Forsyth County Commissioners have recently taken steps to protect their “four-legged” and slightly hairier constituents.
At a regular meeting on Thursday, June 16, commissioners approved amendments to the Forsyth County Animal Control Ordinance to ban both the retail and “roadside” sales of cats, dogs and domesticated rabbits.
The approved modifications include updated definitions, the prohibition of the retail sale of animals at pet shops, requirements for offering animals for adoption at pet shops, prohibiting the outdoor sale of animals and providing authority to enforce the ordinance.
County Attorney Ken Jarrard said the ordinance would strictly enforce that a pet shop, as defined by the code, “may not sell, advertise for the sale of, exchange, offer for adoption, barter, offer for sale, auction or otherwise deliver or transfer a cat or a dog.”
However, Jarrard noted the ordinance would not ban animal rescue organizations or shelters from displaying animals at retail pet shops.
“Nothing in this article shall prevent a pet shop from providing space and appropriate care for cats and dogs owned by an animal control facility or an animal rescue organization maintained at the pet shop for the purpose of adopting those animals to the public,” Jarrard said.
Jarrard also explained that if a pet shop were to display animals from an organization, a notification must be placed in a “conspicuous location on the cage or enclosure of such animal assigned stating the name of the animal control facility or rescue organization” that the animal belongs to.
The ordinance also prohibits “roadside sales,” stating the sale and transfers of animals in certain locations like the side of the road, public rights-of-way, parkways, median parks, recreation areas, flea markets or other outdoor markets and commercial or retail parking lots.
Jarrard said the rule does not apply to the display of animals at county fairs or exhibitions, 4-H programs or educational programs.
At a previous meeting, one stakeholder explained that the problems driving the modifications were possible undisclosed prices of animals and breeder information, sourcing inhumane breeders, specifically puppy mills, pet overpopulation and high-interest pet loans.
Many concerned stakeholders shared their opinions on the ordinance, all voicing support for the changes. No one spoke in opposition at the meeting.
Those in favor
Ann-Margaret Johnston, who is on the boards for the Humane Society of Forsyth County and Pups with a Purpose, said she knew what it was like to deal with a puppy mill, specifically a puppy mill raid.
Johnston said she and her husband were asked to participate in a raid that ended in over 200 dogs being transported “out of terrible conditions.”
“The dogs ranged in breeds from Chihuahua and Maltese to Boxers and Golden Retrievers,” Johnston said. “The filthy dogs were suffering from eye infections, skin conditions and dental problems.”
During the rescue, Johnston said she saw broken wires on dog cages, animals sleeping “in their own waste,” green water in dog bowls and “scattered bones on the property.”
While Johnston said the treatment of the animals was inhumane, she was concerned about the strain raids like this have on local law enforcement.
Samantha Shelton, CEO and founder of Furkids Animal Rescue and Shelters, said puppy mill busts and retail pet stores result in heavy financial strains on local animal shelters and rescue organizations.
She said surrendered pets purchased from pet stores often arrive at rescue organizations and shelters with diseases and no socialization skills, resulting in the facilities spending thousands of dollars on each animal.
Susan Bova with the Georgia Pet Coalition brought her dog, Gracie, who she rescued from a puppy mill in Barrow County in 2021.
Bova said that Gracie was one of 700 dogs at the puppy mill, where she was expected to have a litter of puppies every 63-90 days as a breeder dog.
“Gracie was just 18 pounds when I adopted her,” Bova said. “She was so thin she could fit through a four-inch slat in my fence …. Gracie had to be fully rehabilitated and taught every skill you can think of.”
Bova also argued that puppy mills, while putting strain on local rescues’ resources, also cause other animals needing a home to be overlooked, due to the volume of animals absorbed into facilities.
“Puppy mills supplying pet stores, flea markets and roadside sales … cause other rescue animals to be overlooked, as well as introducing diseases like campylobacter into our community.” Bova said.
She said she was looking forward to Forsyth County establishing itself as “a leader in companion animal protection” with the modifications to the ordinance.
During the public hearing, stakeholders in favor of the modifications brought forward additional language they would like to see implemented to the ordinance.
The additional language would prohibit the retail sale of pets in pet shops “provided the pet store shall not have any ownership interest in the animals offered for adoption and shall not receive a fee for providing space for the adoption of any of these animals.”
Jarrard said he believed the additional language would “be to ensure that a loophole is closed since we’re providing the caveat for rescue organizations to be able to have the animals at the pet shop; it’s to make sure there is still no sort of profit motive … of the pet store.”
Because the language was added for consideration at the final public hearing on the ordinance, commissioners decided to vote on what was previously presented.
The added language will require additional public hearings which will be set at a future date.
Stakeholders thanked commissioners for approving the modifications saying that local leadership is important as decisions can be used as a model for other municipalities.
“Everybody’s watching what’s being done here,” said John Copenhaver, president of Georgia Pet Coalition. “Because what you’re doing here is so important to establish the model for how things will be done on a state-wide basis, and ultimately, on a nation-wide basis.”