By Arielle Kass firstname.lastname@example.org
Fulton County leaders are considering asking the city of Atlanta to spend $150,000 a year for three additional animal control officers, following the mauling death last month of a 6-year-old boy on his way to the bus stop.
More than 60 percent of the county’s 26,000 annual animal control calls come from Atlanta, and Fulton’s 14 officers are half as many as are typical for a county of its size, chief operating officer Todd Long said Wednesday.
Cities in Fulton contract with the county for animal control services. With the contracts up for renewal this year, Fulton County commissioners are considering changes to the system — such as charging Atlanta more for increased coverage, or requiring the cities to provide their own services.
“I’d be interested, what are the pluses and minuses of getting out of this business?” Commissioner Emma Darnell asked. “I think we ought to consider as a proposed solution, maybe Atlanta ought to do their own.”
The county is only legally obligated to provide rabies control services, Long said. It likely began offering animal control services county-wide as a way to save money for the cities, which might have to pay more for individual contracts.
But after Logan Braatz was killed and Syari Sanders, 5, was injured in a mid-January dog attack, commissioners are reevaluating whether the services the cities contract for is sufficient. Atlanta is considering the county’s proposal, Fulton County Manager Dick Anderson said.
“We’ve got to do something, based on the tragedy,” Commissioner Marvin Arrington said.
Fulton’s 14 officers must drive all over the county to respond to calls, as well as spend time in court defending their actions. There are typically six working an 11-hour shift during the day.
“The added officer level would probably help a good bit,” Long said of the Atlanta proposal.
Animal control officers currently prioritize animal bites — they respond to 269 a year — as well as injured animals and calls from fire and police departments. Arrington urged Director of Animal Services Oliver Delk to reprioritize loose dogs, which are now toward the bottom when it comes to response time.
Most loose dogs aren’t threats, Delk said, and simply bolt when someone opens the door.
“Loose dogs lead to animal bites. They’re interconnected. That little baby that died... that was a loose animal,” Arrington said. “Once there’s a bite, it’s too late. We’ve got to get it on the front end.”
The key to any changes, Commissioner Bob Ellis said, is the cities. They have to be willing to spend more for improved service. If they aren’t, he said, the county shouldn’t be blamed for what it offers.
“ Wh at ’s w ro n g w i t h this program is it’s underfunded,” Darnell said. “The test of what government believes in is how much money is spent.”