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LISTEN: Kenneth Cox with Pet Friends of North Georgia gives his view on animal control in Walker County. (0:23)
The most effective way to improve the treatment of domestic companion animals is for the community to take more personal responsibility and for humane advocates to accentuate the positive, says Alison Smith, director of the Walker County Animal Shelter.
Smith, in addition to 22 years of experience working in veterinary clinics, is also chairman of the North Georgia Animal League, a nonprofit group that promotes animal welfare.
The Animal League works in tandem with several area animal control programs to set up adoption of dogs and cats, perform fundraising for spay/neuter programs, and raise awareness about humane animal treatment through education.
Smiths vet experience and work with the Animal League brought about her being hired by Walker County Commissioner Bebe Heiskell to be the new animal shelter director last summer.
One of the Heiskells goals since taking office in 2000 has been to improve the countys animal control services. Part of that goal was reached with the opening of the new shelter on North Marble Top Road outside Chickamauga.
According to Walker County Coordinator David Ashburn, the $600,000 facility employs three full-time staff and three part-timers. The county provides more than $200,000 in its annual budget for shelter operations, supplies and staff salaries.
Under the county police and codes enforcement portion of the budget, three licensed officers and their vehicles are provided for animal control, Ashburn said. Additionally there is the cost for the disposal of dead animals, which are brought to a transfer station outside of Walker County.
Smith says that even with a new shelter three times larger than the old one, the runs and cages keep filling up, and that her transition from being a volunteer advocate to now heading a county agency has been has been quite a wake-up call.
With North Georgia Animal League weve hoped to be able to reduce the tremendous euthanasia that happens here, she said. The reality check for me in coming into this position was the gross neglect that the community has for their animals.
I will never understand why dogs are chained up or left in a 10-by-10 pen indefinitely, without exercise and interaction, or conversely why some people think its okay to let them run loose without being spayed or neutered. Both those extremes totally negate what these domesticated animals are wired for.
Walker County Animal Shelter pet adoptions are available Monday through Saturday, 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., and on Sunday, 1 p.m. to 4:30 p.m. Cost is $2.50 for each day the pet was boarded, plus $7 for a rabies shot voucher, redeemable at local veterinarian clinics. For more information call the shelter at (706) 375-2100.
North Georgia Animal League offers a rebate up to $50 for pet spaying/neutering surgery. Pet owners need only complete the Animal League rebate form and send it in with an itemized receipt from their veterinarian showing the service was performed. The rebate forms can be obtained at the Walker County Animal Shelter on Marble Top Road.
No kill? Estimates vary widely on how many animals are euthanized annually in the United States, though it is certainly several million. Smith says that is due primarily to not having enough responsible owners and the ensuing neglect from overpopulation.
Thats the root cause, and its sad to say but there are fates worse than death for these animals, she said. I have seen it firsthand. Ive helped, healed or otherwise patched up what neglect creates. As an animal lover it kills a little part of me each time an animal dies, because its dying at the hands of an irresponsible community.
Currently, Smith estimates the Walker shelters adoption rate at about 15 percent that is, nearly 9 out of 10 animals brought in end up being euthanized.
Among companion animal advocates is a movement which began in the 1970s that calls for No Kill shelters. Until responsible spay and neuter practices become the norm, Smith says, achieving absolute No Kill status is impossible. The lack of public funds as well as a lack of volunteers committed to such a huge goal also adds to the task.
An animal shelter in Tompkins County, N.Y., has been touted by one No Kill group as a success story of their cause, in part by logging 12,500 volunteer hours annually.
Smith said she hopes to improve upon Walker Countys volunteer input, which she estimated to be currently about 100 hours per month.
My objective in my first year here is to lay a foundation that would enable this facility to be a pet placement center, and improve the adoption rate to 70 percent or better, she said, adding that it would take 5-7 years to achieve that goal. My ultimate dream would be to see this shelter privately funded and operated.
To the rescue
Smith says that while she could definitely use more volunteer help, many animal rescue groups are combative toward euthanasia and have naïve expectations about how many animals can be saved.
I have a problem with some activist groups who are so shortsighted as to demand that an animal stay in confinement indefinitely so as not to kill it, but then not provide volunteers that can walk them, bathe them, groom them and train them. That is not fair to me or my staff, and its not fair to these animals who get cell-bound and eventually lose their social skills and become unadoptable.
Other groups like Dog Pack Rescue (www.dogpackrescue.org), a No Kill group based in Bartow County, have been extremely helpful, Smith said. They are efficient and thorough, and when Dog Pack says theyre coming to get x number of dogs, I know I can count on that. I could use more of that positive energy.
The group often ends up taking even more dogs when they arrive. I feel confident that every time they walk out of here with dogs, each one of them will get good care until it gets a home.
But Kenneth Cox of Pet Friends of North Georgia, a private shelter based in Chickamauga that consistently houses 30 or more dogs, says the Walker shelter has a long way to go.
Coxs group was formed before the Animal League, of which he was once a member, and he expressed disappointment in the ineffectuality of the latter groups efforts with the county. We keep hoping the county will step up and start educating people about spaying and neutering like theyve said they will do, but I have yet to see any efforts toward that.
Among a list of other complaints, Cox said the often-fatal canine parvovirus is still a big problem at the new shelter. Weve had to stop pulling puppies from there because we dont have the quarantine capabilities at our shelter, he said.
Ashburn said the county cannot budget for full service vetting of animals that come in.
Animal control is pretty low on the list of essential services for the majority of taxpayers, says Ashburn. But like a lot of things, its the minority who is most vocal about their desires.
Smith said that the Georgia Department of Agriculture makes routine unannounced visits to the shelter, and that the department has given all the facilitys practices passing marks.
A representative from the Humane Society of the United States inspected the shelter while it was under construction last year, and is scheduled to return next week to survey the operations.
Ashburn said they have to be wary of who adopts from the shelter, as there have been numerous cases nationwide of people adopting animals only to sell them to research labs. We turned down a group from Alabama last year who said theyd take every dog we had. But they wouldnt say what they were going to do with them.
He said there is also the problem of dog fights, common in Walker County, adding that the shelter does not adopt out pit bulls for that reason. Weve picked up pit bulls and then two days later had the shelter broken into and the dogs stolen.
Animal lovers have sometimes created problems as well, Ashburn said, citing numerous cases of large-scale neglect in the area. In one recent case Dade County authorities discovered 35 dogs and five horses in bad condition at a residence of a woman who was supposedly rescuing the animals.
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