Originally created 03/19/00

Strengthen animal advisers

The Augusta Commission will consider an ordinance Tuesday, proposed by Commissioner Stephen Shepard, to officially expand the role of the Animal Control Advisory Board.

We urge that it be adopted.

Since the recent mass euthanasia of more than 80 dogs at the animal control facility, the advisory panel has taken a much more active role than its mission calls for -- at least according to some commissioners and Mayor Bob Young.

The mayor says it's basically a "dog-bite board," not an investigative or policy-recommending panel. Others disagree, saying probing dog bites was the smallest mission the board had.

Shepard's proposal would clear up the question. The measure deserves to pass because -- whatever its responsibilities were supposed to be -- this particular animal advisory board has been on the side of the angels at a very critical time.

It provided salient (and sad) information, starting last November, that neither the Commission nor the general public were aware of, eventually forcing longtime Animal Control Director Jim Larmer to resign. Among the panel's shocking reports:

Inhumane treatment of the animals -- including much more euthanasia than reported; hosing down dogs in cold cages; and not vaccinating newly arrived animals.

Lack of record-keeping or knowledge of money expenditures, except for animal control workers' salaries.

More than 2,700 animals missing or unaccounted for, resulting in potential lost revenues of nearly $95,000. This finally triggered a much-needed audit of the facility.

The advisory board has earned its stripes. If members like Brad Owens and Sally Manning hadn't blown the whistle, the above abominations would still be going on. And what's to ensure they won't recur? They almost certainly will if the mayor's pinched view of the panel's mission prevails.

Commissioner Willie Mays makes the case for why the board's responsibilities should be defined upward: Although technically it's the Commission's job to monitor what goes on at animal control, as a practical matter commissioners don't have the time.

The advisory board -- as it has been doing the past several months anyway -- can be the Commission's eyes and ears, reporting back and making recommendations as needed.


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