SAVANNAH, Ga. (WSAV) – A heated argument Tuesday over proposed changes to Chatham County’s ‘outdated’ Animal Services Ordinance cut a public meeting short.
Dr. Jake Harper — the director of Chatham County Animal Services — prepared a comprehensive presentation but ran out of time as he dodged questions and concerns from dozens of people who showed up for the meeting.
The ordinance, if passed, would change the following:
The age requirement for rabies vaccinations. Dr. Harper says the vaccination has been approved for dogs and cats as young as 12 weeks old. Previously, the age requirement was 6 months, which experts say increased the animals’ exposure to the disease.
Who responds to animal neglect and cruelty. An amendment would allow Animal Service Officers to respond to cases of animal cruelty and neglect. Dr. Harper says police officers will get involved if the case is serious enough.
Dr. Harper says allowing code enforcement officers to deal with these cases expedites the process and decreases the number of days an animal spends at the shelter.
How many dogs you can own. The ordinance limits citizens to 10 dogs per acre. At the meeting, citizens expressed concerns over how to enforce this amendment.
Rules regarding Service Dogs/ESAs. Dr. Harper says service animals are regulated by the Federal Government and requirements in local codes will be removed.
Cat feeding restrictions. In response to growing feral cat populations, the county proposes getting rid of ordinances that forbid people from feeding them. Dr. Harper says “feeding bans increase complaints because the cats roam more looking for food.”
People at the meeting are concerned this amendment does not do enough to control the continuously growing feral cat population. Many agree the only solution is to implement TNR or “trap-neuter-release” programs.
Savannah District 4 Alderman Nick Palumbo was at the meeting to advocate for its local implementation. “This is a joint venture between your city and your county government,” he said. “I’m here to see the proposed changes as they’re happening in real-time.’
Sean Griffin — the Director of the Humane Society of Greater Savannah — agrees with the alderman.
“The solution is TNR nationwide,” he said. “TNR is what all the big cities do and if we are allowed to do that here in Chatham County, I think that, hopefully, this year we could really go after it hard.. as many spays and neuters as we can.”
Protocol for found animals. Dr. Harper says many animals are euthanized because the shelter is often overcrowded. According to his presentation, 4,500 animals are taken in each year.
“Before, it’s been a nuisance. And to be honest, [feral cats] have been euthanized. A high percentage of them have been because they’re feral. They’re not adoptable. So there’s not a lot we can do to keep them,” said Dr. Harper.
The proposed change would allow anyone to take care of animals until they are adopted or transferred somewhere else. This, according to Chatham County Animal Services, would limit their time in a shelter, free up space and reduce euthanizations.
“We are a very animal-loving county and it’s just so sad that Chatham County ranks top… for euthanizations in the State of Georgia,” said Karri Bulski from One Love Animal Rescue.
At the meeting, people expressed concerns over “nefarious fosters” or people who take care of lost animals who are not qualified to do so.
The Chatham County Board of Commissioners will vote on the proposed changes at its regular meeting on January 17. If you have questions or would like to voice your opinion on the changes, you can call (912) 201-4390.
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The ordinance can be viewed in its entirety here. It starts on page 100.