Harley, a sheltie mix at Augusta’s city-run animal shelter, lived last year. Her former roommate, Friesha, mostly a husky breed, also found an owner who could not resist her inquisitive nature and happy demeanor.
Those two adopted dogs are among the lucky few.
Faced with limited shelter space, a high stray population and widespread neglect, the city of Augusta has been forced to euthanize 70 percent of the animals admitted to its rescue facility off Tobacco Road for a second consecutive year.
Records on file with Augusta Animal Services show 6,578 of the 9,340 dogs, cats, raccoons, deer and opossums admitted to the facility last year were euthanized – a total that director Sharon Broady said has remained constant for much of the recent past.
For comparison, she cited 2012 numbers, which were nearly identical: of the 9,650 admitted, 6,760 had healthy lives cut short. The year before that, 66 percent, or 6,590 of the 9,875 animals admitted to the city had their remains disposed of after receiving a $4.70 fatal injection.
“Staff as a whole is greatly affected by the euthanasia process,” said Broady, who attributed much of the high rate to animals not being spayed or neutered, owners abandoning lost pets and low adoption rates. “Employees enter this field because they have a love for animals. The neglect and abuse that staff sees on a daily basis is heart wrenching, but we know that euthanasia is a necessary part of the job.”
So far this year, 2,126 animals have been sheltered, with only 77 being adopted. In the past three years, 283, 322 and 303 animals were adopted, respectively – at a fee of $65 for cats, $75 for male dogs and $85 for females. Senior citizens and members of the military pay only $50.
That’s an annual adoption rate of 3 percent, compared to more than $30,000 spent on fatal injections last year.
“Spay or neuter your pets (and) keep your animals confined to your property,” Broady said of ways the community can help. “If your pet is lost, contact Animal Services. We are required to hold lost and stray animals for five days.”
There is no centralized database for tracking shelter deaths in Georgia, but the U.S. Humane Society said that over the past four decades, euthanasia numbers have declined sharply nationwide – from about 15 million cats and dogs euthanized in 1970 to approximately 3.4 million in 2013.
Much of this success, the organization stated on its Web site, can be attributed to widespread spay/neuter efforts, which successfully stemmed the tide of unwanted puppies and kittens in most communities and eliminated the bulk of pet overpopulation. “We are now, thankfully, closer than ever to the day when euthanasia will be reserved only for animals who are suffering or are too aggressive to safely reside in our communities,” the society said in a statement.
In support of the society’s goal of zero euthanasia, community-wide solutions, such as Pets for Life, World Spay Day, and Stop Puppy Mills, are forming outside shelter walls to prevent neglect and abandonment.
Among the newer operations is the Direct Giving program, an initiative that’s being launched by The Dog Shop to help people donate straight to charities such as Happy Tails Pet Sanctuary and the Blind Dog Rescue Alliance.
The program works by giving customers the chance to choose not just the charity, but also an item, such as a collar, leash or food, they want to donate when shopping at The Dog Shop online at the-dog-shop.com, owner Philip Thomas said.
“Every year, millions of abandoned or neglected dogs are taken in by animals shelters,” Thomas said. “This is why we had to help in whatever way we could.”