In recent days, the hashtag #Justice4Meko has popped up on the backs of cars, on cardboard yard signs and in Facebook and Twitter posts across the county as many Forsyth County residents and others rally to change Georgia law in the wake of an incident in which local dog groomer allegedly killed a dog.
Local officials took that one step further Thursday evening at a Forsyth County Board of Commissioners meeting, where commissioners discussed and received input from residents on a proposed “Meko’s Law” they hope will eventually reach the state level.
“My purpose of this, and probably years ago I wish the state would have gotten involved, is to create a law that mimics other laws that are in place to protect children,” BOC Chairman Todd Levent said. “When [sex offenders] are convicted of some kind of child molestation, they are not allowed to be around children, they’re not allowed to be in certain areas where children are and they can’t be there unattended in some cases, depending on how the judge rules.
“There’s something similar [in place] when a felon is convicted of a violent crime. They can’t own a gun, they can’t be around guns; they can’t be trusted with guns in any way and they can’t even go hunting. I’m trying to move forward with something that mimics that to some level when it has to do with animals.”
Levent said the purpose of the discussion was to begin to fill loopholes in existing county code, in part due to additional allegations and charges that accuse Paw’sh Paws owner Michelle Root of allegedly causing the death of multiple dogs during her time as a groomer.
“If you’re convicted of abuse or neglect of an animal, these things should apply to you as well,” Levent said. “Maybe you can’t be trusted, either, with an animal, maybe you shouldn’t be able to own one and maybe you shouldn’t be allowed to work anywhere that deals with animals.
“We’ll probably move this into a [BOC] work session with some kind of guidance for counsel to move forward in the way of legal writings that might be constitutional that we can actually put in our books and encourage the state delegation to do the same thing.”
According to law enforcement records obtained by the Forsyth County News, witnesses told Cumming police officers Root choked, kicked and knocked Meko to the ground on Oct. 7 during the dog’s grooming session.
Witness Heather Boyd further told police “that when Root kicked Meko, she had kicked him in the head and that Root bounced Meko off the wall and a tub before slamming him on the table,” an incident report says.
On Oct. 11, Root was charged with felony animal cruelty to animals and a week later was arrested for the same charge, though stemming from an alleged separate incident that is said to have occurred in March 2016, documents show.
Eric Francis, a friend of Meko’s owner and who picked up the dog at the groomer’s the day it died, said Thursday he would like to see an ordinance, such as Levent’s, in place.
“I really thought this would be easier,” he said. “I think if we pattern and we follow what’s already been set as law pertaining to handguns, pertaining to child abusers – I’m just amazed that nobody has put two and two together and done this before – [we will be protected.]”
Currently, dog groomers are required to obtain a local business license and a Georgia Department of Agriculture kennel license prior to opening a grooming shop.
While the Department of Agriculture can deny, suspend or revoke a license for violating the agency’s Animal Protection Act, which includes an article prohibiting a licensee or licensee’s employee from: committing a violation of Georgia Code Section 16-12-4, relating to cruelty to animals; failing to keep the pet dealership premises, animal shelter, kennel, or stable in a good state of repair, in a clean and sanitary condition, adequately ventilated, or disinfected when needed; failing to provide humane care for any animal; or failing to take reasonable care to release for sale, trade, or adoption only those animals that appear to be free of disease, injuries, operate.
Businesses found to be in violation of the act are also not banned from operating again and can apply for a license at another time.
“I want change in the way and the structure that groomers have the ability to open their business,” Francis told the Forsyth County News. “I know for a fact that there are good groomers out there – there are excellent groomers out there.
“If you go to a nail salon, if you get your hair cut, they’re licensed by the state and here we are turning over our four-legged partners and there’s no oversight except for these miniscule animal cruelty laws that need to be strengthened.”