Linda Fulmer still feels the knot in her stomach every time she has to kill a cat or dog in Columbia County's animal shelter.
That's what's so difficult about this week. Just Tuesday, the shelter put down 15 dogs.
"It's just hard knowing they are perfectly healthy, adoptable dogs or cats and there's just nobody to adopt them," said Mrs. Fulmer, the county's animal control manager. "It's hard to stand back there and look them in the face."
In a facility that holds 60 dogs comfortably, there were more than 70 at Wednesday morning's headcount. At one point Tuesday morning, there were 81 dogs in the shelter's kennels. And part of those - 33 - have come in since Aug. 3, when the Richmond County animal shelter stopped taking strays. Plus there are more than 40 cats at the shelter.
"There's no way we can keep going like this," she said. "We've just been swamped."
And it might not get any better in the coming weeks.
Last week, Augusta officials prohibited their shelter from accepting any new animals unless they are sick or injured until state inspectors return for a follow-up inspection in two weeks.
That's after an outbreak of distemper, a respiratory infection that causes a slow, painful death in animals and is similar to pneumonia. State inspectors blamed the outbreak on weak disinfectant used to clean the facility's old, cracked floors.
Tommy Irvin, commissioner of the Georgia Department of Agriculture, said the facility might stay closed for longer than two weeks.
"That's a moving target," he said, adding he's taken a special interest in the Richmond County situation. "It's 14 days without sickness, and it's really left in the hands of the local veterinarian. Until they get whatever is causing those animals to get sick under control, the quarantine is going to have to stay on."
He said Columbia County's problems could be eased some by cooperating with other shelters. But there are no animal shelters in McDuffie, Warren or Burke counties to take the spillover. And local humane societies use foster homes instead of large-scale shelters; both Columbia County and the CSRA Humane Society's foster homes are full. Calls to the Richmond County Humane Society were not returned.
So far, Columbia County's shelter has plenty of food - even for a mother and her 11 black Labrador-Walker hound puppies, a gray Great Dane and various hunting dogs.
But space - and keeping it all clean - is the problem. A crew comes in at 6 a.m. - two hours before the shelter is open to the public - to clean the kennels. And then the shelter shuts down at noon Fridays for cleaning.
"You really have to stay on top of that," Mrs. Fulmer said.
Now, animal control workers are trying to encourage more people to come in and adopt. That is, after all, the preferred way to thin the kennel population. It'll cost about $100 - including the adoption fee, shots and the mandatory spay or neutering charge, which is offered at a discount rate by various local clinics - to adopt a cat or dog.
"You know she belongs to somebody," Mrs. Fulmer said pointing to a spotted hunting dog who was baying in a back kennel. "Look how fat she is."
And there's always the chance the owner will claim the dog - Mrs. Fulmer said she checks the lost and found ads in the paper every morning.
"Every now and then we'll find an owner in there."
Reach Jason B. Smith at (706) 868-1222, Ext. 115, or firstname.lastname@example.org.
|How to adopt|
1. The Columbia County Animal Control office on Columbia Road near the sheriff's department in Appling is open from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Thursday and from 8 a.m. to noon Fridays and Saturdays. The phone number is 541-4077.
2. Pick a cat or dog from the kennel.
3. Fill out the paperwork.
4. Visit a vet within five days for the necessary shots.
5. Then have the animal spayed or neutered within 30 days, a little longer for puppies and kittens.
6. The humane societies in the Augusta area also have adoption days.