The Fayette County Animal Shelter debacle continues

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Citizens await their turn to question the Fayette County Commission about failures at the new Animal Shelter. Photo/Vicki Leopold.

By VICKI LEOPOLD


Tami Hurst has been an animal lover for as long as anyone can remember. So it was not surprising that she enthusiastically rose to the occasion after receiving panicked calls from residents who had attended the ribbon cutting ceremony for the new Fayette Animal Shelter on April 11.

Tami went to see the new facility for herself. What she expected to see was something in line with the values and wealth of the Fayette community, something state of the art and animal supportive for the $3.25 million dollar project now located at 1127 Ga. Highway 74, Peachtree City, just minutes from the old shelter. Quickly, it became apparent to her and others that something was very, very wrong with the new facility.

Cat awaits its future in a small cage at the new Fayette County Animal Shelter. Photo/Vicki Leopold.
Cat awaits its future in a small cage at the new Fayette County Animal Shelter. Photo/Vicki Leopold.

Tami knew in her heart that there was no way she could or would look away while animals were suffering. Dogs were injuring their tails hitting them against the walls of their too small kennels, dogs were standing in their urine and feces, cats were placed in tight locations that blocked the outdoor light keeping the rooms darkened , the drainage seemed to spread from kennel to kennel instead of into a proper basin and the place stank due to poor sanitation and ventilation.

There appeared to be general system mismanagement as well. The interim manager had not ensured that regulations and protocols were developed and followed. There was no volunteer training program, safety equipment for staff and visitors was missing, missing also was shade and outdoor water spigots for the dog runs nor proper places for puppies to be housed. She and other community members, veterinarians, dog trainers, animal lovers, refuge/rescue people from all over Fayette County joined forces to form a Task Force to improve the new shelter. The task force started voicing their concerns with the commissioners in the April town meetings.

Then on May 13, Tami Hurst and Gail Drouillard met with County Commissioner Charles Oddo, County Administrator Steve Rapson and the shelter interim manager Reginald Jordan and Ted Burgess, Chief Procurement Officer.

The task force spearheaded by Tami Hurst, made several suggestions that could improve the facility and improve the well being of the animals. However, the facility itself seemed poorly designed.

The Task Force continued going to county commission meetings because little appeared to be happening in response to their complaints. At April 25 meeting of the county commission, Mr. Rapson was asked how the cost of this SPLOST-money building could have tripled and the result be so inadequate.

He responded, “We are all going to have to take the blame,” but no specifics were shared as to how or what changes would ensue.

Meanwhile the Task Force was growing quickly as more residents became concerned about their tax dollars and the suffering animals. Then residents discovered that they were not able to get access to the facility. Trainers coming to assess the dogs for adoption and others coming to evaluate the facility were denied access.

How could residents be denied access to a public building? The Task Force mobilized. At the May 23 Board of County Commissioners meeting, the room was full of advocates. Some wore red shirts which stated, “Speak for those who have No Voice.”

Twenty plus residents signed up and addressed the elected officials and staff. Residents were astonished and angry over the failings of the new shelter. How did the commission spend over triple the amount originally budgeted without proper planning, oversight, community input and due diligence?

One resident stated unequivocally, “You all have failed us, each one of you.”

One speaker called the new shelter “a prison.” Another speaker, Cindy Coe who lives in Whitewater Creek, said this was her first meeting and she went because she was concerned. Cindy was not planning on speaking but became motivated when it seemed clear to her that the dogs were suffering and the commissioners did not do their job.

Cindy continued, “What was disturbing to me is that the commissioners are not taking advantage of the free professional guidance offered to improve the shelter.” She compared the planning and due process when building one’s home to the lack of when building the new shelter on the taxpayers’ dime.

Many speakers including one local Fayette veterinarian, Jennifer Alvarez, spoke of Dr. Staci Cannon, a distinguished veterinarian who teaches at UGA Athens, and is highly regarded for her writings on proper animal shelter procedures. It seems that Dr. Staci Cannon has volunteered to come to Fayette and help remediate for free if the commissioners will ask her directly. Again and again the council was urged by residents to get the help from UGA.

County Administrator Steve Rapson and the County Commissioners Lee Hearn, Edward Gibbons, Charles Rousseau, and Charles Oddo, (Eric Maxwell was not in attendance.) did not give a public response to the complaints.

Were they not proud of this new multimillion dollar facility? Did they not have confidence in the operation and the manager? Steve Rapson has stated for this article that Fayette County takes these issues seriously and they are working hard to find solutions, implementing some and studying others. Some improvements have been made.

Staff remains committed to working with our animal advocate partners and volunteers to ensure we have a facility that meets our needs now and in the future,” Rapson said. In other words, now we have to fix this over budget, poorly planned facility.

In September, 2019 the AJC reported that Fayette commissioners had approved 1 million dollars “toward the design and construction” of a new animal shelter that would be a great improvement over the old one. Initially there was discussion that the new one would be just for the dogs and the old one would be refurbished for the cats. This idea was scrapped.

In 2023, bids for the shelter were sent to over 100 builders and only 4 companies responded. Pro construction won the bid with the lowest cost of $2,971,416. They had never worked with the county but Animal Control checked their references and deemed them satisfactory. The county then added over $1,593,950 dollars along with additional funds and donations. The total amounted to over $3.2 million.

Now three months after the ribbon cutting and public outcry, no one has taken real responsibility or explained how this project had been so grossly mismanaged, over budgeted and poorly built. Is this the best we can do in Fayette County?

If you want to be involved: Fayette County Community Animal Taskforce on Facebook or Watchdogs@actaskforce.com.  — Reported by Vicki Leopold.

16 COMMENTS

  1. I’m a little confused over this article. What I had understood pre shelter was that the Commissioners and a task committee was formed. The task citizens were made up of concerned citizens who wanted this to be perfect housing.

    Today concerned citizens are gathering with complaints of what wasn’t done, what’s needing to be done and etc. also, who to blame for the inadequacy of such.

    The Commissioner’s, in my opinion, have worked well with the concerned citizens. A gathering of these people want to attend the next Commissioners meeting in frustration, per this author.

    I asked for a synopsis of what has been corrected, action items and future projects. Here is what I received. I believe Mrs. Leopold was sent this very document.

    Animal Shelter Improvements

    Evaluated and Implemented
    Reviewed and revised volunteer training and procedures.
    Dog beds installed in each kennel.
    Walking trails enhanced grass cutting program.
    Created four separate exterior dog runs adjacent to back of facility.
    Installed secondary gate enclosure at the backdoor entrance.
    Modified cleaning procedures.
    Enhanced backdoor exit leading straight to new security gates along each side.
    Enhanced side door making it a secured area with new security gate.
    Each dog run has a secured gate.
    Created sitting area in cat adoption room.
    Updated new address location website and Google.
    Cat room rearranged to open-up the windows for natural light.
    Enhanced (4) Outdoor dog runs included shading with benches.
    Chew toys dogs each kennel.
    Staffing facility analysis – adding AC Officer and seasonal funding.
    Ensure vaccination policy is strictly followed in-take animals.
    Conducted volunteer training and approval.
    Staff review all standard operating procedures.
    Enhance signage – old location, new location Highway 74 and on-site.
    Trainers allowed access to evaluate Restricted Observation dogs (Scheduled)
    Create safe pathway crossing across asphalt surface for dog walking.
    Establish Phase II Grass cutting (2-Wk) bush-hog site; (1-Wk) pathway.
    Hung new white board for dog walker notifications.
    Validated (4) Water sprinkler faucets are outside back to building with keys.
    Hung large printing of different dog breed types.

    Underway
    Audio/Video enhance safety monitoring at front counter.
    Flooring slippery wet – researching nonslip application.
    Evaluating infectious disease, cleaning, and sanitation protocols.
    Create new walking trails.
    Adding backdoor keypad access for volunteers.
    Outdoor enclosure – dog kennel (Relocate old shelter).
    Cat Condo for interior front counter.
    Install wall mounted TV cat adoption room.
    Creation (5) outdoor dog runs (1) dog park run.
    Creation safety cache for catch poles and bite gloves – kennel.
    Change automatic light switch cat room so it’s not motion activated.
    Welcoming aesthetics – artwork, decals, color scheme, puppy feet etc.
    Additional 2023 SPLOST funding – pending FY2025 reallocation.

    Under Evaluation
    Feral Cats – kennel transfer cages.
    Hiring part-time dog walkers vs. volunteers.
    Evaluate Humane Society Training program humanepro.org/trainings.
    Enhance Volunteer Training program and scheduling.
    Staff customer service training.
    Evaluate fresh air in-take system in operation.
    Whiteboards short description animal, behavior, walkability, and friendliness.
    Establish lead volunteer coordinator for the shelter training program.

    Pending – Phase II/Future
    Establish design team working group.
    Create outdoor gathering area for community interact dogs.
    Create outdoor cat shelter – fresh air, sunshine, nature.
    Dog Park & Livestock Shelter.
    Seeking RFI 2419-I (Request For Information)
    2419-I – Animal Shelter Facility and Operation Enhancements.
    (Issued May 17; Responses Due June 11).
    Notices sent to: Atlanta Humane Society, Dogs at Play, Society of Humane Friends, Shelter Medicine Program UGA, Dr. Cannon, Team Shelter USA, Fayette County Website, Georgia Procurement Registry.

    Evaluated and Rejected
    Evaluate Missy trap for stray dogs – existing traps adequate.
    Phase II mulching dog pathway.

    • Hey there. I appreciate your comment. However, none of these changes would’ve ever been made without the advocates pointing out they were needed. We have been told numerous times that advocates were asked for input, yet names have never been given as to whom was asked. Fayette County is small, the rescue world is smaller. No advocates or citizens with an animal welfare knowledge base were asked. To say that is complete dishonesty. The saddest part of this entire equation to the county administration is the lack of ownership for the mistakes. Mistakes are very easily forgiven when someone owns them and apologizes. When someone fails to accept responsibility and ownership, it’s simply discouraging. Again I appreciate your post, but please have conversations with someone more informed

    • Silverfox: Let me assist you with understanding. There were NO animal advocates or leaders of recognized animal non-profits or rescues involved with any part of the design or build of the new FC Animal Shelter. There absolutely was an animal advocacy group that began existence in 2017, was recognized by then commissioner Steve Brown and their focus was animal ordinance revision and TNVR program. That group was never recognized by the county manager or any of the other four commissioners at that time. This group ended with the task and did NOT play a part in shelter discussion. The same can be said of the group of volunteers who met with the former director – they did not provide input on the new shelter build. I respectfully suggest that you seek out other viewpoints other than county staff. You might want to search out the Fayette County Community Animal Taskforce FB page and follow that. Citizens are justified in their disappointment with the way $3.2 million was spent to create a sub-standard animal shelter.

  2. Who approved the project design? Who supervised construction? It seems to me that no proper oversight was provided, now the animals suffer the consequences of this lack of accountability. We ended up with a third world facility in the middle of a wealthy county.

  3. Thank you for writing this article, helping to properly inform the citizens of Fayette County on the sad state of our new animal shelter. It’s a shame that the commissioners and Rapson have refused to accept the offer from national animal shelter expert Dr. Staci Cannon DMV,PHD (UGA) to visit FREE of charge and offer expert advice!

      • That’s the problem. The Engineering Department performs plan reviews, design services, and overseas construction. From the County, “The Engineering Department manages the County’s Transportation SPLOST program, implements and enforces several Articles within the County’s Development Regulations, performs plan review, provides in-house design services, and oversees infrastructure design and construction within the County.” I cannot imagine animal shelter design and construction as a new challenge. Surely, if the Engineering Department led the new animal shelter project, we would have created a better-suited animal shelter.