In an Oct. 20 letter to Catoosa Citizens for Animal Care (CCAC), County Manager Jim Walker suspended the rescue group from partnering with the county shelter.
The letter closes by saying that "the employees of the Catoosa County Animal Control Department have my full support, and the full support of the Catoosa County Board of Commissioners."
The letter was delivered to the homes of CCAC President Emily Sadler, former CCAC President Kelly Evans, and CCAC Volunteer Sara DeBerry the afternoon of Oct. 20.
Catoosa County Commissioner Ray Johnson said in a phone call that he had not heard of the problems between the shelter and CCAC until he received a copy of the letter by email at 11:36 a.m. on Oct. 20. Johnson said he wants to learn more about the situation.
Among the accusations in the letter, Walker included that CCAC refused to sign county rules for partnering with the shelter and that the rescue group was spreading misinformation about the shelter on social media.
"As far as I am aware," said CCAC President Emily Sadler in an email, "no one in our group has told any lies about the shelter. We honestly don't have the extra time for this. Our days are packed with rescue work and our jobs."
In an email, the county provided three pages of screen shots from Sadler’s personal Facebook page with comments by Sadler and four other people marked by hand. Marked comments by Sadler included:
- "Yep! I’m just one person. Everyone will need to file complaints and follow up and hold them accountable. This is what their paycheck is for." (Posted Sept. 17)
- "I believe they answer to the county manager and then to the board of commissioners after that." (Posted Sept. 17 in response to a question about who the shelter coordinator is accountable to.)
- "I’ve been told that McKamey [Animal Center] scans each animal 3 different times and people have to sign off on it. I’ve also been told that HES has group that has to decide before they euthanize an animal. THAT is being responsible and doing your job correctly." (Posted Sept. 17)
"As President of CCAC," wrote Taylor Kielty, Catoosa County public information coordinator, in an email, "her [Emily Sadler] words reflect her organization. It is very difficult to work with an organization that has multiple members publicly and falsely criticizing Catoosa County Animal Control and the guidelines that they are legally required to follow."
Sadler said the claim that CCAC would not sign the county document stating the rules for rescues that wish to partner with the shelter is also untrue.
"Myself, nor anyone in the group," said Sadler, "ever refused to acknowledge or abide by the shelter's new guidelines. They expected us to come in and sign them that day [at an Oct. 11 meeting with Walker and other county employees]. We told Mr. Walker that we would get back with him but did not give a timeframe because the majority of our volunteers work full time jobs, so finding the time to get with an attorney has been trying."
Another complaint the county made in their letter was that CCAC was filing open records requests regarding shelter documents.
"We filed open records requests," said Sadler, "just to see what was really going on and from a rescue standpoint, the records are disturbing. I don't think the citizens of the county would be too pleased, especially as far as cats go. Euthanizing the day they come in the door without even giving us the chance to save them, or for owners to look for missing pets."
The county letter emphasized that it was not a humane society and that it was within the boundaries of state law in its practices.
CCAC has been working more closely with the Walker County Animal Shelter since their fall-out with Catoosa County.
"Walker County and their staff are very friendly and easy to work with," said Sadler, "like a breath of fresh air. You walk right in and it's like being with friends who have the same goal in common: Get these animals out of the shelter and to safety. We communicate frequently about the animals in their care. Walker County is very transparent and open to any help we can provide. We ask each other for advice and communicate very well. This is the kind of relationship that is required if the best interest of the animals is the true focus."
Speaking about the Catoosa Shelter, Sadler said, "If you're holding animals until you just can't hold them anymore, the public and rescue groups are more understanding, but euthanizing with available space is not ethical."
Sadler included in her email statistics for the work CCAC has done over the past 22 months: 1,045 animals rescued from the Catoosa Shelter, 189 from the Walker County Shelter, 245 from Whitfield County, 15 from Gordon County, nine from Murray County, and 27 from other shelters.
Catoosa Shelter and CCAC: Mixed praise, defense of positions
In the midst of the controversy between the Catoosa County Animal Shelter and Catoosa Citizens for Animal Care (CCAC), there’s some guarded praise.
The county applauds the past work of CCAC, while sticking to its allegations. And CCAC expresses its pleasure that the county shelter now has a Facebook page, while also commenting that it’s about time.
"Over the years, CCAC has been our closest rescue partner," wrote Taylor Kielty, Catoosa County public information coordinator, in an email. "They have facilitated hundreds of adoptions and they do such principled work. We have taken pride in working with CCAC in the past, as both parties worked under a mutual respect for each other and for the betterment of the animals."
But Kielty returns to the accusations recently made in a letter by County Manager Jim Walker. "Unfortunately, select few members have strained this relationship and we cannot continue to work with an organization that allows members, no matter how few, to degrade and lie about the organization it has partnered with."
CCAC President Emily Sadler maintained that neither she nor any members of CCAC have lied about the county shelter. "We’ve kept our mouths shut for a long time," she said by phone, "but we just can’t do it anymore. Some of the practices at the shelter may be legal, but they’re not ethical."
Kielty continued her email comments, "Let me clarify that Catoosa Citizens for Animal Care has done amazing, hard work for our Animal Control in aiding the adoption of hundreds of animals. CCAC and Catoosa County Animal Control have had an efficient working relationship for several years and it was a hard decision for us to sever ties with the organization. Issues have arisen with new members that have disrupted our working relationship with CCAC."
Sadler said that issues with the shelter have existed for a long time. "We overlooked the way some of our volunteers were treated and things we felt were wrong so we could get animals to safety. As soon as some of us started to speak out, the county came down on us and then we were out."
"Catoosa County Animal Control will always make strategic decisions to serve the taxpayers and the animals to the best of our ability within our budget," wrote Kielty. "We appreciate everything CCAC has done, however in order to fulfill our responsibilities, we feel it is most appropriate to begin working with other non-profit organizations. This decision was not easy, however it was entirely necessary."
On CCAC’s part, Sadler said she’s happy to see the county shelter has started its own Facebook page. "It takes a lot of burden off us. We were posting hundreds of pictures of animals from the shelter, and we work with many other shelters, too. It was about time. Almost every shelter in Georgia has a Facebook page. I hope they can keep it up and it saves the lives of animals. In the end, that’s all that matters."
No explanation for odd discrepancy on collie’s intake form
When an animal is brought to the Catoosa County Shelter, an intake form is filled out. It describes the animal and the reasons it ended up at the shelter. It also contains details of the animal’s death if it is euthanized.
On Sept. 1, two dogs were retrieved from an address on Burning Bush Road – a Collie mix and a Pitt mix, according to county paperwork. Their intake forms state their owner was arrested and that’s why they ended up at the shelter.
The forms say no microchip was found in either dog. The form for the Pitt contains no information about what happened to the dog.
The Collie’s form says it was euthanized on Sept. 8, seven days after it arrived at the shelter. A note on the form says: "Pic was on FB 14 days to be adopted."
When asked about the discrepancy – why someone wrote that the dog was on Facebook for 14 days when the county shelter only had the dog for seven days – a county employee wrote in an email, "My apologies, I sent you the wrong form. That one was similar and I scanned it mistakenly." The employee then sent the form for the Pitt mix.
No explanation was given for the claim that the Collie had been up for adoption for two weeks when it had actually been euthanized after one week.