200.On New Year’s Eve, appellate court Justices Thomas Appleton, Sue Myerscough and Robert Steigmann agreed. Appleton wrote the decision.
The crux of it is that Molly’s market value at the time of the attack was negligible. The judges questioned whether anyone would pay $200 for a 7-year-old dachshund that was not a show dog.But, Appleton wrote, the Leiths “demonstrated how much Molly is worth to them by paying $4,784 for the dog’s veterinary care.”
The family, said the court, should be awarded the full amount.Padua said it is too early to say whether Frost will ask for a rehearing or take this to the Illinois Supreme Court.Molly had no comment other than a wag of her tail.
Dave Bakke can be reached at 788-1541 or

The Death of Animal Welfare Politics

There will be a meeting of the Gwinnett Animal Advisory Council tomorrow evening (January 20th (2009) at 7:00 PM) at the county shelter. There are a number of issues on the agenda including a follow up on proposed changes in the county's dog barking and tethering laws.
In addition the council will begin discussing the role that the animal advisory council has in serving the needs of pet owners in the community. The agenda is posted at the following link:

The shelter has released it's annual shelter report for years 2007 and 2008. Those figures are posted at the following link:
The figures just released show many disturbing trends since the new shelter was opened. For the 5600 dogs that found themselves in our brand new shelter facility over half - 2966 - would die in that facility. Only 924 of these beloved dogs would be reunited with their owners.

The numbers were even more disastrous for cats. Of the 4823 cats that went through the county shelter, 80% - 4025 were killed.

One would assume that Gwinnett didn't need to spend several million dollars if the sole purpose was to find new and more innovative ways to kill our way to animal control. Yet, under the current policies and advise of our leadership in animal welfare issues the number of dogs and cats being killed in our new facility are staggering - in two short years the kill numbers have gone from 5400 dogs and cats to 8000.

While the problems with the economy have been frequently used as excuses for the an increased amount of killing in our new shelter the figures compiled by animal control don't support that claim. In 2008 animal control did have an increase of about 500 canines (15%) and 700 felines that were picked up on the road but it is unclear whether this increase is the result of an increased occurrence of dogs not being properly restrained or owner abandonment.

More discouraging is the 50% increase in the number of stray cats picked up by animal control. The number of stray cats picked up has grown from 1700 a year in 2006 to close to 2500 in 2008. This would appear to be a shift in focus on ridding the county of feral or yard cats by animal control. Cats dropped off at the shelter as owner surrenders increased by 300 during the time period of 2007 to 2008 from around 2000 to 2300 and yet this number is down from the number posted in 2005 of over 2600. There does not appear to be a correlation of an increased number of pets being surrendered at the shelter by pet owners effected by our current economic turmoil.

Sadly, the number of pets being killed that the new shelter has risen as well. Dogs being killed at the shelter has increased from 2100 in 2005 to close to 2700 in 2007 to close to 3000 in year end 2008. This represents an increase of over 33% over the past three years. If we do nothing at all this number will continue to escalate.

While the number of cats being killed remained constant during the years of 2005 through 2007 with 3000 cats being killed that number rose dramatically in 2008 to over 4000 cats dying in our new shelter - again an increase of over 33 percent.

Despite a claim on the shelter's web site of an increased number of pets being adopted or placed in rescue adoptions have dropped off from a high of over 2300 in 2005 to 1982 in 2007 and 1906 in 2008. Despite all the promises of providing the community access to a new facility it would appear that the new shelter is not showing any increase in the number of pets adopted out of our new shelter.

By far the most disturbing number in the 2008 annual report is the drop in number of animals going to rescue. Those numbers show 1770 animals rescued in 2007 as opposed to only 1200 on all of 2008. One is left to wonder why our new shelter is having such a problem with placing dogs and cats into rescue despite having access to a brand new facility supported by the rescue community.

The only area of animal control that seems to be trending upwards is in the number of citations being issued. Perhaps thanks to the changes in our county's poorly advertised animal ordinance in January of 2007 the total number of citations issued has increased from 1400 in 2005 to close to 2300 in 2008.

Has the county's animal welfare focus shifted from saving and rescuing pets to cracking down with criminal enforcement of our new ordinance? Citations issued for "nuisance" animals has rose 20% in 2007 while the number of pet owners issued citations for "restraint" almost doubled. Citing rather then educating pet owners appears to be the focus of Gwinnett's current pet enforcement trends.

Pet owners throughout the county are outraged with the direction our pet friendly community has taken. Impounding dogs that bark, threatening responsible pet owners with jail and the total disregard with seeking real solutions for the thousands of innocent pets that end up in our new "state of the art" shelter needs a leadership voice that has been lacking with our animal advisory council. Please plan on attending and giving your voice and support for those voiceless victims who cry out.

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