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What recommendations Best Friends Animal Society had for Hall County Animal Shelter
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Hall County Animal Services Director Mike Ledford greets a dog at the Hall County Animal Shelter, which will be changing some procedures and hiring two employees after Best Friends Animal Society, an independent group, assessed the shelter. - photo by Austin Steele

The Hall County Board of Commissioners voted unanimously on Thursday, Feb. 28 to adopt many of an animal welfare nonprofit group’s recommendations for improving shelter operations and lowering the shelter’s euthanasia rate.

Best Friends Animal Society provided the audit at no cost to the county last December, and the organization’s report is available on the Hall County website. Carrie Ducote, senior manager with Best Friends, presented the results at Thursday’s board meeting.

Commissioners voted to hire two new employees at the shelter, a community cat program coordinator and a volunteer and foster coordinator. Best Friends’ Community Cat Program involves spaying and neutering stray cats, then returning them to the outdoors. Sterilizing the cats keeps them from reproducing and making overpopulation worse, and returning them keeps the shelter from getting overcrowded, Ducote said.

Ducote said Best Friends will give the county $25,000 to help fund that program.

County Administrator Jock Connell said the county realized there was room for improvement in shelter operations, and the audit was a way to learn more about best practices in the field.

“We’re excited about the opportunities that lay in front of us,” Connell said.

According to Best Friends’ report, Hall County has the second-highest non-live outcomes number, or amount of animals that go to the shelter and do not survive, in the state.

The report includes data from Jan. 1 through Sept. 20, 2018, when the county shelter took in 4,966 dogs and cats. The save rate for dogs was about 80 percent. For cats, about 41 percent survived. Best Friends hopes to help the county shelter become no-kill, which would require a 90 percent save rate.

Best Friends hopes the Community Cat Program can help with cat overpopulation and get cat euthanasia rates down. A more robust foster program could also support newborn kittens that cannot thrive in a shelter environment, Ducote said.

The shelter also will change its owner surrender procedures and require owners to make an appointment to give the shelter their pet.

“What we are talking about is helping to curb the intake by requiring appointments for owner surrenders so that we can provide better customer service to people. … We can find the truth about what is going on with them and see if there is a way that we can provide them with a solution so that they don’t have to impound their animal,” Ducote said.

With intake outpacing the amount of animals leaving the shelter, staff has been struggling to manage the shelter’s inventory.

“It’s natural that when you have a large volume of animals coming in and a low volume of animals leaving, you would not be able to manage your inventory, and that is where euthanasia has come in as a solution to manage the inventory in the past,” Ducote said.

Best Friends praised shelter staff’s openness to new ideas, opportunities for upward mobility for shelter employees, and employees’ work to return pets to their owners.

Shelter volunteers had expressed concerns about shelter conditions at previous commissioners’ work sessions. On Thursday, a crowd of volunteers and community members filled the meeting room to hear Best Friends’ recommendations.

Susan Dzienius of Hoschton, a shelter volunteer, said there is a volunteer shortage at the shelter, but the core group of regular volunteers has bonded with each other and the animals.

“If volunteers aren’t there, the dogs really don’t get out of their kennels,” Dzienius said. “We just want what’s good for the animals, and the volunteers that are there all the time, we love each other, we love the dogs. So, thank you very much for listening to all this.”

Julie Edwards, the executive director of the Humane Society of Northeast Georgia, said the Humane Society would support the county shelter in implementing the changes.

“We want Hall County to be known as a county of people who work together to save lives,” Edwards said. “…Communities cannot transform overnight, and the homeless animal issue is a bigger problem than any one organization can solve. This is not a Hall County Animal Services problem. This is not a Humane Society of Northeast Georgia problem. It’s a community problem.”

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