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Breaking News in Macon, Georgia

National Animal Shelter Reform Week (November 7-13, 2010)

Police Internal Affairs Investigation of Animal Shelter Drawing to a Close

Macon Gas Chamber Demolished

Shelter Reform Attends Gas Chamber Ceremony

Macon's Gas Chamber to be Demolished on April 13, 2009!

Your Emails Shook Macon's City Council into Action!

Director: Macon Animal Shelter Under Internal Investigation

Economy 'Pounds' Pets

National Animal Shelter Reform Week
November 7-13, 2010

November 4, 2010: There's no better time than National Animal Shelter Reform Week for the City of Macon to decisively implement the changes needed to shift out of its current high-kill business model. Shelter Reform is urging the decisionmakers in Macon to not let this auspicious opportunity pass the city by. The time is now.

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Macon Police Internal Affairs Investigation of
Animal Shelter Drawing to a Close Soon

March 15, 2010: Shelter Reform had maintained a voluntarily-imposed "gag rule" since the Spring 2009 launch of the Internal Affairs Investigation into a litany of allegations of animal cruelty, abuse, and neglect at the Macon Animal Control facility. Shelter Reform personnel had abided by this self-imposed rule through the tenures of the first two investigators/administrators presiding over the Investigation. Now that the second individual has transferred to another division (after insuring that a police lineup erroneously omitted during the first investigator's tenure was properly scheduled and conducted and attempting to tie up other loose ends), a third officer is now in charge of bringing this long process to a close.

Kathy Selbrede's letter to Lt. Governor Cagle reportedly triggered the investigation a year ago. The bulk of the witness interviews were conducted at the law offices of Shelter Reform's counsel to provide a safe haven for the witnesses coming forward, while the first police lineup was held downtown at the police department (a second witness's lineup is still pending). Once the final report is completed, it will be sent to the Chief of Police for review. The Chief will then decide how to act upon the results of the Report, after which the Report's contents will become available for public review under the Freedom of Information Act. Shelter Reform has acquired hundreds of pages of Shelter documents through Open Records Requests to better scrutinize the situation that recently prevailed at the Shelter (although there are indications that the reported improvements are more than mere propaganda, they actually have substance).

Shelter Reform desires to see justice done with respect to any officers guilty of abuse, cruelty, or neglect. If such individuals are identified, they should be barred from further interaction with animals. Their continued presence at the Shelter is inconsistent with the recent marked improvements that have been reported.

While Shelter Reform has recordings of all the witness testimony, those are being held in trust while the proper law enforcement mechanisms are brought to bear upon the situation at the Shelter.

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Macon Gas Chamber Demolished

April 14, 2009: While meat tenderizers got a corner on the action the previous day, it was heartening to see the real demolition work on the Macon Animal Shelter gas chamber concluding the next morning. We were able to capture the action on camera below. This was all that was left of the device by 11 AM.

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Shelter Reform Attends Gas Chamber Ceremony

April 13, 2009: We didn't visit Macon to rain on their parade, but it rained anyway -- badly enough to prevent use of a PA system and keep everyone hunkered down under the roof of the intake dock where Macon's gas chamber is located. The parking lot overflowed, forcing us to park in the mud next door with many other attendees. Due to liability issues, the sledgehammer originally advertised had to be scaled down to a small gold-painted meat tenderizer with a ribbon on it. Unfazed by the change in demolition tool, some dedicated attendees worked over one corner of the chamber long enough to gouge a significant hole into the cinderblock structure. It was, in other words, a day of powerful symbols for all sides to the conflict over the gas chamber.

Notable attendees we recognized included Larry Schlesinger and Nancy White of the Macon City Council, and Patti Jones of Central Georgia CARES. Heart of Georgia Humane Society was represented by Donna Conaway, Carol Lentz, Myshea Robinson, and Laurie Chance. Mary Crawford of All About Animals, Jari Green of Save A Pet, Shelter Director Jim Johnson, Assistant District Attorney Kim Schwartz, Police Chief Michael Burns, and many other interested parties were in the crowd. Three TV stations covered the event, and we were there running two high-definition video cameras ourselves. We'll upload our video after we get back to Texas. The Macon Telegraph posted a brief article (no longer available). Liz Foster of WMGT (NBC 41) posted her brief but fair synopsis on her station's website. We expect to see other articles, perhaps by Kimberly Burden of 13 WMAZ and by FOX-24.

Shelter Reform wonders why the shelter building (where animals are held) was completely closed off to visitors (even those needing to use the restroom inside). (IMPORTANT NOTE: We previously reported that a shelter administrator/technician "made it quite clear to Kathy that she did not want her picture taken and was visibly resentful over the transition to lethal injection and the hoopla over it, expressing dislike for lethal injection when asked about it." However, Paula Fuller of the Macon Animal Shelter has graciously informed us that, with the exception of Jim Johnson, all shelter staff had been instructed to remain inside the building throughout the ceremony.) We have a ton of material we need to digest concerning the good and the bad about this important transition day. While there were clear strides made today, which we do not intend to demean or diminish, not all that glitters was gold. The much-ballyhooed "certification" that five staff members received in conducting EBI (euthanasia by injection) is problematic. Read here to understand why this is so. The certification, as described by Jim Johnson to Kimberly Burden of WMAZ, was not a state certification nor did it involve any higher authority than the city veterinarian watching the techs doing EBI on Friday April 10. This struck us as an ad hoc certification, rather homespun and self-authorizing. Kathy has already made clear her documented reservations about the city veterinarian in regard to the lack of veterinary care received by Ana and Brandon in the story that launched this website. We can only hope the city vet is a much better teacher than he is a steward over the shelter animals under his presumed care.

After the Macon meat tenderizer ceremony, Kathy visited the animal shelter at Warner Robins for several hours to get the lay of the land there. (Editor's Note 3/15/2010: The culture of cooperation that exists in Warner Robins -- city working with the rescuers with all sides focused on the animals' welfare -- is slowly starting to be practiced in Macon, where opposition between city and rescuers/animal advocates had historically prevailed prior to the demolition of the gas chamber.)

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Macon's Gas Chamber to be Demolished on April 13, 2009!

April 9, 2009: Shelter Reform has learned that the gas chamber at Macon Animal Control is to be demolished Monday, April 13, 2009 at 11:00 AM. Swings with the sledgehammer are reportedly being sold for $10 per swing to benefit the animals at the shelter. Macon City Councilmember Nancy White has been identified as the source of this initial report. If the demolition proceeds as reported, one of the primary purposes of the founding of Shelter Reform will have been achieved - a relief to us, and to the many folks in Macon who have worked very hard for years to get rid of that inhumane death chamber.

There are 78 days between April 13 (demolition day) and July 1 (the original decommissioning date for the gas chamber) -- 78 days during which dogs will not be euthanized in that gas chamber. If only ten dogs a day on average were being euthanized, that would represent 780 dogs spared a horrific death. In his late March interview with FOX 24 WGXA-TV (since removed from the station website but preserved here by Shelter Reform), Macon's shelter director asserted that 30 dogs a day are now being euthanized. At that rate, 2,340 dogs will have been spared untold misery thanks to the actions of the Macon city officials in accelerating the demolition of the chamber. This is a civic decision that Macon can be justly proud of -- it's an example to other cities who still have operating gas chambers. This is the Macon Animal Shelter’s first major step into the 21st century. Let us hope the rest of the process is handled just as decisively!

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Your emails shook Macon's City Council into action!

April 11, 2009 the Macon Telegraph on-line edition posted a story here in which a City Councilman "made a special point to relay his annoyance" about the mass of emails sent to City Council members. "Just tell 'em to stop sending me the damn emails," he said. "Where are these people coming from?" The story's opening line calling animal lovers "fanatical" not only reveals that the number of emails being received was impressive, it also sheds light on where Macon's media (or at least this reporter) stands regarding the issue. The article ignores the suffering inside the gas chamber and skirts the issue of the number of dogs being horribly killed inside the device. The official's fixation on cash comes through clearly. He may not have intended his position to sound like he was holding the animals hostage for money, but that's the conclusion one takes away from the story as written. (To read about how money was never the issue that kept Macon dragging its feet over ending the use of its cruel and inhumane gas chamber, read City Councilman Erick Erickson’s blog.)

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Internal Affairs Investigation of Macon Animal Shelter

This WMGT (NBC 41) news report originally appeared on the station website. It was posted by reporter Rachel Schaerr. It was a great start in directing attention to the Macon Animal Shelter, but the report was misleading due to errors and misstatements.

Director: Macon Animal Shelter Under Internal Investigation (March 24, 2009)

Macon Police are conducting an internal investigation after residents have complained about operations at the Macon Animal Shelter.

Each year the shelter takes in 6,000 dogs and cats. More than half are put to sleep.

The Macon Animal Shelter uses several methods for euthanasia, though the most common is carbon monoxide poisoning in a gas chamber.

While visiting the shelter, City Councilman Larry Schlesinger says he was present when 17 animals were killed in the gas chamber. "What I heard was about thirty seconds of what I would term squealing," said Schlesinger. "It sort of went a level beyond whining. And it just let me know, this was through cinder block walls no less. "

After his experience, he and other city council members joined forces to try and stop the use of carbon monoxide in Macon's shelter. "A society is judged by the way it treats the most vulnerable inhabitants, and I think we could do a much better job," said Schlesinger.

The Macon City Council passed a resolution to end that method by July 1st. Lt. Eric Walker with the Macon Police Department says the city is in the process of remodeling the animal shelter building to add a euthanasia room. Once it is built the gas chamber will be destroyed.

Many consider the gas chamber inhumane. Some animals are sedated before going to the gas chamber, others are not. But, there is no national standard. Afterwards, officials are under no mandate to check for a heartbeat. Johnson says he knows of no animals ever surviving, and added "it's not possible".

The Georgia law is different for animals killed through lethal injection. In that case, animals are tranquilized. Then, officials check for a heartbeat, which is why it is considered a more humane way to euthanize.

Macon Police Lt. Eric Walker says the shelter has passed recent state inspections conducted by the Georgia Department of Agriculture, which are conducted at random several times a year.

Errors in the reporter's story:

1. The statement that "more than half" of the 6,000 dogs and cats entering the Macon Animal Shelter are “put to sleep” every year is a gross understatement:

-- There were 4,964 dogs and animals euthanized in 2008. That's more than 82% of the dogs and cats that entered the Shelter (assuming the 6,000 figure is correct).

-- Animals at the Macon Animal Shelter are not “put to sleep,” they are killed by putting them all together, unsedated, in the Macon gas chamber. Click here to read first-hand testimony about what this is like for the animals in Macon's gas chamber. Click here and here to see what the Macon gas chamber looks like. Can you imagine 17 dogs packed together in this small enclosure?

2. Councilman Rabbi Schlesinger confirmed to me on March 4, 2009 that the Macon Animal Shelter is still using their gas chamber and is NOT yet doing any lethal injection. If the Macon shelter IS using "several methods" of euthanasia, then what, exactly, are they?

3. Macon city officials could have ended the use of their gas chamber in 2008, but Mayor Reichert, Animal Control and Animal Shelter Director Jim Johnson, Police Chief Mike Burns and the City Attorney opposed doing so, using budget concerns as their excuse.

4. Money is not the obstacle that prevents Macon from ending the use of their gas chamber immediately (see post by a Macon council member here).

5. Even with a “euthanasia room,” replacement of the current Macon Animal Shelter Director and staff with competent and compassionate individuals is absolutely essential to ensuring that Macon’s animals are treated humanely at every step during their stay in the Macon Animal Shelter. Click here to read about why a competent and compassionate staff is critical.

6. The gas chamber is inhumane. Click here to read about gas chambers.

7. Ms. Schaerr's article might be understood to imply that the Macon Animal Shelter may sedate some animals before putting them into the gas chamber. Whether or not this has ever occurred we cannot say, but we can state with confidence that this is not routine practice, that most animals are not sedated when they are placed all together in Macon’s gas chamber.

8. Confirmation of death for ALL euthanized animals, for all forms of euthanasia, is indeed required by law (O.C.G.A. § 4-11-5.1 2008). Confirmation of death by a "qualified person" is required, but since animals have survived gassing in Macon (see #10 below), the staff members were clearly not qualified to confirm the death of the animals that revived.

9. The Macon Animal Shelter does not comply with the Georgia Code (O.C.G.A. § 4-11-5.1 2008) that requires qualified people to be present from the start of euthanasia until the animal is dead. Georgia law is clear: "No dog or cat may be left unattended between the time euthanasia procedures are first begun and the time death occurs, nor may its body be disposed of until death is confirmed by a qualified person." On March 9, 2009 when Rabbi Schlesinger testified before the House Sub-Committee in Atlanta, he said he witnessed Macon’s gas chamber in operation in January of 2008 (click here for his full testimony). He testified that after the gassing, the presumably dead dogs were left in the chamber, unattended, for several hours. When Rabbi Schlesinger asked the person who had operated the chamber why the animals were left in the chamber all day, the man answered, “To be sure they’re dead.” The hideous experience ended sometime in the afternoon when a dump truck arrived and the contents of the chamber were simply dumped into the bed of the truck, transported a short distance to the landfill, and discarded like garbage.
When the sub-committee hearing was over, someone asked Rabbi Schlesinger if the animals were not put into plastic bags before being dumped into the landfill. The Rabbi said when he observed the gassing, they were not; but at some point after his visit, the pound began putting the bodies in bags because citizens with children who had brought their household garbage to the landfill had complained about the dead bodies piled up. This poses an even worse nightmare: animals possibly awakening inside plastic bags ...

10. It is indeed possible for animals to survive the gas chamber. Eye witnesses confirm that some animals are alive after they are removed from Macon’s gas chamber. One eye witness has yet to tell his story publicly. The other is an employee at the City Dump and fears retaliation for coming forward. (Verified reports of dogs nationwide that have survived gas chamber euthanasia, such as Quentin and Grace, are only the tip of the iceberg.)

11. Animals are not always tranquilized before euthanasia by lethal injection. Sedation is done at the discretion of the euthanizer.

12. Lethal injection, when it is performed by a competent and compassionate person, is the most humane method of euthanasia. Confirming death by checking for a heartbeat after an animal has been euthanized is an issue that is separate from the form of euthanasia used. Verification of death is a critical part of making ANY form of euthanasia “humane.”

13. Changing from gas chamber to lethal injection will not solve the problems for Macon’s animals. A compassionate and competent staff is absolutely required to humanely administer any form of euthanasia. See the article posted here. Considering the Rabbi’s testimony in number 9 above, and the true stories posted by Kathy and Myshea, the reader can draw his/her own conclusion about the compassion and competence of the current Macon Animal Shelter staff.

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The following WGXA (FOX 24) news report originally appeared on the station's website on March 24, 2009, but was later removed. It was posted by reporter Adam Hammond. We've cleaned up some typographic and grammatical errors that were in the original posting. We have strong misgivings about the motivations behind the original report, as well as the depiction of the situation as presented. As time permits, we will post a response to this material.

Economy 'Pounds' Pets

The economic turmoil is affecting every segment of the population including the animal kingdom. Experts say as the economy gets worse the population in animal shelters is rising.

"I'm seeing maybe two or three people a week bringing in animals saying they can't afford it anymore. So yeah it's happening," said Macon Animal Control Director Jim Johnson.

Johnson says the Macon Animal Shelter is near capacity with around a hundred animals a week. He says they have euthanized up to thirty a day. Not only are animal shelters around the country seeing an influx because of the economy, but they're also seeing a decline in donations.

"Sometimes the donations don't have to be in the form of cash. I know they need towels, blankets, and bleach. There are things you have in your closet… in your linen closet that they desperately need down here," said Dr. Linda Smyth.

Veterinarian Edsel Davis says people don't realize the costly venture of buying a pet, and that's why the Macon Animal Shelter picks up abandoned animals off the streets daily. He says there are areas of pet care you can save, but knowing if you can or cannot afford a pet could save a life.

"There are some expenses involved and there are really no short cuts to doing those kinds of things. There are generics now that you can use rather than brand names so to speak," said Veterinarian Edsel Davis.

If you decide you can afford a pet and that situation won't change in worsening economic times there are a few things Davis says you must do for your animal. They must get all necessary shots and heartworm treatments as well as flea care.

Jim Johnson says he's watching the economic climate closely to determine what the rest of the year will be like for his shelter.

"We're set up to take them everyday now. So we can take in more. We'll just have to move things around and do as we do everyday," said Johnson.

If you can donate food, supplies, or even gently used towels, contact the Macon Animal Shelter at 478-751-9200.

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The light of public scrutiny

The reported surge in volunteers working at the Macon Animal Shelter, driven by the spirit of cooperation between community groups and others working with Shelter staff, in conjunction with some facility improvements, are driving the slow transformation of Macon Animal Control. The glowing reports, which first seemed to be nothing short of "salting the mine," are apparently become self-fulfilling prophecies. Shelter Reform is pleased to see the promising initial results of these partnerships between the community and the Shelter.

Comments we posted

In response to Rachel Schaerr's report, we submitted the following comments to the WMGT website and are hoping the Moderator will post them soon. (We invite you to send comments there too, as well as rate the original story with a high score to draw further attention to it).

The Macon community wants to get rid of the gas chamber. Many (if not most) Council members co-sponsored the legislation. All opposition came from Mayor Reichert who claimed there was no money (though he found $15,000.00 to move a boat model to City Hall). Head of Animal Control, Jim Johnson, finally lowered his cost estimate $150,000.00 to ~ $50,000.00 to change from gas chamber to lethal injection, and subcommittee recommended the legislation not go into effect until July 1, 2009. Mayor Reichert, Chief of Police Mike Burns and the City Attorney all still tried to stop the legislation. Schlesinger and Ellington spoke in favor of it. In the end, Council passed the legislation with the July 1 compromise date. Read Councilman Erickson’s own words about the subcommittee meetings here.)

Councilman Erickson’s own words (here) about City’s subcommittee meetings on gas chamber legislation: Jim Johnson, “... the head of Animal Control (AC) said he needed ... stethoscopes. ...Schlesinger... asked why they did not have them already. ... head of AC admitted that ... (in) Macon ... they pile all the animals ... together, lower them into the gas chamber, and then raise them up ... make a visual inspection to see if any ... are alive. ... a dump truck ... carries them off to the landfill. ... Humane Society told how ... animals ... had been recovered from the land fill still alive."

There were 4,964 dogs and cats euthanized at the Macon Animal Shelter in 2008. If the reporter is correct that 6,000 animals enter that facility annually, the percentage euthanized would be 82.7%. This means that while the report is technically true that "more than half" entering were euthanized, that characterization is still misleading. It was more than two-thirds, more than three-quarters, and more than four-fifths! "More than half" paints too rosy a picture, and it's an understatement that ill-serves the animals in that facility.