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Couple fights for animals
Humane Society case continues this week

CONYERS - The couple taking on Rockdale County over its animal control practices will return to Magistrate Court this week to keep their home pet advocacy business open.

Beverly and Ed Schaner are cited for violating their in-home business license for the Rockdale County Humane Society Inc. The Schaners are scheduled to appear in Magistrate Court at 8:30 a.m. Tuesday after the court gave them 30 days to comply with the county ordinance.

The court will determine if the Schaners are in compliance with their business license. If not, the county could revoke the license and the court could impose a possible fine or jail time.

The Schaners' license is for an educational service business that limits on-site customer service. The county contended the couple violated that license by housing several animals at their Happy Hollow subdivision home and having people come to their house for pet adoptions.

The county also cited the couple for having too many animals at their home and operating an unlicensed kennel. Beverly Schaner has admitted to adopting over 40 cats and dogs from the Rockdale County Animal Control this year, but she contended she has been able to find homes for most of those animals.

The county has since dropped the unlicensed kennel charge against the Schaners. Animal Control stopped donating animals to the Schaners when the citations were issued.

Beverly Schaner has said she wanted to continue her pet adoption service as an animal shelter but contends the county code makes that type of land use impossible.

County ordinances only allow kennel and hobby kennels in residentially zoned areas. Kennels are allowed on a minimum 2 acres and must have a 200-foot setback between the property lines and kennel operations.

The Schaners' property is 1.33 acres. At the time of the county's citation the Schaners' had 17 cats, along with three dogs and seven cats they considered their pets in their house.

Beverly Schaner accused the county of not following its own ordinances when Animal Control allowed her to take so many animals but then cite her and her husband for having too many animals and violating their business license.

She contended that because Animal Control agreed to donate so many animals to her, that that was an implied government consent for her animal rescue operation.

Rockdale County Commissioner JaNice Van Ness disagreed and said some individual responsibility is required to understand county ordinances.

"Ultimately, that falls to you on knowing the size of your property," Van Ness told Beverly Schaner during last week's Board of Commissioners meeting. "The government has no way of knowing the size of your property and what you are doing with those animals until it receives complaints."

Beverly Schaner also contended the county outlaws private animal shelters in the way the ordinances are written and that is hindering her and her husband's plans. Though animal shelters are not restricted outright in the county code of ordinance, they are not mentioned.

Holly Bowie, director of the county's Department of Compliance and Legal Affairs, said the omission of shelters is not a mistake and the law was approved that way in response to the aftermath of Life For God's Stray Animals, a private no-kill animal shelter that operated on Farmer Road near Lakeview Estates in the 1980s.

The facility was a no-kill shelter where more than 1,200 dogs, cats and other animals were warehoused for years with minimal human contact. Ann and Jerry Fields, who operated the shelter, was involved in a long court battle beginning in 1984 with neighbors who sued them and accused the shelter of being a nuisance.

The Fieldses ignored a court order to close the facility, then disappeared when a bench warrant was issued for their arrest.

The Fieldses separated and Ann Fields ended up in Alabama attempting to start up a similar animal shelter before officials there closed her down.

The county ended up demolishing the shelter here and euthanized most of the animals at considerable cost to county taxpayers.

Officials at the time said the animals housed at the shelter had developed severe health issues from neglect and were euthanized for humane reasons. Others from their lack of human contact were unsuitable for adoption due to their temperament.

"Every commission since then has supported the law as it was written concerning private shelter because of that experience but also because the community has demanded it," Bowie said.

Ed Schaner said he has been frustrated for connections made with Life For God's Stray Animals and the Rockdale County Humane Society. He argued they never intended to start a no-kill shelter in their home.

"That's all they want to hear, but that has never been the point and never has been," Ed Schaner said. He explained that he and his wife have wanted to assist the county in setting up a free spay and neuter clinic inside Animal Control and obtain grants to designate the county shelter as a "no-kill" shelter through more pet adoptions.

The Schaners have attempted to build their case by stating it costs the county $250,000 a year to euthanized animals and the Animal Control staff neglects injured animals.

Bowie, who's department oversees Animal Control disputed the Schaners' estimate and noted Animal Control's yearly budget is $350,000 with $299,000 going toward employee salaries and benefits. Bowie also cited Animal Control's adoption rates have increased since it came under her department in 2006.

Jay Jones can be reached at jay.jones@rockdalecitizen.com.