By Joel Hall
The Clayton County Board of Commissioners (BOC) unanimously approved a series of new animal control ordinances meant to significantly lower the number of animal-cruelty cases, and the number of stray animals euthanized in the county.
The new measures include: mandatory rabies vaccinations, rules against tethering animals, and fines for keepers of animals declared to be vicious by the court system.
The sweeping changes to the county's Animal Control Code were made on Tuesday night during the board's regularly scheduled meeting. Maj. Ken Green, legal advisor for the Clayton County Police Department, said the department has worked for months with the county's legal department, the Clayton County Humane Society, and the county's Animal Control Department to establish the new rules.
"We, the police department, are concerned about the number of animals we are having to put down," Green said. "The county destroyed 6,000 to 7,000 cats and dogs last year. The goal is to decrease the number of animals that we ultimately have to destroy."
According to officials, the county has led the state in the number of euthanized animals for the past two years.
Highlights of the county's new animal control code include:
* All dogs and cats over four months of age are required to have rabies vaccinations by a licensed veterinarian, and must wear a rabies vaccination tag approved by the county's animal control unit at all times.
* Restraining a dog by means of tether, chain, cable, rope, leash, or cord, which is attached to a fixed object, or staked to the ground, is considered illegal. All dogs confined outside must be kept within an enclosed fence, no more than six feet in height, or by a running-cable line, or trolley system.
* Only one animal can be attached to a trolley system, and no dog can be attached to the system for more than 12 hours, or between the hours of 10 p.m., and 6 a.m.
* Other than licensed kennels, pet shops and clinics, no person shall keep more than five dogs or cats in their home. Owners of animals with litters exceeding four puppies, or kittens, will be required to purchase a $25 breeding permit, which will give the owner a 4-month stay of the county ordinance. Second and third litters by the same animal within the calendar year will cost the owner $50 and $100, respectively.
* The annual registration costs for keeping animals declared dangerous, or vicious by the court system -- for biting, maiming or killing other animals or humans -- will be $1,000. Previously, the annual registration cost for dangerous animals was $100.
* Those reclaiming lost animals from Clayton County Animal Control will pay higher fees, if their animals are unvaccinated. Owners with pets that have not been spayed or neutered will have to pay an additional $100 fee, on top of their impound fee.
* Animals who have been captured by Clayton County Animal Control more than once will be implanted with a tracking microchip, at a cost of $25 to the owner. Voluntary pet microchiping services will now be offered to Clayton County residents through the Animal Control office, at the cost of $25.
* All persons adopting animals from Clayton County Animal Control are now required to pass a criminal background investigation.
Green said that the county's new ordinances will not discriminate against specific dog breeds. "Dogs that have been declared vicious by court order, it's by conduct, not by breed," he said. "It's [the new law is] not anti-pitbull ... it's anti-biting and attacking."
In a separate action, the board unanimously authorized using Clayton County Prison inmates to clean up properties that have been abandoned, or left in disarray, by their owners. Prior to the ordinance, the county was paying private companies to "force-clean" properties.
In addition, the ordinance authorizes the Clayton County Staff Attorney and Tax Commissioner "to use every legal means" to recover the cost of forced, clean-up activities, which includes the use of property liens. It also establishes an abatement fee schedule for services rendered, which includes: $220 for grass cutting, weeding, raking, and clippings removal; $110 for bush trimming; $110 for tree-limb removal; and $225 for abandoned item, debris, and trash removal.
The new ordinance makes it "easier for the county to collect the money it is due," Green said. "Our results have been very poor in the past, about 20 percent, in terms of collection. We're hoping to increase that number."