DeKalb animal advocates addressed the Dekalb County Commission during their meeting Tuesday April 23, 2013. They confronted county leaders over delays in approving a new animal shelter based on geography.
Photo: KENT D. JOHNSON/ AJC
Photo: KENT D. JOHNSON/ AJC

Residents push for action on DeKalb shelter

Their red shirts pinned with photos of homeless pets, dozens of DeKalb County animal advocates confronted county leaders Tuesday over what they see as unnecessary delays in getting a new shelter.

“There is a lot of politics going on, and in the meantime, there are animals dying,” said Sonali Saindane, a teacher from central DeKalb who heads the county’s animal services advisory board. “We need action.”

CEO Burrell Ellis and allies on the county’s commission put forward a plan last month that would speed up construction on a new facility advocates have argued is critical to reducing the number of unwanted pets in the county.

The plan: use $2.75 million in federal stimulus money to design and start construction of a shelter on five acres adjacent to DeKalb-Peachtree Airport in Chamblee.

A center is a key goal named in 2012 citizen task force report on DeKalb animal services. The report was especially damning about the existing shelter, calling the dilapidated building off Memorial Drive a “chamber of horrors” where humans and animals alike suffered amid bug infestations, mold and other problems.

Still, county officials expected a new shelter would be delayed until at least late 2014, in part because of struggles to find a large enough parcel with easy access.

County administrators and members of the advisory board recommended the PDK location after reviewing 83 other sites in the county and ranking them based on price, timeline and access for would-be volunteers and adopters.

Commissioner Jeff Rader, in sponsoring the PDK site, noted that the county’s airport owns the land in question. That lowers the cost of the $8 million project and clears the way for work to get started on construction by year end.

Commissioners representing the south end of the county put the brakes on the plan, however. They complain that the shelter would be an hour away from some parts of DeKalb, limiting the ability of residents there to get involved.

“I would suggest that accessibility to a larger share of the county is needed,” said Commissioner Lee May, whose district includes Lithonia and other points southeast. “I just want to take a look at that.”

That lag incensed advocates. Residents have pushed for years to get county leaders to change how they handle stray pets.

Last month, they were thrilled when DeKalb approved outsourcing its shelter operations to a local non-profit, LifeLine Animal Project. Both sides have yet to sign a final contract

But it was the push back on the shelter location that drew the ire of more than 60 residents who made a show of force during Tuesday’s county commission meeting.

Commissioners delayed a vote on the issue at the meeting, asking for time to study an overview of the site selection that Ellis’ Chief of Staff, Hakim Hilliard, submitted late Monday.

Ellis, who addressed advocates outside the the commission meeting, said he expected approval of the PDK site in May, when commissioners next take up the matter.

“I think everyone is committed to this,” Ellis said. “I can tell you, my administration and I are ready to go.”

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