When Molly’s Militia volunteer Kathlyn Hallinan saw the Rottweiler mix at Augusta Animal Services on Aug. 12, she was certain the dog was near death.
Three weeks after arriving at the shelter, the dog’s hips and ribs were protruding, discharge was running from her nose, she was heartworm-positive and needed veterinary attention fast.
Because the dog, named Georgie Girl, was not spayed, Hallinan could not remove her from the shelter outright. Even though Georgia law would have allowed her to take the dog home and return with proof that she had been spayed within 30 days, Animal Services Director Sharon Broady has said no animal can be surrendered to a rescue or individual until it is sterilized.
It took a week for Animal Services to make arrangements to drive the dog to a vet for surgery, but by the time Georgie Girl arrived at Evans Animal Hospital, she was too sick to undergo the procedure.
“She was emaciated thin, she was coughing, she had nasal discharge and a temperature of 104.7,” said Evans Animal Hospital manager Beth Bakkal. “I tend to think that if Richmond County went to someone’s house and found dogs in these conditions, they would prosecute.”
Several rescue groups say they are facing hurdles in trying to adopt animals from Augusta’s municipal shelter, and once they do, some animals are in desperate conditions.
With the shelter now surpassing 500 animals, about 100 over capacity, as many as five dogs are crammed into kennels together, and some dogs are leaving emaciated, infested with fleas and with infections.
Several rescue groups blame the shelter’s policy of not releasing any unaltered animals, even though state law allows rescues and individuals to adopt these dogs and cats and provide proof later that they had been spayed or neutered.
Broady refused repeated requests for an interview to discuss these issues but e-mailed a response to only part of a reporter’s questions.
“Animal shelters are like day cares in that sickness is often passed between children in day cares and between animals in shelters,” Broady wrote. “Molly’s Militia knew the Rottweiler was sick and under our veterinarians care and wanted the dog anyway.”
After the Evans vet said she could not perform the surgery on Georgie Girl, Hallinan and Evans Animal Hospital were required to return the dog to Animal Services because she was not spayed.
Hallinan said Broady agreed to take the dog to a vet the shelter uses, Westside Animal Hospital, where Gary Wilkes performed the spay surgery so the dog could stand a chance. A foster family picked the dog up Wednesday, Hallinan said.
Monika Mobley of Girard, Ga., who volunteers for Poodle and Pooch Rescue of Florida, picked up a Maltese poodle mix from the Augusta shelter in July and found him “emaciated,” with his back and face covered in fleas, scabs and excrement.
Mobley arranged for the Maltese mix, named Patrick, and five other dogs to be altered at Dogwood Spay and Neuter Clinic in Grovetown, but when Augusta Animal Services dropped the group there, the vet found that Patrick was already sterilized.
Patrick was so ill he needed two blood transfusions before he could be driven to a foster home in Florida with the five other Poodle and Pooch rescues, Mobley said.
Mobley returned to Animal Services the next week, hoping to select up to 30 more dogs for Poodle and Pooch to adopt. Mobley said she was at first allowed only to view about 50 of the almost 500 dogs at the shelter.
After discussions among Broady, another animal rescue coordinator and Mobley, Mobley said Broady allowed her to view the rest of the population, but she was not allowed to take pictures.
When Mobley the next day submitted a list of almost 30 dogs Poodle and Pooch wanted to adopt, she said she was told her rescue group could not take two of the dogs because “the shelter thought they could adopt them out themselves,” she said.
“You’ve got this fantastic rescue that’s going to take these dogs and give them great care, and you’ve got over 500 animals in here and you’re going to say no?” Mobley said.
Although volunteers with Poodle and Pooch took 28 dogs to Florida foster homes Aug. 2, the rescue’s special needs director, Michele Wacker, said the experience was daunting.
She said most shelters are happy to sell animals to her rescue, which specializes in ill and elderly small dogs, because it’s a way to combat overpopulation problems in communities – but there was resistance from Augusta Animal Services.
“The dogs we were getting out of Richmond County looked worse and worse,” Wacker said. “We have no problem with (rehabilitating) dogs that look bad. That’s what we do. The problem is fighting for the right to do it. The dogs looked worse and worse and our volunteer was having less and less success in getting these dogs out.”
Hayley Zielinski, the founder of Dog Networking Agents of Georgia, which helps find foster homes for dogs from Animal Services, said much of the problem lies in the endless supply of animals flowing into the shelter.
She said adoptions have slowed in recent weeks, and that the public must step up and help the cause.
“There’s just nowhere for them to go, and it’s heartbreaking,” she said. “There’s times when you feel like you’re making a tiny bit of difference, and then they just keep coming. It’s going to take help. It’s going to take teamwork.”