With the agreement, approved by Atlanta in July and the county earlier this month, two more officers will be dedicated to Atlanta, raising the number of officers who primarily work within the city to nine. Animal control is funded by the cities, but coordinated through the county. With the new hires, there will be 16 animal control officers countywide.
Additionally, animal control’s full service hours will begin at 7 a.m. in the city, an hour earlier than in the past, so officers can be available at school zones and bus stops. In January, 6-year-old Logan Braatz was killed at a bus stop when he was attacked by a dog, and Syari Sanders, 5, was injured.
Response zones will also be reconfigured to be smaller, and focused in the city. Previously, Atlanta was divided into two zones that included areas outside the city limits.
The agreement comes after months of conversations about the best way to handle animal control. Atlanta’s agreement with Fulton runs out at the end of the year, and other cities’ agreements will also need to be renegotiated. An increase in service county-wide would likely necessitate north and south annexes, or an expansion of the existing animal shelter, on Marietta Boulevard, which leaders say is at capacity.
“We have the opportunity to look at service levels across all our cities,” Fulton County Manager Dick Anderson said. “If we do up service levels, we’re inevitably going to up the number of animals we have in our shelter.”
The conversations will continue over the next several months, but Anderson estimated it could cost $2 million to expand the existing shelter. The additions in Atlanta will cost the city $135,000 through June.
Fulton County’s animal control gets about 26,000 calls a year, with more than 60 percent of them coming from Atlanta. Officers prioritize animal bites, and get about 270 such calls a year. Calls from fire and police departments, as well as injured animals, are also considered high priorities, while loose dogs are not.
LifeLine Animal Project, the company that provides animal control services in the county, hopes to decrease the number of calls by restarting a program, Pets for Life, that had been discontinued by the Humane Society because of a lack of funding. The program will be focused in five ZIP codes where the county sees the highest number of calls, and where LifeLine CEO Rebecca Guinn said there are “resource deserts” — areas without pet supply stores, veterinarians or groomers. They are also hot spots, where there a large number of loose dog calls.
The ZIP codes are 30318, 30314, 30311, 30310, 30331 and 30315. In those areas, Guinn said, employees will go door-to-door offering free pet food and veterinary care to help keep animals out of the county shelter. She’s raised $125,000 for the program. LifeLine also has a leash giveaway program at fire stations.
“We’re increasing the options in Atlanta,” said Matthew Kallmyer, director of Atlanta-Fulton County Emergency Management Agency.