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County begins ordinance update following alleged animal abuse

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FORSYTH COUNTY, Ga. — Forsyth County is cracking down on people convicted of animal abuse being able to work around, adopt and own pets.

The Forsyth County Board of Commissioners voted Oct. 24 to move forward with public hearings to amend the county’s animal control and/or business license ordinances. The first public hearing will be in December.

County Attorney Ken Jarrard said these updates are in response to the recent arrests of Michelle Louise Root, 41, of Gainesville, who owns Paw’sh Paws pet salon off Lake Center Parkway.

Root was arrested Oct. 11 after reports of animal abuse, including deaths, surfaced.

Root was initially arrested for cruelty to animals after she allegedly killed a Portuguese water dog wheaten terrier mix, Meko, 3, she had been grooming at her store.

A week later on Oct. 18, she turned herself in to the Forsyth County Jail after the Cumming Police Department executed two search warrants on the business and Root’s home.

She now has a second felony aggravated cruelty to animals charge against her after police learned of a second report of a dog having to be euthanized in March 2016 after being in Root’s care.

The Cumming Police Department has received hundreds of statements of similar abusive situations from the public since Root was initially arrested.

Now, the county is wanting to update its animal control ordinance, including changing the portion dealing with tethering and prohibiting such restraints when the owner or adult custodian is not in view of the animal.

Jarrard recommended the work permits section also be revised to include background checks on people employed in businesses that handle animals.

No permits would be issued to people with felony animal cruelty convictions.

“The ordinance would be written to include a requirement that individuals who handle animals would have to apply for and obtain a permit from the county,” Jarrard said. “This is similar to the permitting process for alcohol servers.”

The application would be submitted by employees of vet clinics, grooming facilities, kennels and training facilities, among others.

Animal adoption was another section Jarrard referenced at the meeting. He recommended additional requirements for individuals applying to adopt animals from the county, including a certification by any applicant wishing to adopt that they don’t have any felony convictions of animal cruelty in any jurisdiction.

Jarrard said falsifying such an application to a government agency is a criminal act.

Limiting animal ownership is a tricky area, Jarrard said.

“I cannot comfortably recommend the county adopt an ordinance that prohibits animal ownership by individuals with felony animal cruelty convictions,” Jarrard said.

Enforcement and due process could complicate the issue, he said, because someone could live with another person who is the sole owner, but doesn’t have any changes.

One option, he said, would be to allow a judge, as part of a sentence for violating the county’s animal cruelty ordinance, to prohibit animal ownership.

Gwinnett County has an ordinance banning pet ownership for one year for convictions for animal cruelty, neglect, abandonment or hoarding. The county may extend the time period.


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