After years of complaints from residents about the county’s animal control facility and program, DeKalb leaders have vowed to correct the problems.
“We’re going to roll up our sleeves,” said DeKalb CEO Burrell Ellis after the release of a report by a resident-led animal task force. “We’re going to get busy.”
The most expensive part of the plan to improve animal services is the proposed replacement of the shelter with a 31,000-square-foot facility on at least four acres of land with an improved kennel area, space for educational opportunities, an outdoor exercise area and a pet mall.
With a construction cost of $250 per square foot, such a building would cost taxpayers $7.75 million, according to figures in the report.
The current facility is not “an inviting place…to adopt a pet, to work or to volunteer,” said Susan Neugent, who headed the task force.
According to the task force’s report, “the administrative areas [of the shelter] can be described as an embarrassment at the very least, [and] the kennel areas, especially the areas housing dogs, are an abomination.”
The task force said the building “has reached obsolescence and cannot sustain its current mission.”
Ellis said the current facility is not “meeting the standard that needs to be met.”
“Our workers do a tremendous job at keeping it as clean as they possibly can, but we can do better,” Ellis said. “Our citizens are demanding that we do better.”
Neugent said there is “irrefutable evidence that these conditions….can be reversed in very short order.”
A new facility would be a “place where families want to come to adopt, where employees want to come to work and volunteers are eager to go.”
Ellis announced last week that the county government had identified three potential county-owned sites for a new animal services facility. The sites are a building on Camp Circle Road, one on Covington Road and at the corner of Kensington Road and Memorial Drive.
“Within 12 months we may be able to start construction of either a new facility or an upgrade of an existing building,” Ellis said. County staff is currently developing cost estimates for each site.
In addition to studying the replacement of the facility, Ellis has asked commissioners to approve $133,000 to fund six additional animal services officers. The six officers, in addition to four positions previously authorized, will bring the total to 10 additional officers for these operations.
Ellis asked for $365,000 to fund HVAC improvements, which will be in addition to $100,000 already approved to correct deficiencies with the current air conditioning system.
“We are considering it an emergency,” Kelvin Walton, chief procurement officer, said during a Board of Commissioners’ finance committee meeting.
Commissioner Lee May said, “This is one of those emergencies… that meets the threshold of us being able to pull from our rainy-day fund.”
May apologized publicly for not taking an active role in addressing the problems of the shelter when he took office.
“It was horrible six years ago,” May said, reflecting on a tour of the shelter he took at the time. “It’s something that didn’t [rise] to the level of importance that it should have within me.”
Ellis said that a request for proposals to potentially outsource all, or part of, the animal control function is in final review and will be ready to publish in two weeks.
“One of the things that we hear very loudly from the citizens of DeKalb County is they want a quality animal services operation,” Ellis said. “We’re going to do everything we can with the resources we have available to deliver that.
“We have an opportunity now to be a model for animal services in the state of Georgia,” Ellis said.
Ellis said finding the money to address all of the task force’s concerns will be a challenge.
“We can’t do everything in that report in one day,” Ellis said. “We’re going to have to do it piecemeal and we’re going to have to set priorities.”
One of those priorities, Neugent said, should be to follow the lead of successful animal service programs that save the lives of 90 percent of the animals that go into their care.
“Reducing our 60 to 70 percent euthanasia rate to below 10 percent, vastly improving the quality of life for our family pets, and building a program to make DeKalb a national leader in Georgia and even the Southeast in fairly short order is well within our reach if we implement this plan,” Neugent said.
Commissioner Kathie Gannon said the task force’s report is “on target.”
“It would be very beneficial for our citizens to go to the center to see the center with the idea of actually looking at adoption, perhaps, so that they can understand what we’re going through,” Gannon said.
The issue with animal services is not just about the animal shelter, said Commissioner Sharon Barnes Sutton.
“It’s also about making sure that our citizens are safe to go for walks in their neighborhoods [and] they’re not afraid to walk off their porches,” Sutton said.