The son of Southern Nights Mattress owner poses with two of the family pets mistakenly killed by Fulton County Animal Services
ATLANTA - Two metro animal shelters mistakenly killed dogs in their care, one of them in direct violation of a judge's order.
In all, four dogs died at the shelters in Fulton and Gwinnett. In both cases, officials say the deaths were due to a misunderstanding.
News of those accidental deaths comes as animal control officers are under increased pressure to keep dangerous dogs off our streets.
The first mistake happened in January with three family pets of John Ahmadinia.
"They had jobs," Ahmadinia explained as we walked around his business property. "And they were taking it very serious."
They may not have drawn a paycheck, but Princess, Mac and Lucy may have been Ahmadinia's most valuable employees. After hours they patrolled Southern Nights Mattress near Fulton Industrial Boulevard. He even dipped their paws in wet cement near the business entrance. Family pets, but ferocious protectors.
"We loved them very much," stressed Ahmadinia.
In December 2016, the two Rottweilers and one German shepherd somehow got outside the fence. Ahmadinia thinks a would-be burglar lifted the front gate so the dogs could slide underneath and get them out of the way. Nothing was stolen, but a passerby complained the dogs bit her. Animal control came and quarantined all three. John offered to keep them at his own vet until the trial.
"I can afford to do that," he told me. "These are not just dogs. These are my family. Don't just... this isn't just any dogs."
But Fulton County Animal Services said no.
So Ahmadinia did what anyone would do if three members of their family were suddenly taken away. He says he called FCAS constantly, even getting his lawyer and law enforcement contacts to also check. He says each time the animal shelter had the same response: Don't worry. Your dogs are fine. We know what we're doing.
At the trial, a judge found John not guilty on all charges, including that supposed bite case which surveillance video showed didn't happen where the alleged victim claimed.
It was time for the dogs to come home.
"I got them their special treat that they like...ham hocks," remembered Ahmadinia. "And I get everything together and then we go to the courthouse and then this is what we hear. The dogs are put down."
Fulton County Animal Services told me they mistakenly killed the three along with two others that did have euthanasia orders.
No apology to John. Accidents happen.
"I miss them," he admitted. "Me and my kids. My daughter cried for a week."
In February, Gwinnett County Animal Services also mistakenly killed a dog that advocates were trying so hard to save. They even went to court, blocking the euthanasia of the lab mix named Ricki. Superior Court judge Warren Davis issued a restraining order until he could properly review the case.
But county officials became confused over exactly when the judge's order officially expired. Both sides wound up back before Judge Davis.
Judge: Was the dog in fact euthanized at Gwinnett Animal Control?
Gwinnett County attorney: Your honor, unfortunately the dog has been euthanized.
Judge: ...which creates a problem.
He ordered everyone back March 21 to explain what went wrong. The dog's advocates want someone from Gwinnett charged with contempt.
"Their position was there are nicer animals for people to adopt so don't adopt one that has temperament problems," explained attorney Ed Furr. "Leave this animal alone. Let it go ahead and die."
The four dogs' wrongful deaths in Gwinnett and Fulton come as animal control officers are under heightened pressure to protect the public. The latest -- when loose dogs attacked children at an Atlanta school bus stop in January, killing a six-year-old boy. The owner faces felony involuntary manslaughter for not controlling his dogs.
"I realize they have to deal with that in some manner," agreed attorney Furr. "But at the same time there is a question of if you've got a home that's adoptive and it's a good home, what's the objection to saving one life?"
Fulton Animal Control visited Southern Nights Mattress many times in the last seven years, all on loose dog or bite complaints. But according to records, John Ahmadinia has only been successfully prosecuted once -- many years ago -- and that came with only a warning from the court.
"That doesn't mean your dog's dangerous when your guard dog is supposed to attack someone who's trespassing," explained Ahmadinia's attorney Scott Zahler. "That's their job."
Both shelters now face pending legal fights. Both attorneys happen to be big dog lovers.
"There will be a reckoning," vowed Zahler. "I promise."
Since the deaths, Southern Nights Mattress has lined up some new recruits, three Rottweilers that will again double as Ahmadinia's family pets.
He's also installed a new giant main gate. Tamper proof. Escape proof. He's hoping to avoid any future visits from an animal control system he no longer trusts.
"This is not for me," he said. "This is all about the dogs."