A new leash on life

Too many local animals are being put to death -- and Augusta can change that

If more than 6,000 dead fish showed up in the Savannah River, it’d be a national story. They’d call out the EPA, the EPD, the FBI, the CIA, whoever.

But that many dead cats and dogs and other animals killed by the Augusta animal shelter? It’s just another year.

The Augusta Chronicle reported recently that the Augusta Animal Services shelter’s euthanasia rate is 65 to 70 percent – 6,760 animals put down last year. That compares very poorly to the estimate of 50 percent kill rates across the country.

It’s not the local shelter’s fault, certainly. These folks are on the front lines of this ugly battle, and it breaks their hearts as much as anyone’s to have to put so many furry little creatures to sleep. In fact, one online commenter at AugustaChronicle.com wrote that he or she has a kitten from the shelter that’s named after the kennel manager there.

At bottom, this is a social ill we’re unloading on their doorstep.

It’s the uncaring, cruel or just negligent pet owners who dump their little family members by the side of the road, or allow them to escape or otherwise run loose and multiply and create starving, frightened strays who, themselves, keep on multiplying.

The question is, what are we going to do about it?

At this point, we’re largely ignoring it – to our shame. The heavens have gifted us with an overabundance of affectionate, devoted, dependent reminders of God’s regard for us – and we return the favor by funneling them by the thousands to a love dump from which there is rarely any return.

This area clearly needs alternatives to killing so many unclaimed animals.

This has to be primarily a private-sector fix; the government has its hands full already with the full range of society’s ills.

But we call on the city government to provide the leadership to reduce the extraordinary number of animals being put to death here. Call a town hall. Get public input. Find the best practices elsewhere in the country – or the world, for that matter – and import them to Augusta. Call on the considerable expertise of the rescue industry around the world, and commit to doing better here at home.

If you have a pet, imagine that little critter homeless and facing euthanasia – just because he doesn’t know where you are or how to contact you, or because he never was fortunate enough to have you in the first place.

It doesn’t take much to stir good folks to action, either. When The Chronicle’s news story featured a photo of a husky mix, the Augusta shelter adopted Freisha out to a loving family before noon.

We need to save as many of the other Freishas as we can. Our kill rate is a blemish we can go a long way to removing.

We just need to get together and do it.

Columbus, on the other side of the state, has done just that – with an aggressive and comprehensive nine-point Save-a-Pet program featuring expanded shelter hours on Mondays, volunteer programs, off-site adoptions, aggressive outreach to rescue groups and foster homes and more.

Under the program, photos of the animals are posted on the city’s website as soon as they enter the shelter, in the hopes of reuniting them with their owners.

But here’s the headline: The Columbus shelter has reduced its euthansia rate from a whopping 79 percent a few years ago to just 32 percent last month.

There’s no reason – except inertia – that we can’t do the same.

To his great credit, we asked and Augusta Mayor Deke Copenhaver instantly agreed to see what ideas can be imported from Columbus.

There are too many animals suffering and dying needlessly. Our overwhelmed animal service workers need all the ideas – and community support – they can get.

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