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Humane Society of Hall County: Fewer strays, fewer euthanizations

POSTED: October 20, 2008 5:00 a.m.

A young pup awaits adoption Thursday afternoon at the Humane Society of Hall County. The organization has had a successful year with its rabies shot clinics, vaccinating 3,396 pets.

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As of July 1, the number of animals accepted by the Humane Society of Hall County will drop drastically. That’s when the nonprofit organization will end its contract with Hall County Animal Control and will no longer take in strays brought to the shelter by officers.

Hall government is preparing to get into the animal shelter business. On Thursday, the Board of Commissioners approved issuing $2 million in revenue bonds to build a 13,000-square-foot shelter on Barber Road, next to the new county jail.

"We hope to start construction in the next couple of months," said Hall spokeswoman Nikki Young.

The shelter is slated to have 90 kennels for medium to large-size dogs and 204 cages for puppies and cats.

But most animals won’t stay at the shelter for long. Animal Control will bring in an estimated 8,000 dogs and cats each year, and the majority will need to be euthanized because there won’t be enough space to keep them.

That’s the current situation at the Humane Society of Hall County, and it’s the reason the organization decided to switch to being a "selective admission" shelter.

But even before that change takes effect, the number of animals received at the shelter has decreased. From April through June, 3,830 animals were brought in, compared to 4,166 during the same period in 2007. Adoptions also were down (735 versus 839), as were euthanizations (2,792 versus 3,028).

Humane Society president Rick Aiken said he can’t point to one single reason for the difference.

"It’s kind of surprised us, too, that (the numbers) were down," he said. "We hope it’s because of education (about responsible pet ownership). We had a big decrease in the number of kittens, and we were pleased with that."

Aiken hopes the society’s spay/neuter clinic, which opened in 2005, is starting to make a dent in the pet overpopulation problem. During the past three years, the clinic has sterilized almost 15,000 animals.

Now, every animal adopted from the shelter is spayed or neutered before it goes home with the new owner. From June through August, 755 of these "shelter animals" underwent surgery, along with 709 pets that were brought in by their owners for the low-cost spay-neuter program.

Participation in the program has grown dramatically as more people have learned about it. During the summer of 2007, 889 shelter animals were spayed or neutered, but only 414 pets were brought in by their owners for surgery.

Aiken said another reason the shelter’s census is down is that animals no longer are being transferred from Dawson County.

"In the past several years, we had a contract with Dawson County to take their animals," he said. "But thank goodness they finally built their own (shelter)."

Brenda Lee, spokeswoman for the Dawson County Humane Society, said its new building opened April 1.

"We worked six years to build this shelter," she said. "It cost us about $750,000, and we lease the land from (Dawson) county for $1 a year."

Lee said the Dawson County Humane Society transferred about 760 animals to Hall last year. But now the group has a contract with Dawson County Animal Control to take in animals rounded up by local officers.

That’s the same type of arrangement that Hall currently has. But Lee doesn’t think Dawson will have to euthanize massive numbers of dogs and cats, as the Hall County Humane Society is forced to do.

"We’re a much smaller county, so our volume is lower," she said. "We get about 100 to 200 animals a month, and adopt about 80 to 120. We have a pretty good adoption rate, and we work really hard not to put them down. We have some animals that have been here since we opened."

Lee said Dawson also hasn’t had nearly as much trouble with rabies as Hall has this year. So far, 37 cases of rabies have been reported in Hall County, mostly in skunks and raccoons. In a typical year, Hall has about eight cases.

In response to the epidemic, the Humane Society of Hall County offered more rabies vaccination clinics this year, and Aiken said public participation was overwhelming.

During eight clinics held from March 22 through Aug. 23, volunteering veterinarians administered 3,396 rabies shots.

"Typically we do about 350 shots each time," said Aiken. "But at some of these clinics, we’ve had as many as 500."


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