Peaceful protesters gathered in front of the Baldwin County courthouse on Tuesday, Feb. 19, to protest recent euthanasia decisions at the Baldwin County Animal Shelter. Despite the rain, protesters packed into a county commissioner meeting to voice their concerns.
Two dogs at the Baldwin County Animal Shelter were euthanized on Feb. 13. The dogs, Jacqueline and Luca, had overstayed their five-day stray hold. However, Luca was pending a rescue transfer, and Jacqueline’s owner, Matthew Griffin, planned to pick her up that afternoon.
After BCAS announced the decision on the “Friends of Baldwin County Animal Shelter” Facebook page, many community members were outraged.
Milledgeville resident, Allyse Brantley, a BCAS and Animal Rescue Foundation volunteer, organized the “Supporters for Change” event to channel public dissatisfaction into positive change.
“I wanted to help spread the word about the upcoming meeting, and after the two dogs were euthanized, it was pertinent to have as many attend as possible,” Brantley said. “A handful of people have been consistently going to the meetings voicing their concerns with the commissioners and manager, and they needed support.”
The protest outside lasted for an hour, and demonstrators held signs of BCAS euthanized dogs. The protest was then moved inside the courthouse for the bi-monthly county commissioner meeting.
County employees passed out press release statements about the euthanasia, which detailed the positive changes that Baldwin county has made at the shelter during the last 14 months. Some of these changes include the steps toward the shelter relocation to the old Baldwin county jail as well as a Petsmart agreement for animal adoption events.
The press release read: “Our Animal Control Director followed long-standing procedures when he euthanized two dogs. We have heard from volunteers and others who want to see changes to those procedures, and we are considering suggestions already provided.”
Pam Peacock, one of the “Supporters for Change,” questioned where the long-standing procedures were posted. Near the end of the meeting, Peacock and two other animal advocates addressed their complaints to the county commissioners.
“This county has an ethical obligation to its citizens to have procedures in place concerning issues such as euthanization, adoption or owner reclaims,” Peacock said. “Whatever avenue of communication the county is going to use to notify the public of animals in the shelter should be followed as stated. The lines of communication between the public, animal control and the shelter are inadequate and are in urgent need of repair.”
Peacock suggested that a panel should be made of at least three individuals to make euthanasia decisions.
Robyn Register and Laura Morris spoke next, and both of them agreed with her suggestion of a three person panel.
“You need to have three people in a conference,” Register said. “One person should never be able to decide whether something lives or dies.”
Morris said that she has tried to meet with commissioners for almost a year about a list of shelter agenda items, but after an initial meeting, she never received a response.
“We’re trying to address this as responsible, mature grownups,” Morris said. “Yet there was no interest in having help. We were willing to work as an advisory committee under Carlos Tobar as our leader, and we got nothing.”
After the meeting, county manager Carlos Tobar addressed his opinions on the three-person panel.
“It’s a procedure, [so] it’s up to me,” Tobar said. “It’s not an ordinance or policy. I think [the panel] makes sense.”
For county procedures, Tobar makes the decision, but for an ordinance or policy change, a public hearing is required. However, Tobar said that Greg Hill, the animal control manager, followed current procedures.
“The procedures that I reviewed, it [euthanasia decision] was at his sole discretion,” Tobar said. “The reason for that is to make sure there’s not a break in the communication.”
Tobar also said that Jacqueline’s euthanasia could have been avoided if Griffin had made contact with the shelter instead of volunteer rescue and adoption coordinator Ashton Branch.
“In terms of the process that is in place, there was never any contact with the shelter,” Tobar said. “Typically, if you contact Ashton, that means the animal is already a part of the rescue group. This particular animal was in our shelter under our care, so [Griffin] should have contacted the shelter. If he would have contacted the shelter, we probably would have done something different.”
BCAS protesters hope to improve communication at the shelter to avoid situations like this in the future. However, change will take time.
“Change doesn’t happen overnight,” Brantley said. “The updated policies will help insure this doesn’t happen again.”
Citizens can stay updated on procedures via the “Supporters for Change” Facebook group where Brantley will post updates on future commissioner meetings, changes at the shelter, spay/neuter events, adoption events and ways to volunteer.
Protester Kim Griffin summed up the goal of the event: “Let’s center on the important thing, good care to animals, which simulates the good care of our community.”
Photo by Lexie Baker | Staff Photographer