Four months after pet owners in Cumming were shocked by the abuse-related death of a dog at a local grooming salon, citizens and commissioners are working together to toughen up the local laws.
The Forsyth County Animal Control Ordinance aims to require background checks for upper management and prevent anyone with animal cruelty charges to be denied a permit to work with animals in the county.
"Not trying to cause them too much grief, or shut the business down, we don't want to do that... but we definitely want to protect the animals," District Three Commissioner Todd Levent said to AccessWDUN about local grooming businesses. "We have come close now to where we may be requiring background checks and permitting from the owners and managers, not all staff. But, make them responsible for managing their staff and reporting any issues where animals may be abused."
Levent said they are also considering asking veterinarian's offices to do the same thing, for managers. Levent said background checks and permits for every staff member was not something the committee felt would work at this point, since many of these businesses have part-time staff with high turnover.
"These individuals that are licensed and permitted, at least one would be on the premise at all times to manage the safety of the animals," said Levent. "The other part of it falls to background checks, to see if they've abused animals or been convicted of abuse of an animal in the past and they can't work with them anymore. They're not allowed to be around them, they can't be trusted."
Levent, a pet lover himself, said the county doesn't currently have anything that requires a background check or permit, and Georgia doesn't have a state law requiring any such thing. "Since Georgia doesn't, we as a county are trying to do something up here that, at least... we can't make state law makers make changes, but if they see this maybe it will get them moving toward that."
Levent said there are no laws preventing someone who is convicted of animal abuse or neglect cannot work with animals one on one.
"Basically, if someone is going to be working with animals, at least the manager or owner of the company or organization needs to have a background check... those managers have to be background checked to make sure they've never been convicted of abuse of an animal or neglect of an animal and if they have, they basically can't get a permit," said Levent, adding that upper management are also responsible for other employees in these situations.
A recent death of a dog while in a groomer's care had led the group on government officials and county citizens to take a hard look at how to prevent such a thing in the future. The dog, Meko, was allegedly kicked, thrown and strangled while being groomed by Michelle Louise Root. Since Root was arrested, dozens of additional pet owners reported to police that Root was abusive with their pets.
"We don't know that the allegations that this individual worked at other locations and was in situations that should have been reported or not. If they were reported, then possibly there would have been prosecution and they would not be allowed to be a groomer or worked for themselves because they would be an owner/manager," Levent explained about how the proposed ordinance could prevent a situation like Meko's.
Levent said they also talked about tethering in the ordinance, noting that groomers and vets who use tethers while they are with the animals would not be impacted with this proposal. However, they are proposing that anyone who wishes to tether a pet outside needs to do on a harness and be supervising, outside, with the animal and will need to bring the animal inside when they go inside.
The Board of Commissioners has been working with the public on the matter, including three public hearings, which wrapped up Friday. Levent said while his fellow board members have been answering phone calls, emails and have been equally involved, the need for this ordinance touched him personally. "I don't want to think that I'm blinded because I like animals as much or more than other people, but I have four rescues at my house... and it's worked out pretty well, I have a kitten, a cat, and two dogs and they sleep together."
A final hearing will take place the first of February.
Please note, the proposed changes are also known as Ordinance Number 11 or Chapter 14 of the Forsyth County Code of Ordinances.