Clayton pushes to open long-delayed animal shelter

Clayton County Animal Control Center: AT-A-GLANCE (Current vs Proposed)

Current facility

Built: Mid-1980s.

Staff: 15 (three from the Clayton County police department).

Capacity: 107 animals inside. Outside kennels hold an additional 45.

Odd fact: Besides dogs and cats, the shelter has held hawks, pigs, horses, goats and snakes. It currently has an aquarium full of fish abandoned by owners.

Previous use: It was used to board canines during the 1996 Olympics.

Proposed facility

Cost: $4 million*

Size: about 15,000 square feet

Capacity: 150 animals inside.

Estimated to open: early 2016

* Raised in a 2009 Special Local Option Sales Tax

Animals Taken In/ Animals Placed/ Animals Euthanized

2010 7,507/1,905/5,596

2011 6,442/1,707/4,713

2012 6,080/3,240/2,820

2013 6,053/4,162/1,869

2014* 2,729/ 2,310/ 341

* As of July 31.

Clayton County animal control officers had noticed the illnesses cropping upa spate of parvo here and rash of mange there.

It didn’t take long for them to conclude that the building being used as the animal shelter, with its poor ventilation and overcrowding, was contributing to the sickness.

Voters agreed and quickly approved a tax increase to pay for a new $4 million facility.

That was five years ago. But the shelter has yet to be built. Its construction has been delayed by a recession, a change in county leadership and setbacks in finding a new site for the shelter.

Now the new administration has taken on the task. County Commission chairman Jeff Turner said a new shelter is needed more than ever in the Clayton, which has seen its animal population increase dramatically in the last two decades, severely stretching the services and capacity of the current facility. Lack of spaying and neutering is only part of the problem.

“We’re seeing more abandoned animals and people not being responsible pet owners,” said Clayton County Police Chief Greg Porter, whose department has been in charge of the shelter since 1988. “We’re seeing a lot more animals roaming around.”

Turner vows to have the new shelter open by early 2016. The current facility in Jonesboro was once used to board dogs during the 1996 Olympics, but it was never meant to be a long-term solution to the county’s growing wayward animal population.

“When I came into office in 2013, I made (the new shelter) a high priority,” Turner said.

His predecessor, Eldrin Bell, said the county was unable to construct a new shelter during his administration because of the recession. Then it became an matter of having enough money to run the facility when it opened.

The county is now ready to look at the issue again. “There has been some movement,” Turner said. “But it takes time. We’re working with developers and architects. It’s just a lengthy process.”

That process was made even longer when county officials recently learned the initial proposed site was an old landfill that would take at least a $1 million to make into a suitable habitat for animals. In response, Turner announced last month that the new facility would be moved to Anvil Block Road, where it will become part of a new complex that includes a police precinct.

Getting the animal facility opened has taken on renewed urgency in recent weeks. Shelter officials have butted heads with some animal rights group over accusations of poor conditions, overcrowding and mass killings at the current Jonesboro facility.

“Clayton really needs to build that new shelter,” said Amy Adams, co-founder of Partners for Pets.

“There’s not enough space (in the current one), and it’s not designed for the wellness of animals,” Adams said. “There were always sick dogs. It’s an old building and poorly designed. It was never meant to be an animal shelter. An animal shelter needs to have good ventilation and good drainage system and must be segregated from good dogs. Some (dogs were) coming in with parasites. There was problems with parvo, mange, worms and every other problem you can imagine.”

The shelter drew additional attention recently after animal rights groups learned shelter staff had euthanized 22 animals over one weekend. Porter said the facility, which holds 152 animals, was full at the time and had not euthanized any animals in about a month. An overwhelming majority of the animals that come to the shelter are pit bulls and pit bull mixes. Pit bull is one of five breeds Clayton will not allow to be adopted because of public safety concerns. In fact, the breed made up about 95 percent of the dogs at the facility during a recent tour of the operations.

Porter’s staff is trying to address the problems. A new group of top managers has joined the shelter in the past two months, and county commissioners recently approved the addition of two more positions — rescue coordinator and vet technician — at the shelter . The shelter has been working for the past several years on becoming a “low-kill” facility. It’s also working to coordinate better with animal rescue groups.

“We have challenges like any of the other surrounding shelters,” Porter said. “But we’re doing a good job.”

It’s an assessment shared by at least one animal rights group and the state agency that monitors animal shelters statewide.

“Our group has had no problems with the previous or current administration of the shelter. We haven’t had any issues whatsoever,” said Diviya Roney, founder of the Friends of Clayton County Cats.

An inspector with the Georgia Department of Agriculture, which oversees the state’s 700 animal shelters and animal rescue groups, has spent quite a bit of time at the Clayton shelter recently to provide guidance to the new management.

“We have not had any issues of noncompliance with the Clayton shelter for the last six months,” said Mark Murrah.