Rescue of puppy highlights the need for police presence

The little brown puppy, hipbones and ribs far more prominent than her lifeless eyes, appears dead in the first photo taken in DeKalb County’s animal shelter.

But an IV of water and nutritional supplement perked up Xena, named after of a TV warrior, and turned her into a living example of why county animal services offices are under the auspices of police departments, despite a growing public pressure for change.

“Animal cruelty is like any other crime, and it’s not going to be deterred if there is just a little fine when you get caught,” said Sgt. Tim Medlin, the officer who started DeKalb County Animal Services animal cruelty unit in 2008 and is interim director of the department.

DeKalb and neighboring Gwinnett spend $2.76 million and $2.3 million, respectively, to handle stray and unwanted pets. Since last year, resident task forces in both communities have pushed for more money, while imploring county officials to make changes that will reduce the number of animals euthanized.

The counties have pursued some recommendations, such as adding two adoption coordinators to the one-person team in DeKalb. But officials haven’t yielded on another common demand — to move the department out from under police control.

It makes sense to keep the animal services where they are, county officials say, since police are usually the first to respond to calls of animal bites or attacks.

In Xena’s case, an investigator found the four-month old lab-mix in a yard near Decatur late Saturday evening, after a resident called to complain of a stray, Medlin said. A detective is now trying to find someone who recognizes the puppy and can lead police to the owner, who faces cruelty charges.

The case is one of about 150 cruelty investigations DeKalb handles every year. About a third of them end up prosecuted as felonies by the county district attorney, Medlin said.

“Sometimes, the only way you’re going to wake someone up is to put handcuffs on them and take them to jail,” said Lynn Herron, president of Friends of DeKalb Animals, the rescue group that is caring for Xena. “I think the cruelty unit is one of the best things that has ever happened in DeKalb.”

One of the new adoption coordinators was on duty when Xena, cold to the touch and near-death, was given IV fluids while officials took pictures to document her case.

To everyone’s surprise, the basic treatment brought the dog around. No one could bear to see the little fighter put down, so they called Medlin and requested the dog be transferred to the rescue – where new hire Christine Kaczynski is a longtime volunteer.

He agreed. Kaczynski has since taken the puppy to a vet twice and is fostering her in the hopes she will survive.

Kaczynski posted Xena’s story Sunday on Facebook, where a page she started for the puppy had attracted 4,400 friends by midday Monday. A web site accepting donations for her care was near $8,000 Monday. Any money that isn’t needed for Xena will go to other animals in the rescue’s care.

Herron said medical tests should be in Tuesday to show what treatment Xena will need. It will likely be at least two months before the puppy is able to be adopted.

If officials think an animal has a good chance of being adopted, they will work to keep it at the shelter as long as possible to try to get the happy ending everyone now prays Xena will have.

“I have another 150 dogs down here with a story, maybe not the same as hers but their own,” Medlin said. “We go out every day to investigate and we are here every day if you want a dog you can play with and love.”

Support real journalism. Support local journalism. Subscribe to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution today. See offers.

Your subscription to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution funds in-depth reporting and investigations that keep you informed. Thank you for supporting real journalism.