Humane Society president Rick Aiken said the nonprofit organization’s board of directors voted this week to operate a "selective admission" shelter, which will not euthanize animals simply because of lack of space.
Currently, the Humane Society has a contract with the county to accept into its shelter any animal brought in by Hall County Animal Control. As a result, the society is forced to euthanize about 8,000 animals a year.
The society gets a fee from the county for each animal taken in, and last year collected about $680,000. But the board decided it would rather do without that revenue than have to keep killing animals.
"Animal control’s job is to protect citizens, but our clients are the animals," said board Chairman Don Harrison. "I’m upset every month when I look at the number of animals that have been put down."
Harrison believes the society will be able to attract more volunteers and donors under the new policy.
"I personally have had people say to me, ‘When you quit killing the dogs, then I’ll give (the society) some money,’" he said.
Aiken said next July, the society will begin accepting only animals considered adoptable, such as pets that have to be surrendered by owners. It will not accept strays rounded up off the street.
Aiken said an animal’s age, health and temperament will be among the criteria used to decide whether it will be put up for adoption.
"We’ll also look at how many of that breed we already have (in the shelter)," he said.
The shelter also will accept abused and neglected animals if they are healthy enough to be adopted.
Currently, the shelter has to use some of its space to quarantine animals that have bitten someone and must be put under observation. Starting next July, the society will no longer have to perform that function.
Aiken said Hall County Animal Control is required by law to handle issues such as bite cases, and the county will have to provide those services or contract with another vendor.
"We have met with the county," he said. "We have offered to help train their employees (on how to run a shelter). That’s why we’re giving them almost a year to make the transition. Our last contract with the county said either party could walk away with 90 days’ notice, but we’re not going to do that."
Tom Oliver, chairman of the Hall County Board of Commissioners, said he was informed of the society’s decision Thursday shortly before the announcement was made public.
"This was not a total surprise," he said, adding that he was aware that some people were not happy with the current situation.
Oliver said he is not worried about Hall County government having to take on additional duties in handling stray animals.
"This will be done in an orderly fashion," he said. "We’re exploring our options. We’ve already looked at some other counties and how they’ve done it. It’s possible we might run our own shelter, or we might contract with another county."
Oliver said he doesn’t anticipate having to increase the budget for animal control, because the county will be able to use the money it currently is paying to the Humane Society.
Aiken said he wants to continue to have a friendly relationship with the county, though not a financial one.
"I don’t want this to be adversarial," he said.
And if both the county and the Humane Society run shelters, Aiken doesn’t think they’ll be in competition with each other.
"All that matters to me is that the animals get adopted. I don’t care who does it," he said.
Hall is one of the few counties in Georgia where a nonprofit organization contracts with local government to run a shelter. In other metro Atlanta counties, such as Fulton and Forsyth, public and private entities run separate shelters. In most cases, they parted ways over the issue of euthanasia.
Harrison said the Hall Humane Society’s board of directors did a lot of soul-searching before this week’s vote. They worried about the feasibility of operating independently from the county, and they were concerned about what would happen to animal populations if the Hall shelter stops taking in stray cats and dogs.
But they met with officials from the Atlanta Humane Society, which dropped its contract with Fulton County in 2003.
"Our board members felt very positive after seeing how it worked there," Harrison said.
He believes once the Hall Humane Society gets out of its contract with the county, it will be easier to work on public education and pushing for stricter animal-control ordinances.
"We might have a better chance of getting laws passed if we are not connected to county government, which is almost a conflict of interest," Harrison said.
Aiken said he’s looking forward to expanding the society’s spay-neuter clinic, which he believes is the only way to stop the endless cycle of unwanted litters of puppies and kittens that end up being euthanized.
"If euthanasia was the answer to pet overpopulation, Hall County would be in tremendous shape," he said. "But it just doesn’t work."
Being able to choose which animals the shelter accepts would eliminate overcrowding, which may have played a role in a disease outbreak that forced the society to euthanize 77 animals on May 28.
Aiken said no matter how clean they try to keep the shelter, animal control continues to bring in sick animals from off the street that introduce new viruses.
"Overcrowding may be contributing to the problem," he said.