In response to a flood of phone calls and e-mails, Augusta Animal Services has temporarily stopped euthanizing all but sick and vicious animals at its Mack Lane shelter, and is working with a rescue group and clinic to get spayed and neutered animals into loving homes, interim Administrator Tameka Allen said at a Thursday news conference.
“We just wanted to make sure that we address this issue,” Allen said, “to let the public know that we hear their cries and appreciate the passion that they feel.”
Allen said Animal Services Director Sharon Broady will be working with a rescue group – Dog Networking Agents – to transport animals to a spay and neuter clinic before they are released to the group. By Tuesday’s Augusta Commission meeting, there will be new policies and options regarding animal sterilization and other rescue groups to present to commissioners, she said.
Area animal rescue groups have been upset over the city’s 70 percent kill rate - resulting in the deaths of more than 6,500 dogs, cats and other animals each of the last two years at the high-volume shelter - and with Director Broady’s unwillingness to work with rescue groups determined to find the animals homes.
Commissioner Grady Smith said his cell phone had been ringing all day since The Augusta Chronicle ran his number Thursday next to an editorial urging action, and it rang again during the news conference.
“I’ve had to change batteries on my cell phone,” Smith said. “They’re upset and there is passion involved, around the county especially. How many pickup trucks do you see with a (dog) in the back?”
It wasn’t clear Thursday whether the announced changes were enough to satisfy animal activists. Dennis Briatico, who led a Dec. 7 march against Georgia Regents University testing of dental implants on dogs, said a Friday protest at Augusta Animal Services was still on from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.
“It’s good to hear that they agreed that’s way too high a kill rate,” Briatico said.
Dog Networking Agency, or DNA, was formed last year by Hayley Zielinski and Ali Williams to connect unwanted animals with new owners, using a network of transporters, breed-specific and other rescue groups and low-cost spay and neuter clinics. The non-profit group has already “networked” some 200 Augusta animals over the last year, according to Zielinski.
Broady, who did not attend the news conference, angered some animal rescue groups in Augusta and nationwide when she refused to meet their demands to remove animals from the shelter, sparing them from near-certain death, citing Georgia laws requiring they be spayed or neutered first.
Commissioner Donnie Smith, a professed animal lover, said the city is doing as much as it can to address a complicated issue.
“We have heard the public loud and clear,” Donnie Smith said.
He and several other commissioners met previously with Augusta’s animal advisory board, rescue groups, staff and members of Macon-Bibb County Animal Welfare to explore options for reducing Augusta’s kill rate. Donnie Smith said that mandatory animal licensing in Macon creates a revenue stream the government uses for operations.
A Chronicle reporter tried to interview Broady at the shelter Thursday, but staff said she was examining a fence, speaking with city attorneys or otherwise unavailable to comment on how the department will begin working with rescue groups.
Allen called Broady’s job status “a personnel issue” but denied, as did the commissioners present at the press conference, that the city had plans to terminate the veteran staffer.