Cobb County Animal Control, Marietta, GA
Cobb County Animal Control receives approximately 650 – 700 cruelty complaints each year. All complaints are investigated, but we only charge individuals in a small percentage of these cases. If the complaint is one that can be managed through educating an animal owner on how to properly maintain an animal, then this is the avenue we use first. We give the animal owner a deadline to correct the problem and then we re-inspect. If the problem still exists, then we may charge them with cruelty if it seems the animal owner is indifferent to the animal’s needs, or an unwillingness to comply. In many cases, we help the animal owner by providing them with dog houses or other supplies to help them get on the right track.
In cruelty cases where we must take a more aggressive approach, we are usually dealing with animals that must be immediately removed from a filthy, unsanitary environment, life threatening situation, or some other situation that is not conducive to the health and well-being of the animal. Our first and foremost concern in cruelty cases (other than simple neglect cases) is to remove the animal from the environment. The Animal Protection Act of 2000 provides Animal Protection Agencies with the ability to negotiate with animal owners in regards to surrendering the animals in lieu of prosecution. We frequently negotiate the release of the animals to CCAC as a means of resolving a case instead of charging the individual with cruelty.
Many factors are taken into consideration before CCAC makes a decision to charge an individual with cruelty:
- If the individual is a “collector” or “hoarder”, in all probability it is not the first time we have dealt with them, or the conditions are so bad that we must intervene, not only for the sake of the animals, but for the people living in these conditions. Unless you have personally been inside a residence where 20 or more animals have lived and defecated and urinated everywhere, literally to the point where the floors are covered, you cannot truly fathom what these living conditions are like. All too frequently we find dead animals in these houses. These situations are not only detrimental to the health of the animals involved, but are a considerable health risk to other animals in the neighborhood, other people in the neighborhood, including children, and to the Animal Control workers that must go into these houses to remove these animals. The stench of urine and ammonia is so overwhelming that we have to wear protective clothing and respirators to enter these houses. In many of these cases, the Code Enforcement Office of the jurisdiction where the residence is located will immediately condemn the house as uninhabitable and will make the residents leave the residence.
- Failing to prosecute an individual known as a collector results in these people going right back into the business of collecting animals again, sometimes in the same residence, sometimes in another neighborhood. No one wants to live next door to an animal collector. The smell is not contained to just the interior of their house, and the animals are frequently allowed to come and go from the residence at will.
- Collectors are found in all areas of the County. This is not a problem that is found in just one area of Cobb County. We have dealt with collectors in North, South, East, and West Cobb, in Vinings, Marietta, Acworth, and Kennesaw. We have been in $50,000.00 neighborhoods, and $200,000.00 neighborhoods.
- A psychological profile on animal hoarders has been developed. The majority of the hoarders we deal with fit most of the characteristics identified by this profile. This is not a problem that is unique to Cobb County. There have been extensive studies in this area to shed light on why some people live with large numbers of animals and live in deplorable conditions. You have to have some understanding of these individuals and their mentality regarding animals. The Animal Protection Act of 2000 provides that any individual convicted of animal cruelty may be required by the sentencing judge to undergo a psychological evaluation prior to sentencing.
- When we decide to take warrants on an individual for cruelty instead of charging under the county ordinance, one of the main reasons for doing this is to try to get some “control” of the individual if convicted. It is imperative that the defendant be ordered by the court not to have in their custody, own, harbor, possess, or in any way have contact with any animals while on probation. We are not always looking for jail time in these cases. Animal collectors will frequently ask to be allowed to keep one or two animals. We equate animal collectors to alcoholics. Soon, one or two animals is not enough, and within a few months they are back in business again.
- Collectors do not spay and neuter their animals, and allow them to breed indiscriminately. The result is a large number of in-bred animals that usually have numerous medical issues. These animals are not adoptable candidates. We have impounded animals that were found to have numerous physical disabilities. The only humane thing to do for these animals is to euthanize them.
Cruelty cases are usually very time consuming and costly to investigate. It is not simply a matter of entering a scene and removing a few animals. The following is a scenario of a case we became involved in 18 months ago:
We received a complaint about a lady who lived in an affluent Marietta neighborhood. The neighbors’ primary complaint was the horrific smell coming from the lady’s house. This case occurred in August when the temperatures were in excess of 95 degrees. After entering the residence, it was evident that these conditions had developed over many months, probably years.
An animal control officer responded to the complaint. It was apparent just by standing on the lady’s front porch that she was a collector. The officer observed numerous cats in the windows and could see that the inside and outside of the house were extremely cluttered. This officer also found it very difficult to breath because of the smell of ammonia even though all the windows and doors of the house were closed.
The owner of the house allowed this officer to enter the house. The officer did not get past the living area of the house before notifying us of the situation. The officer stated that there was so much clutter in the home that you could not move through the house. The officer advised that there were a large number of cats and everything was covered in feces. This officer had been with Animal Control approximately 5 years. He informed us that this was one of the worst cases he had seen.
This case occurred on a Friday afternoon around 1700 hours. When we arrived on the scene, we could smell the odor from the street. We met with the lady and discussed her options. Initially the lady did not want to relinquish the cats to CCAC. We tried for about an hour to convince her this was in the best interest of the animals. The owner would let us in the residence but continued to refuse to relinquish the cats. At this point we made arrangements for a veterinarian to meet us at the scene. When the vet arrived, he entered the house and within a few minutes advised us that these conditions were cruel and inhumane. We advised the owner the animals would be removed pursuant to the Animal Protection Act of 2000. Due to the extreme conditions in the house and the elevated temperature in the house, our officers had to wear protective clothing and respirators. Even with the personal protective equipment it was difficult to work in the residence and officers were experiencing difficulty staying in the residence for more than a few minutes at a time. We requested Marietta Fire Department meet us at the scene so we would have emergency medical personnel standing by. We also requested the use of their ventilation fans to try to make entry into the residence more tolerable.
With our arrival and then the arrival of the Fire Department, this situation became a “spectacle” for the neighbors. It was not long before most of the neighbors had gathered across the street to observe the activity. Several of the neighbors were drinking and becoming intoxicated. We had several Marietta Police Officers standing by for crowd control and to keep the intoxicated neighbors out of the scene.
The Sheriff’s Office Crime Scene Unit was utilized for approximately three or four hours to photograph the scene and each cat at the scene, then again to photograph each cat as it was processed into the shelter.
The majority of the cats were feral and could not be handled. The veterinarian and CCAC officers had to tranquilize many of the cats. The majority of the cats were very sick with upper respiratory infections. Several of the cats were pregnant. It took approximately three hours to capture about 25 cats. There was so much clutter in the house that it was impossible to locate all of the cats. We had to set several traps inside the house to try to capture the remaining cats. We had to go by the house several times daily to remove trapped cats. In all, we impounded 30 to 35 cats.
An operation such as this is massive, time consuming, and costly. These cases take a lot of manpower to manage. This kind of situation also poses a significant health risk to ACO employees who have to go in and remove the animals.
The following are examples of what CCAC must do to handle a cruelty case involving large numbers of animals:
- Cruelties involving large numbers of animals generally require four to six officers on the scene to capture the animals, tag the animals, photograph the animals, and load the animals. While these officers are on the scene, another three to four officers are at the shelter preparing neckbands, cages, food and water bowls, shots, etc.
- We have learned from past experiences and court cases that each animal needs to be identified and photographed at the scene, then again at the shelter.
- Each animal removed from the scene has to have a shelter card completed describing the animal impounded. This is required by the Department of Agriculture.
- Each animal must be entered in the computer immediately to ensure that these animals do not get onto the floor and accidentally adopted or euthanized.
- All animals impounded must be immediately evaluated by a veterinarian. Any animal in need of immediate medical attention must be transported to a veterinarian clinic. Other animals displaying symptoms of disease must be isolated and treated, or euthanized if the condition is one that could be easily spread through the kennel.
- All animals impounded must be vaccinated prior to being housed in the kennel.
- Cages must be cleaned and prepared to receive these animals. Food bowls and water bowls must be filled.
- Each animal must be tagged with a neckband. Neckbands are used as a means of identifying each animal.
- All animals are initially examined by a veterinarian upon impound. However, this exam is only to identify which animals are healthy enough to be housed in “general population” at the shelter, and which ones must be isolated or quarantined. This exam also identifies medical concerns that need to be immediately addressed, i.e., physical injuries, upper respiratory infections, etc., that require immediate treatment. All animals are then further evaluated a second time, usually the next day, to determine other conditions that may be detrimental to the health of the animals, i.e. parasite infections, heartworms, feline leukemia, skin conditions, etc. Veterinary costs are usually extensive in cruelty cases. This is a direct indication that the health of the animal was never properly maintained. In cases involving large numbers of animals, our costs have run into thousands of dollars.
- If the owner relinquished the animals to CCAC, then the animals may be immediately placed for adoption or euthanized if not adoptable candidates. A great majority of these animals are not properly socialized and cannot be handled by people. This is another concern in regards to the safety of CCAC employees. In addition, CCAC cannot assume the liability of offering animals for adoption that are not properly socialized.
- If the owner refuses to relinquish the animals, then CCAC must serve notice to the owner as required by the Animal Protection Act of 2000. This “Notification of Impoundment” is to advise the owner that they have a specified time to request a hearing pertaining to the impoundment of their animals. Failure to request a hearing within this time frame means the animals become property of the county. If the owner requests a hearing, then a hearing must be scheduled within 30 days of the request. Our hearings are conducted by an Administrative Hearing Officer. The cost of such a hearing is approximately $1000.00. However, the hearing process affords us the ability to permanently remove the animals from an unconsenting owner, and allows us to get animals out of the shelter within about 30 – 45 days as opposed to holding them for 12 to 18 months while waiting on a case to go to court.
- For approximately each day that we have to hold an animal on a cruelty case, another animal is possibly euthanized for space.We try to make cases that are solid and prosecutable. I recall in one cruelty case that the presiding judge made the comment that we had presented more evidence in this case than he had seen in some murder trials. If you have questions or need additional information on any case, please contact me and I will provide you with whatever you need.
Our second main concern is to have the ownership of the animals relinquished to CCAC. We need to be able to place these animals in appropriate homes as soon as possible. These animals do not need to be warehoused in our shelter for months and months waiting on a case to be heard in Court. This is unfair to the animals and creates an extra burden on the kennel staff. For this reason, CCAC will go to the time and trouble to make sure cases are managed in accordance with the Animal Protection Act of 2000 so we can utilize the administrative hearing portion of this Act.
As you can see, handling a large scale cruelty is a very time consuming and costly proposition for the county. While we understand that we cannot recoup all costs incurred by CCAC, these people need to be held accountable for what they have done and what they have cost the County. In addition to these people being ordered by the court to not own animals, they need to be ordered to pay restitution for all or some of the costs incurred by the County. Again, not holding them accountable gives these people, especially collectors, the impression that “nothing” will happen to them and soon they are right back in business.
1060 AL Bishop Drive
Marietta, Georgia 30008