Originally created 09/23/99

Shelter is criticized for deaths



KINGSLAND, Ga. -- Ground-breaking for a new animal shelter in Kingsland should have marked a day of celebration for the Humane Society of Camden County.

Instead, the mood was somber among employees who spent most of Tuesday fielding complaints from people upset about a decision to euthanize more than 100 animals after Hurricane Floyd forced a mandatory countywide evacuation last week.

Among those who called were corporate sponsors of the new shelter who withdrew their support after the Florida Times-Union reported the animal deaths, said Julie Cooper, humane society president. Ms. Cooper did not identify any of the sponsors.

Ms. Cooper said she didn't know how shelter officials would raise the remaining $70,000 to finance the $195,000 facility.

"This should have been the happiest day of my life," she said. "This is going to drop our funding to nothing."

The decision to euthanize the animals came after all other options were exhausted to move the more than 120 animals, and it wasn't an easy one, Ms. Cooper said.

"I will never get over this; it was a horrible, horrible, horrible thing," she said. "But I stand by our decision. We followed protocol."

A grief counselor will meet with shelter workers Friday to help them deal with the stress of euthanizing so many animals, Ms. Cooper said. Typically, the shelter averages about four a day.

During evacuation, shelter officials contacted the Camden County Sheriff's Office, county officials, the cities of Kingsland and St. Marys, 911 dispatchers and other shelters in the area seeking help, Ms. Cooper said.

"Each time, I was told there was no help," she said.

Responding to criticism from Ms. Cooper, Camden County Administrator Barry King said the county subcontracts with shelter officials and had no role in their hurricane evacuation plans.

"It is their responsibility," Mr. King said. "The cities and county are their customers. They didn't make some good choices, but they can't blame me for not doing their jobs."

Mr. King said earlier shelter officials should have had a better plan in case of an evacuation order and that he planned to ask county commissioners to consider creating their own animal shelter.

Ms. Cooper said she plans to create a mutual-aid relationship with an inland shelter to avoid a similar situation in the future. But it will still take public support to transport the animals, she said.

The shelter averages 35 cats and 25 dogs a day, not including animals held in abuse cases, shelter officials said. Strays are held five days before they are placed for adoption. About 55 percent of all animals brought into the shelter are euthanized, Ms. Cooper said.