The Augusta Commission on Tuesday approved an arrangement pitched by Animal Services Director Sharon Broady that will facilitate the transfer of adoptable animals to rescue groups and potentially reduce the shelter’s 70 percent kill rate.
Under Broady’s plan, approved rescue groups can enter the facility and identify which animals they’d like for adoption. Then only Augusta Animal Services, not the rescues, will be allowed to transport any unaltered animals to spay-and-neuter clinics for surgery, which will be paid for by the rescues.
The rescue organizations will be able to pick the sterilized animals up from the clinic and place them into foster homes, rescue shelters or permanent families.
“We are asking rescue groups to meet us halfway in working toward a solution,” said Interim City Administrator Tameka Allen, who met with Broady and rescue groups last week on the contentiousness between the parties. “It, at the end of the day, gives the rescue groups hopefully what they want, and that’s to assist us in making sure these pets have an opportunity to survive.”
This arrangement differs from what was requested by several rescue organizations and animal services advisory board members, but Lorna Barrett, the founder of animal welfare group That’s What Friends Are For, said it is “a step in the right direction.”
Since March, when Animal Services lost its part-time vet who performed spays and neuters in house, Broady has refused to allow any unsterilized animal to leave the facility. Rescue groups requested they be allowed to adopt unaltered animals by entering into written contracts with the shelter, guaranteeing they would get the animal altered within 30 days, which is permitted by Georgia law.
Broady refused the partnership, citing low compliance in the past and the high risk of letting unaltered animals in the public to breed.
Barrett and other advocates said that would only worsen the 70 percent euthanasia rate, which has resulted in the deaths of 13,000 dogs, cats and other animals over the past two years.
Although rescues will not be allowed to directly take unaltered animals, Save the Animals Rescue Society founder Willene Colvin said the arrangement approved Tuesday could lead to saving lives.
“I have no objection to this,” Colvin said. “If I go down to the shelter and say I want these dogs and they take them to the vet to be spayed and neutered and then I pick them up from there, that’s fine with me.”
Broady said the only unaltered animals she will surrender are puppies and kittens that are too young for surgery. Rescue groups will be allowed to adopt those animals but will be tracked by the shelter for compliance with the spay-and-neuter law.
Hayley Zielinski, the founder of Dog Networking Agents of Georgia, said her group has been working on the arrangement since last week.
Since Thursday, Augusta Animal Services has transported more than six elderly and ill dogs to Dogwood Park Spay-Neuter Clinic in Grovetown, where Zielinski picked them up after surgery. From there, Zielinski’s group has either placed all the dogs into permanent homes or directed them to specialized rescue groups.
One blind Pomeranian will fly to a permanent home in Texas on Wednesday and a St. Bernard with heartworms will travel to a foster home in Tennessee.
“There are so many dogs in that shelter that need homes, it’s overwhelming,” Zielinski said. “We see these dogs, and they are so desperate and sick and injured. We are a small group and can only do so much. We need the community to come in.”
With a push to lower the euthanasia rate in Richmond County, the local rescue groups said they now need donations of food and supplies in addition to people to become foster families until dogs and cats can be placed.
Animal Services has advertised a position to hire a full-time veterinarian who will perform sterilizations in house, but no one has applied. Allen said if a qualified candidate applies, that person could be hired sooner than the Jan. 1 starting date originally proposed.
Augusta Commission member Wayne Guilfoyle said more has to be done to get animals adopted and to control overpopulation in the community. He suggested that rescue groups enter local schools to educate children about animal care and the importance of spaying and neutering.
Such a program is already run by Columbia County Animal Services, and staffers visit schools with animals for outreach.
“This system that we’re putting in right now, it’s a Band-Aid,” Guilfoyle said. “If you look at the amount of animals we take in every year and the amount that gets adopted, it’s a very big difference. The problem is irresponsible pet owners.”