It is long past time for a modernization of the way animals are thought of and treated in Richmond County. We need an animal services agency, not a county pound.
It’s time to make peace by negotiating a complete ordinance package for animals that will protect public safety, promote more responsible pet ownership and aid in the development of programs that will bring about more humane care of owned and homeless animals.
IMPROVING THE mission statement would encourage creative ideas, foster a welcoming atmosphere, promote volunteerism and result in more adoptions and fewer deaths. Richmond County could be the hub of improved animal welfare that would lead other counties in our region to improve their animal service programs as well. This is an achievable goal that would result in much-needed improvement in the public image of our municipal animal services agency, and increase community involvement to promote lifesaving programs for animals.
Animal rescue volunteers are ready, willing and able to help when hope and compassion replace despair and dread. This is not about money – though money helps, and grants are available for many aspects of animal care. This is about finding our collective humanity, and reaching out to an animal loving community for help with an issue that touches many hearts and lives.
THE TRAP-NEUTER-RETURN program, or TNR, for unowned cats saves taxpayer dollars, stops population growth and is working in communities across the nation. Rescue groups and individuals bear the costs, saving the county an average of $100 per cat, to catch, hold and dispose of each cat. It’s controversial. Some people oppose it. But many more people are appalled at the lack of concern from city leaders over the apparent preference to kill more animals instead of using proven methods to improve the dismal statistics at Augusta Animal Services.
When cats are sterilized, the offensive behaviors end, as they stop fighting over territory and mates. Rabies vaccines are documented to be effective for the lives of feral cats, which generally are much shorter than those of owned cats. The last case of cat-to-human rabies transmission was more than three decades ago. Cats are less likely to be infected by the common carriers of rabies, such as raccoons, because they do not interact. Community cats that are “vetted” and fed by caretakers are of very little danger to birds, as they are not so hungry that they have to hunt them. And if they are not wanted on certain property, there are many appropriate, humane ways to handle this.
We recommend forming partnerships with rescue groups that would allow them to promote TNR programs where homeowners or business owners want these great mousers. There is no cost to the county. We further recommend exemptions in the ordinances that would protect healthy outdoor cats that have been or will be spayed or neutered, given a wellness exam, vaccinated for rabies and ear-tipped. These exemptions also would protect the people who care for them.
THE SECTION in the current ordinance that criminalizes the feeding of strays also should be stricken. It is done every day by kindhearted people, it’s not enforceable and it penalizes people for kindness.
What is there to be afraid of? If cats are sterilized they won’t reproduce, and their numbers will diminish. If cats are vaccinated, they won’t be infected by or transmit rabies. No person will be forced to have cats on their property when they don’t want them there. Why not try this lifesaving program where property owners give their permission?
There likely still will be cats killed even with exemptions in place, but wouldn’t it be better to promote lifesaving programs – and this is just one of many – that don’t cost the county any money, but promote a better public image and much improved public relations? Have we lost so much of our humanity that we cannot reach a compassionate solution?
YOU DON’T have to like cats to have a kind heart. But if you
have kindness in your heart, you show some compassion for all animals. When other communities are drastically reducing their shelter death rates with compassionate leadership and innovative programs, where will Augusta stand?
This is not a time for complacency and indifference. By doing nothing, we are saying that it’s OK to kill more than 70 percent of dogs and more than 90 percent of cats that enter Augusta’s animal control facility. We cannot continue to blame “irresponsible pet owners” without doing anything to try to help them. Communities such as Aiken, S.C., offer low-cost spay/neuter programs to aid people who can’t afford this expense. With a newly hired full time veterinarian on staff in Augusta,
low-cost spay/neuter can be an added to services that would
bring in a moderate amount of revenue.
COMPASSIONATE leadership could implement lifesaving programs like more comprehensive efforts to adopt out more animals by networking with rescue groups and other agencies, near and far. Pet owner retention programs help owners keep their pets in their homes. Volunteer groups in other areas have joined to build fences for people with dogs, to get them off chains.
A friendly, welcoming public image will build relationships that will improve animal welfare. If the animal-loving community and our city leaders will work together for a solution, we can create a better, safer and more humane environment for people and our companion animals.
(The writer, co-owner of the Village Deli in Augusta, is the founder and president of the animal rescue group That’s What Friends Are For.)