CHAMBLEE, Ga. — The DeKalb County Animal Shelter in Chamblee is currently housing more than 600 dogs.
That’s well over its capacity and more than the shelter has ever had at one time.
Last summer, the Georgia Department of Agriculture temporarily ordered the shelter not to take any more animals until it reduced its population.
That happened by late June before rose again.
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Shelter volunteers said another problem, long holds on so-called ‘court dogs,’ never really went away.
Channel 2 Investigative Reporter Richard Belcher said several factors are contributing to the overcrowding.
The economy is one issue, and some of the people who adopted dogs during the COVID-19 lockdown are now giving them up.
Some shelter volunteers contend that dozens of animals are held too long because they are evidence in abuse cases that keep getting postponed when defendants repeatedly skip court.
We met with shelter volunteers Hadley Nobles and Anna Oltmann.
Nobles told Channel 2 she started paying attention to the overcrowding at the shelter and the systemic problems that appear to contribute to the overcrowding a few months ago, after an abuse case in her own neighborhood introduced her to the county’s magistrate court.
That’s where abuse cases begin and most are resolved.
“We went to court. Luckily, the defendant in our case pled guilty, largely because we made sure there were five witnesses,” Nobles said.
But many cases do not move quickly. That means the animals continue to be held as evidence at the shelter, which is now badly over capacity.
The overcrowding is not solely because of dogs being held as evidence, but they are a factor.
Anna Oltmann monitors magistrate court, where she said defendants in animal abuse or neglect cases routinely fail to show up for their cases.
“It’s very common. We see that all the time,” she told Channel 2′s Richard Belcher, who asked if the situation has improved since we first reported on the problem in June. “I think unfortunately, things have gotten worse,” Oltmann responded.
In some cases, Oltmann said defendants went to magistrate court and demanded a jury trial in state court, but the solicitor’s office failed to file new charges in the higher court. “So it’s essentially a clerical error, an administrative error, that’s causing these extended delays. The dog sits (at the shelter).”
There about 90 dogs being held as evidence right now.
About 25 are living with foster families, while the other 65 dogs are segregated within the shelter in Chamblee.
A member of the shelter advisory board said the average length of stay for court dogs is a year during which they can go to a temporary home but can’t be adopted.
The cost for holding an animal is about $14,000 per year.
“I think the taxpayers should be concerned that their county is spending so much money keeping dogs in the system when they don’t need to be. Why are the dogs continuing to suffer? It’s beyond me,” Nobles told Channel 2.
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In an email, a spokesman for the DeKalb solicitor blamed COVID-19 for “a significant backlog of cases.”
Regarding defendants who fail to appear for court appearances, the email said, “In cases where the person has missed court repeatedly, our office asks for a bench warrant. In other situations, a judge is within their judicial authority to continue a case with or without the consent of the involved parties.
“We continue to work tirelessly to address every single case in our office including our animal cases. We are tasked with resolving over 2,000 plus animal matters.”
The statement does not address the allegation that the office sometimes fails to fill out the proper paperwork to prosecute cases in state court.
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