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How Hall Animal Shelter, Humane Society are working to address pet overpopulation
Push is on toward ‘no-kill’ animal shelters by 2025
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Angela Irvin, animal care coordinator with The Humane Society of Northeast Georgia, receives a lick from a dog at the Hall County Animal Shelter before she tests the dog for viruses on Thursday, Sept. 13, 2018. The result of the test will determine if they are able to take the animal into their care. - photo by Austin Steele

To address pet overpopulation and euthanasia in Hall County, the Hall County Animal Shelter, the Humane Society of Northeast Georgia and a national animal welfare group are collaborating to re-evaluate current practices.

Best Friends Animal Society, a nationwide nonprofit with an Atlanta office, offers a free shelter assessment program. Its staff will visit  Hall County later this year to review shelter policies, operations and community programs.

The organization wants shelters nationwide to adopt no-kill policies by 2025, saving 90 percent of animals that enter. The Best Friends website reports Georgia’s current save rate as 69 percent.

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Ryan Dunahoo, animal care technician with The Humane Society of Northeast Georgia, carries a kitten in a carrier to transport it to the Humane Society at Hall County Animal Shelter on Thursday, Sept. 13, 2018. - photo by Austin Steele

“Our goal is always reducing the number of animals (shelters) have to euthanize, so finding ways to decrease the intake and increase the positive outcomes so that euthanasia is not having to be used as a form of population control,” said Carrie Dubose, senior manager for Georgia for Best Friends.

Warden Walt Davis, who oversees the Hall shelter, said the county could be inspired by some of Best Friends’ programs.

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Elijah Glass, a veterinarian assistant with The Humane Society of Northeast Georgia, comforts a kitten before administering a virus test at the Hall County Animal Shelter on Thursday, Sept. 13, 2018. The result of the test will determine if they are able to take the kitten into their care. - photo by Austin Steele

“I think there’s always room for improvement, and we want to do what’s best for the animals in Hall County and continue to improve our live release rates,” Davis said.

Best Friends’ community cats program is especially interesting, Davis said. The program involves trapping, neutering, vaccinating and releasing stray cats to prevent them from breeding while easing crowding in shelters.

Davis said as the county has grown, it has developed problems with pet overpopulation, similar to other large metro Atlanta counties.

Mike Ledford, the county’s animal services director, said the program will help the county determine what improvements can be made to increase adoption numbers so the county shelter is not forced to euthanize.

“(Best Friends) is a nationally recognized leader in the field for best practices, and just ways that we can ensure that everything on both ends is being done the best we can to get as many adoptions as we can, versus the euthanasias,” Ledford said. “This is a program that we want to look at and see what we can implement here in Hall County.”

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Erica Sheppard, left, animal services director with The Humane Society of Northeast Georgia, examines the animal population at the Hall County Animal Shelter to determine how many animals the organization is able to take on Thursday, Sept. 13, 2018. - photo by Austin Steele

The county shelter cannot turn away an animal from Hall, including many strays or owner surrenders. The shelter can hold about 330 animals at a time. When it gets crowded, rescues and other groups like the Humane Society can take in pets to free up space.

In 2017, the county shelter euthanized 2,936 animals, 717 of those due to a lack of time or space at the shelter. Best Friends has been brought in so the shelter can adjust its operations to lower that number.

Hall’s shelter will not be the only organization working with Best Friends. The Humane Society of Northeast Georgia will be part of the assessment so that Best Friends can evaluate animal welfare in Hall from a more holistic approach.

“(Pet overpopulation) is a community problem. It is not the Hall County Animal Shelter’s sole problem,” said Julie Edwards, executive director of the Humane Society of Northeast Georgia. “They are just the source for intake and trying to manage a problem that is bigger than them.”

Edwards said Best Friends can offer an outside perspective and can make suggestions both the Humane Society and Hall shelter can implement to increase adoptions.

“These types of problems need a multipronged approach. It’s not just going to be spay/neuter, it’s not just going to be adoption,” Edwards said. “There’s going to need to be public education. There’s going to need to be some creative thinking.”

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Angela Irvin, animal care coordinator with The Humane Society of Northeast Georgia, left, and Elijah Glass, a veterinarian assistant with The Humane Society of Northeast Georgia, test a kitten for viruses at the Hall County Animal Shelter on Thursday, Sept. 13, 2018. The result of the test will determine if they are able to take the kitten into their care. - photo by Austin Steele

The Humane Society and county shelter have been making efforts over the past year to collaborate more to prevent overcrowding at either shelter.

“We recognize there’s a problem. We don’t want Hall County to be known for having thousands of animals enter our shelters every year and a lot of them not coming out,” Edwards said. “We want to tackle this problem head-on.”

Best Friends staff have already visited Hall, and they will be returning later this year for their assessment, although a date has not been finalized.

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