Originally created 08/05/99

Counties seek solution to strays



Ruth Tracy-Blackburn has been trying for years to get McDuffie County commissioners to hire an animal control officer to deal with the county's vicious and diseased stray animals.

"I don't even ask for a shelter anymore. I've given up on that," said Mrs. Tracy-Blackburn, president of McDuffie Friends of Animals. "I'm just asking for crumbs. Throw me a bone."

Currently, members of the Friends of Animals pick up the animals and take them to a veterinarian to be destroyed, she said.

Richmond County Animal Control destroyed more than 10,000 unwanted dogs and cats last year, but those animals didn't starve or die under the wheels of cars as did the strays in some surrounding counties that have no animal control ordinances.

One of those is Burke County. Consequently, the strays are everywhere, said resident Betty Crook, who saw a dog giving birth by the roadside Tuesday and took it and the seven puppies home.

Now she's stuck with them. But they're really cute, she said.

Waynesboro, Ga., has a pound with two part-time employees for animals within the city limits. The pound took in 239 dogs and cats last year but was able to find homes for only two, said Police Chief Eddie Allen.

"Down here, nobody wants the dogs," he said. "The Humane Society puts little posters around town saying the shelter has animals for adoption. We just don't have any luck."

The nonprofit McDuffie Friends of Animals spent more than $50,000 last year on veterinarian bills, primarily to euthanized abandoned animals the Friends could not find homes for, Mrs. Tracy-Blackburn said.

The Knox Foundation gave McDuffie Friends of Animals $10,000 this year to help the group with its low-cost spaying and neutering program. The volunteer group offers animals for adoption at Superpetz from noon to 2 p.m. Saturdays. And from May 1998 to May 1999, the organization found homes for 298 dogs and cats and sold 579 low-cost spay and neuter certificates, Mrs. Tracy-Blackburn said.

Still, McDuffie County is overrun with strays. The city of Thomson and the county have formed a joint committee that has drawn up an ordinance, the first step in enforcing animal control, said County Commissioner Bill Howard.

Any ordinance must first pass muster with the committee and then with the McDuffie County Commission and city of Thomson, he said.

McDuffie County Commissioner Lem Brooks, a member of the joint committee, said the group is trying to "come up with something that would not break the county."

The animal problem is not the commission's top priority, although the subject is "still alive and well," Mr. Brooks said.

In Aiken County, the local Society For the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals contracts with the city of Aiken to take the strays the city picks up. Healthy, socialized animals are offered for adoption, said Donna Schweitzer.

Last year, the agency took in 2,917 animals from the city and from owners. Of those from the city, it euthanized 508 that were unadoptable.

The Aiken SPCA shelter, which is funded by the city contract, proceeds from its clinic, fund-raisers and donations, routinely ships animals to Paw-Safe, a rescue mission in Medford, Mass., Ms. Schweitzer said.

The shelter will fly about 15 spayed or neutered animals on Delta Air Lines to Paw-Safe, which usually has located owners for them by the time they arrive, she said.

"Nothing leaves this shelter that hasn't been spayed or neutered," Ms. Schweitzer said. Aiken County Animal Control takes in 3,600 to 4,000 dogs and cats a year. Only 10 percent to 15 percent are adopted or recovered by their owners. The rest are euthanized, said County Administrator Bill Shepherd.

Animals that have been spayed or neutered, checked for disease and immunized may be adopted for $50, he said.

Aiken County also takes strays picked up by Edgefield County -- about 40 a month.

"An adoption option is not a part of that contract," Mr. Shepherd said. "Some owners do recover their animals. The rest are euthanized."

Sylvia Cooper can be reached at (706) 823-3228 or sylviaco@augustachronicle.com.