THOMSON - For Kathleen Fervan, all it took was seeing a mother dog eating her puppies to survive. She knew something had to be done about stray animals in McDuffie County.
During a trip to the public fishing area near Dearing, she picked up a mother dog and puppy - both starving and covered in mange.
"I took them home and those devils must have ate about four bowls of dog food," she said. Although the mother dog did not make it, the puppy - now named Culberth - did.
Many rural counties - like McDuffie, Wilkes, and even parts of Columbia County - face similar problems, including dealing with a menagerie of stray animals.
In McDuffie County, residents commonly stop county commission Chairwoman Joyce Blevins and plead for a county-funded shelter, which would cost about $83,000 in start-up fees.
"I don't object to having a place to drop animals off," she said. "I am not in favor of animal control where we have to hire someone to go out and get the animals. I think the people of this county want somewhere they can drop animals off instead of killing them to dispose of them."
County officials are mulling over several options, including contracting with private citizens for a shelter or working with other counties to have a regional shelter.
One organization moving to help McDuffie is the Columbia County Humane Society. Assistant adoption chairwoman and medical coordinator Ruth Tracy-Blackburn keeps cats at her house and a fellow society member, Tammy Youngblood, handles the dogs. The society rescues stray dogs and cats in an effort to find new homes for them.
"We also offer low-cost spaying and neutering certificates to people who can't afford to pay the full price," Mrs. Tracy-Blackburn said.
The organization is almost on track to double the number of animals taken in from McDuffie County. Last year, the CCHS took in 214 animals from McDuffie. As of July 8, that number was 176. The veterinary bill for these animals was $22,400 in 1996 and $7,952 for the first six months of 1997.
"These animals are the same to me, I don't care where they come from," Mrs. Tracy-Blackburn said, who gets about 10 calls per night from McDuffie County.
Mrs. Blevins is concerned about staffing a shelter, if the county agrees to build one. The county may have a decision within the next two months.
"Once the county assumes responsibility for a shelter, it will be very easy for volunteers to disappear," she said.
McDuffie Friends for Animals Vice President Monica Moorer said her group would volunteer to work in the shelter, a cause they are committed to for the long haul. Although the push for an county animal shelter has been ongoing since the late-1800s, members of McDuffie Friends for Animals began appearing before the county commission in March of 1996.
"We have not fizzled out," she said. "We just have not had any help."
Although Columbia County has no animal shelter, the CCHS works closely with the county animal control department to help manage the stray population.
"I send animals to our animal control all the time, especially now during puppy and kitten season," Mrs. Tracy-Blackburn said.
Last year the society's budget was $50,000 - completely funded by donations. The organization has no paid employees and receives no government funding.
"We all work for a living," Mrs. Tracy-Blackburn said. "We do this at night and on the weekend."
McDuffie County is not alone in its struggle to deal with strays.
Cindy Russell Bounds, vice president of Washington-Wilkes Humane Shelter Association, looks at the situation in McDuffie County and has one response: "If Wilkes County can get a shelter and run it, McDuffie County can. We are the lower-income county. That's why I say if we can do it, they can do it."
The Washington-Wilkes Humane Shelter Association jointly-funded a $37,000 shelter with Wilkes County and the city of Washington. The shelter was completed in 1990 and normally has about 30 cats and dogs.
"We are not God's gift to the animal shelter world, but we are working," Mrs. Bounds said.
One of the biggest expenses is keeping the shelter clean, said Mrs. Bounds.
"I don't know what my person does with the cleaning supplies," she said. "She must eat it."
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