Dozens of adoptable dogs and cats remain in limbo at Augusta Animal Services since the shelter lost its part-time veterinarian last month and now has no way to spay and neuter the animals, a procedure the director requires before they can be adopted out.
Georgia law was revised last year to require public shelters sterilize animals before relinquishing them to rescue groups or private citizens. But the law also allows shelters to enter into written contracts with the person or group acquiring the animal, guaranteeing that person would spay or neuter the pet within 30 days.
Animal Services Director Sharon Broady said even during this interim period without a vet to perform sterilizations, she is not willing to enter contracts with rescue groups, who could foster the unaltered animals and get them out of the shelter.
Broady said the shelter tried that arrangement before but only 20 percent of adopters spayed or neutered the animal, and the shelter does not have enough staff to make sure the rescues are complying with the law.
Several members of the Animal Services Advisory Board say this unwillingness is preventing healthy animals from finding homes and increasing their chances of euthanasia – a fate 70 percent of animals that enter the shelter meet.
In 2013, the shelter euthanized by lethal injection 6,578 of the 9,340 animals admitted to the facility, according to records.
“If you’re responsible for an animal dying, you need to make sure you’ve exhausted every avenue possible to prevent that,” said advisory board member Aimee Murphy. “There are many avenues that would be just so much more promising than the avenue they’re taking.”
Broady said no animals have been spayed or neutered at the shelter since the part-time veterinarian resigned May 14, and none will be unless private vets volunteer time and services. On Tuesday, the Augusta Commission approved hiring a full-time veterinarian for the shelter, but the position will not be filled until the end of the year so the roughly $95,000 salary can be included in the 2015 budget.
Until then, Broady said she hopes several veterinarians who have made verbal commitments to help will follow through with their offers. An active veterinarian at the shelter also allows injured animals to receive faster treatment.
“A full-time vet allows us to send out more animals altered, and it would also allow us to keep down disease within the shelter, making sure we send out healthier animals,” she told commissioners Tuesday.
Minutes to the advisory board’s May 21 meeting also indicate more systemic problems at the shelter.
Board members are upset that kittens, puppies and their mothers are unable to be fostered to rescue groups because they are too young to be sterilized and Broady’s policy does not allow them to leave the shelter unaltered.
The shelter also submitted a draft county ordinance regarding animal tethering, roaming and other safety issues to the Augusta law department more than a year ago, but it has still not been approved or addressed.
On Tuesday, the commission directed the law department to present the ordinance at next month’s board meeting and to provide a reason for the delay.
Board member Lorna Barrett also said the shelter missed out on a $10,000 grant that could have paid for adoption events, equipment and advertising because of tension between Broady and the board.
According to the minutes, the board had four days to submit adoption statistics and other information for the grant application by the May 15 deadline. The information was collected in time, but Broady rejected the grant because details had to be discussed at the following board meeting on May 21, which would have been past the deadline.
Murphy said the combination of tension at the shelter, disagreement over adopting out unaltered animals to rescue groups under a contract, and a need for more community outreach has stalled life-saving efforts at the shelter.
“We feel like we’re beating our heads against the wall sometimes,” she said.
Commissioners on Tuesday urged Broady to look at all options for saving animals, to increase adoptions and prevent thousands from being killed each year. They did not, however, direct her to allow the shelter to adopt out or foster unsterilized animals to rescue groups, even under a contractual agreement to follow through.
“We have to find a solution today about how to proceed to keep from killing 6,000 animals in our community,” said Commissioner Donnie Smith.