Animal shelter expansion aims to reduce euthanasia

By Audrey Milam

Athens-Clarke County Animal Control expects the expansion to the shelter on Buddy Christian Way to be completed in June.

The expansion, one of 33 projects funded by the 2011 Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax, or SPLOST, package, will allow more animals to stay longer, reducing the euthanasia rate of adoptable animals.

According to Animal Control Superintendent Patrick Rives, the expansion includes plans for six kennels added to the existing 30, and an additional five quarantine kennels built in another location for dogs with behavioral problems.

“Right now those quarantine pens are part of our existing kennels,” Rives said, “so moving those dogs to these other pens will open up additional capacity as well.”

The 3500-square feet of new construction will also include a heated puppy care room, administrative offices, an evidence storage room and a larger intake area designed to ease the process for introducing dogs into the shelter.

“The flow of animals through will make a lot more sense,” Rives said, referring to the current layout that requires officers to process new dogs in the back of the shelter and move them around until they are ready for the kennels at the front.

Susan, a volunteer of four years, takes a black lab from one such kennel. A purple wooden sign says, “I’m an owner surrender.” A green sign says, “I’m housebroken.”

The lab, Lottie, plays with Hawkins in a 15 by 15-foot gravel pen. Freezing rain falls, but Susan stays. “I stay until they’re all out,” she says.

Susan is hopeful that the expansion will help save dogs like Lottie. Her owners adopted her from the shelter after Animal Control seized Lottie and several Chihuahuas from a hoarder.

They returned her, Susan said, because she kept getting out of the fence.

An expected efficiency boost will come from the addition of a cat shelter wing to the main shelter. Currently the staff walk the back and forth between the separate cat and dog facilities.

Volunteer Meredith Pierce, 21, said the joint facilities may also lead to “cross-exposure” of adoptable animals, meaning people looking for a dog may take home a cat too.

Pierce, along with friend Jeremy Bullard, 23, also thinks the changes will allow greater capacity for volunteers. On the weekends, she said, there can be one or more volunteers per dog at a time.

According to the Animal Control’s records, nearly 1500 people have volunteered in the last six months alone.

The mayor and county commission regularly review the planning, design and construction at public meetings, like all of the 2011 SPLOST “community improvement projects,” according to the Athens-Clarke County official website.

Although county voters approved the project in November of 2010, ground did not break on the shelter expansion until October of last year. Phillips Brothers Contracting, Inc. won the contract with the county for $1,074,202, although there is a little more than $200,000 extra budgeted for the project.

The Animal Shelter project makes up only two-thirds of one-percent of the total budget for the 2011 SPLOST package. The one-cent sales tax raised nearly $200,000,000 over the course of the tax term.

The shelter modifications cost each of the county’s residents only $10.65 in additional taxes, spread over three years.

That 10 bucks and change, or about two medium lattes, is helping Athens-Clarke County Animal Control ensure that the euthanasia rates that have consistently dropped during Superintendent Rives’ tenure, will continue to fall for another 19 years.

From July 2014 to January 2015, only 115 adoptable animals were euthanized, about 8.8-percent of all animals that came through the shelter. Animal Control Officer Michelle Carrigg said, “We’re not a no-kill shelter, but we’re a low-kill shelter, because our rates are very low for adoptable dogs.”

“We try our best to leave the dogs at home,” Carrigg said, “and then the ones that have to come here, when they are here we work hard with our volunteers to get them out via adoption or rescue.”

Keeping animals out of the shelter is key to keeping euthanasia low. Animal Control is only required to hold strays for five days before they euthanize, although they keep many animals longer if they have the space. When the shelter is crowded, however, officers are forced to euthanize the animals that have been there the longest.

Owner-surrendered animals like Lottie the black lab have no holding period. She would be the first to go.

The increased capacity of the renovated facility, however, will allow Animal Control to humanely serve a greater number of animals like Lottie.

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