Originally created 09/13/98

Animal control story sparks public action



It was business as usual at the Richmond County Animal Control center last week -- and then some.

Augusta residents responded to an article in Sunday's editions of The Augusta Chronicle about 10,788 animals being put to death in the shelter's carbon monoxide chamber last year with:

Phone calls seeking information on spaying their animals.

Adoptions.

Outrage over the use of the gas chamber instead of the more humane lethal injection and the practice of selling animals for medical research.

The department took in about as many animals as usual, but adopted more than normal and killed fewer.

The city's "Augusta Cares" phone line rang off the hook Tuesday with calls about animal control issues, said Augusta Administrator Randy Oliver.

"I had several people call and ask me if the animal problem was really that bad," said Animal Control Director Jim Larmer. "I said, `Yes, it's really that bad. This is the reality."'

But Augusta commissioners, including the chairman of the committee that oversees animal control, expressed little interest in the problem or the animal control department.

Only Mayor Pro Tem Lee Beard has visited the center recently. Mr. Beard went earlier this year.

Commissioners Jerry Brigham, Freddie Handy, chairman of the commission's Public Services Committee, which oversees animal control, and Stephen Shepard said they had never been to the facility.

The rest, including Mayor Larry Sconyers, said they had been sometime in the past.

Of the 10 elected officials, only one, Mr. Shepard, said he had read the newspaper story.

Several said it was a shame that animals had to be put to death and they would consider doing what a state inspector recommended more than a year ago -- shut down the carbon monoxide chamber and start killing the animals by lethal injection.

"I think lethal injection is the route we should go, inasmuch as it's the quickest and more humane way," said Commissioner Willie Mays. "It was suggested some time ago, and if it's not being followed, I think we need to find out why. We need to have some reasons why we're not doing it."

Shelter personnel said they do not use lethal injections because it takes two people to administer them and it is more stressful on the employees.

"While I respect their having a stress level, it's a helluva stress on the animals," Mr. Mays said.

In addition to being less humane than lethal injection, the chamber -- an old converted vacuum chamber formerly used to suffocate unwanted animals -- is too small, the inspector noted in the report.

Current inspector Billy Carroll said the Richmond County facility is the only one in the 21 counties that he inspects that still uses the carbon monoxide chamber.

Athens-Clarke County did away with its carbon monoxide chamber when the city and county consolidated in the early 1990s, Mr. Carroll said.

"I'd look at any humane way to do it," said Mr. Shepard. "If we bring it through the committees I'd certainly consider it."

Mr. Sconyers said he would have to find out more about what's being done at the center before commenting.

Not so with Augusta resident and animal activist Kathy Akridge.

Ms. Akridge said if commissioners will accept a petition gathered by phone she will have a designated phone line installed in her home so people opposed to the gas chamber can call in to add their names.

Mr. Larmer said several people called to complain about the newspaper picture and story, which outlined the scope and nature of the problem of thousands of unwanted, abused, sick, abandoned or vicious animals.

But the pictures and story were needed to "shake these people into reality that they need their animals spayed or neutered," Mr. Larmer said. "And they need to get these strays up off the street and help us resolve the problem."

"We do not like to put animals to sleep, but we have no other option. Of course, we pick out the worst animals, the ones that are non-adoptable. And that's just the facts of life.

"I'll guarantee you I've had people that have worked out here that have to come off that portion of the job for a while because it's very stressful for them to do it," he said. "The people reading the article are not the ones who have to go through that."

Last year Augusta destroyed more animals than any of the 20 counties around metro Atlanta, except Fulton County with far greater populations.

Fulton County killed 19,016 last year, including animals from the Atlanta city shelter. DeKalb County, with a population of 618,700, put 9,738 to death, while Cobb County, with a population of 551,498, destroyed 7,494.

Augusta's unwanted animal population is twice that of Greensboro, N.C., where Sheriff BJ Barnes caused a nationwide sensation by televising the euthanasia of a dog to dramatize the plight of unwanted animals in Guilford County, N.C.

Guilford County, with a population of 400,000, killed almost 11,000 animals by lethal injection last year. The county has twice the human population of Richmond County but the same number of animal deaths.

BYLINE1:By Sylvia Cooper

BYLINE2:Staff Writer

It was business as usual at the Richmond County Animal Control center last week -- and then some.

Augusta residents responded to an article in Sunday's editions of The Augusta Chronicle about 10,788 animals being put to death in the shelter's carbon monoxide chamber last year with:

Phone calls seeking information on spaying their animals.

Adoptions.

Outrage over the use of the gas chamber instead of the more humane lethal injection and the practice of selling animals for medical research.

The department took in about as many animals as usual, but adopted more than normal and killed fewer.

The city's "Augusta Cares" phone line rang off the hook Tuesday with calls about animal control issues, said Augusta Administrator Randy Oliver.

"I had several people call and ask me if the animal problem was really that bad," said Animal Control Director Jim Larmer. "I said, `Yes, it's really that bad. This is the reality."'

But Augusta commissioners, including the chairman of the committee that oversees animal control, expressed little interest in the problem or the animal control department.

Only Mayor Pro Tem Lee Beard has visited the center recently. Mr. Beard went earlier this year.

Commissioners Jerry Brigham, Freddie Handy, chairman of the commission's Public Services Committee, which oversees animal control, and Stephen Shepard said they had never been to the facility.

The rest, including Mayor Larry Sconyers, said they had been sometime in the past.

Of the 10 elected officials, only one, Mr. Shepard, said he had read the newspaper story.

Several said it was a shame that animals had to be put to death and they would consider doing what a state inspector recommended more than a year ago -- shut down the carbon monoxide chamber and start killing the animals by lethal injection.

"I think lethal injection is the route we should go, inasmuch as it's the quickest and more humane way," said Commissioner Willie Mays. "It was suggested some time ago, and if it's not being followed, I think we need to find out why. We need to have some reasons why we're not doing it."

Shelter personnel said they do not use lethal injections because it takes two people to administer them and it is more stressful on the employees.

"While I respect their having a stress level, it's a helluva stress on the animals," Mr. Mays said.

In addition to being less humane than lethal injection, the chamber -- an old converted vacuum chamber formerly used to suffocate unwanted animals -- is too small, the inspector noted in the report.

Current inspector Billy Carroll said the Richmond County facility is the only one in the 21 counties that he inspects that still uses the carbon monoxide chamber.

Athens-Clarke County did away with its carbon monoxide chamber when the city and county consolidated in the early 1990s, Mr. Carroll said.

"I'd look at any humane way to do it," said Mr. Shepard. "If we bring it through the committees I'd certainly consider it."

Mr. Sconyers said he would have to find out more about what's being done at the center before commenting.

Not so with Augusta resident and animal activist Kathy Akridge.

Ms. Akridge said if commissioners will accept a petition gathered by phone she will have a designated phone line installed in her home so people opposed to the gas chamber can call in to add their names.

Mr. Larmer said several people called to complain about the newspaper picture and story, which outlined the scope and nature of the problem of thousands of unwanted, abused, sick, abandoned or vicious animals.

But the pictures and story were needed to "shake these people into reality that they need their animals spayed or neutered," Mr. Larmer said. "And they need to get these strays up off the street and help us resolve the problem."

"We do not like to put animals to sleep, but we have no other option. Of course, we pick out the worst animals, the ones that are non-adoptable. And that's just the facts of life.

"I'll guarantee you I've had people that have worked out here that have to come off that portion of the job for a while because it's very stressful for them to do it," he said. "The people reading the article are not the ones who have to go through that."

Last year Augusta destroyed more animals than any of the 20 counties around metro Atlanta, except Fulton County with far greater populations.

Fulton County killed 19,016 last year, including animals from the Atlanta city shelter. DeKalb County, with a population of 618,700, put 9,738 to death, while Cobb County, with a population of 551,498, destroyed 7,494.

Augusta's unwanted animal population is twice that of Greensboro, N.C., where Sheriff BJ Barnes caused a nationwide sensation by televising the euthanasia of a dog to dramatize the plight of unwanted animals in Guilford County, N.C.

Guilford County, with a population of 400,000, killed almost 11,000 animals by lethal injection last year. The county has twice the human population of Richmond County but the same number of animal deaths.