Atlanta residents almost lost their dog catchers Wednesday because of a dispute over elephant rights and a county commissioner's late arrival at a meeting.
The city's animal control agreement with Fulton County would have expired at midnight, but in an emergency session county commissioners narrowly approved extending it until Sept. 19.
The two governments are embroiled in a territorial feud that started over the treatment of circus elephants but threatened to nix an essential service for nearly a half million people. Animal control includes picking up dead, stray or dangerous animals.
Before keeping the service going, a Fulton commission meeting turned into something of a circus itself, with a heated argument breaking out over procedure.
"Any action that we take here today is going to be an illegal act," Commissioner Robb Pitts charged after his colleagues ended a public meeting, then called a new one so that latecomer Tom Lowe could be their needed fourth vote to accommodate the city.
At Pitts' prompting, Fulton became Georgia's first jurisdiction to ban bullhooks last year. But Atlanta won't go along and took Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus' side when it successfully petitioned a Superior Court judge to block the ban in February. Concerns have been raised that the ban could run the circus out of Philips Arena.
The Atlanta City Council adopted an animal control ordinance this year that did not abolish the sharp-tipped training tool.
Several miffed county commissioners, considering whether to ink a formal animal control contract with the city, have suggested the county decline. Fulton provides the service countywide through contractor Barking Hound Village Foundation, with cities paying based on the number of calls they generate. Atlanta paid $1.2 million last year.
The new contract would last until June 2013. The short-term extension will keep the service up while the dispute is hashed out.
David Bennett, senior policy advisor for Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed, said if the county yanks the service, the city's backup plan involves contracting directly with Barking Hound. Since Atlanta's call volume has the city paying 60 percent of the county contract, that would leave the other 13 cities paying more for the service.
"We don't want this to go away," Bennett said of the current arrangement. "We appreciate them continuing along."
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