Pet rescue groups scrutinized for conditions

by: Rachel Stockman Updated:

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ATLANTA - Critics say some animal rescue groups are falling short of their promise to provide safe and sanitary conditions for unwanted pets.

“To be very blunt, it is far better to be euthanized in an animal shelter than to end up in some of these places,” said Morgan Skilling, an animal rescuer in southeast Atlanta, who is licensed with the state.

On Facebook, an animal rescue group in south Georgia, called Loonie Farms, advertised as a place to help and save unwanted pets. According to Long County detectives, the operator ended up taking in dozens of animals, only to leave some of them for dead. The operator, Christiane Judd, recently pleaded guilty to animal cruelty charges. 

“Judd was trying to help these animals, but she ended up doing more harm than good,” said Long County Sheriff’s Office Lt. Tom Sollosi.

Sollosi added it was one of the worst cases of animal abuse he'd ever seen. 

It is cases like Judd’s that have prompted Morgan Skilling to start the Coalition of Animal Rescue Reform.  The group is pushing for greater oversight over animal rescue groups.

“There is no measurable oversight of private rescues,” said Skilling.

The Georgia Department of Agriculture is in charge of licensing all rescue groups. After complying with state and local rules regarding nonprofits, the facilities must undergo an inspection, and pay about $100 to obtain a license.

“At the time of renewal, they basically just send that in and renew it by mail,” said Mark Murrah, who manages the animal protection unit at the Georgia Department of Agriculture.

Murrah says there is no state law that requires inspectors  to revisit rescue groups once they are established, but he encourages his inspectors to make unannounced visits about once a year.

However, budget concerns are taking a toll on how many facilities each inspector can visit. Since 2010, the animal protection unit has faced steady cuts because of the economy. Right now, Murrah only has 19 inspectors, and four field supervisors, to manage more than 4,000 establishments, which include animal rescuers, but also breeders, bird and pet dealers, kennels and horse facilities.

“We try to take a targeted approach on it,” said Murrah, “We do what we can with what we are allocated and that’s what we will continue to do.”

 Right now, all records are still in paper form, but Murrah says they are working to get everything electronically filed, to help with the tracking process.

“I can’t imagine with all of these stacks of paper, it is easy to investigate and follow through,” said Skilling.