The Georgia Department of Agriculture has terminated one employee and launched an internal audit following recent discoveries of breeders keeping animals in unsanitary and unsafe conditions.
The announcement came days after a man in Berrien County was arrested and charged with multiple counts of cruelty to animals. Reason Craig Gray, 58, operated Georgia Puppies where more than 700 small breed dogs including toy poodles, Chihuahuas and Pomeranians were found.
Some animals were packed so tightly in tiny cages they could not lie down. Others had skin infections, matted fur, dental diseases and tumors on their paws as a result of standing in their own urine and feces. The animals were sent to several licensed nonprofit rescues in Georgia and Florida for medical evaluations and will eventually be put up for adoption. Gray surrendered his pet dealer’s license to the department in early March.
The agriculture department had reported the breeder to the Berrien County Sheriff’s Office after a routine inspection, according to officials, but it was unclear how long the animals had been kept in such poor conditions. In 2018, Gray had been listed among the Humane Society’s “Horrible Hundred” which exposes problem puppy mills and puppy sellers in the U.S. When news of Gray’s violations were posted on the Berrien County Sheriff’s Facebook page, some comments called for the state department to take responsibility for a lack of oversight.
Through its Companion Animal Division, the department is responsible for regulating anyone who produces, sells, boards, grooms, offers for adoption, or exchanges pet animals.
“After a thorough review of inspection reports, it was determined that appropriate disciplinary action was required to adequately address performance issues,” said Georgia Agriculture Commissioner Gary Black in a statement. The agency has since terminated the inspector and issued a three-day unpaid suspension to the supervisor on this case, said department spokesperson, Julie McPeake. Black said the agency would also prioritize some items in their strategic plan to improve effectiveness and transparency.
Some of the policy improvements include identifying training needs and improving communication between staff, supervisors and external community partners. The agency will also require mandatory documentation of the approximate number of animals at each facility inspected. Inspectors will also be required to coordinate with local law enforcement or animal control when humane care violations are evident. Any proposed policy changes must go through a notice and comment period.
The agriculture department employs 15 full-time companion animal and equine inspectors and three field supervisors who ensure that 4,000 licensed establishments across the state are in compliance with the Georgia Animal Protection Act and that only healthy animals are sold.The inspectors work with local, state and federal agencies to investigate more than 900 complaints each year, according to the department.
If a facility is not in compliance, the owner is given a reasonable amount of time to bring the facility up to standard. Owners with repeated issues of non-compliance may have their license suspended or revoked.
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