It could have been the beginning of Bonnie Bragdon's worst nightmare: one of the dogs in the adoption area of the Richmond County Animal Shelter tested positive for distemper this week.
That means at least two more weeks of state-imposed quarantine at the shelter, which has been under the ban since July.
But it does not mean death for the 16 remaining dogs in the adoption area. Instead, Dr. Bragdon needs foster homes for the dogs.
"That's the only compassionate thing that could be done to save the lives of those puppies and that is to try to get them out of that facility," said Georgia Department of Agriculture Commission Tommy Irvin, who approved the foster home plan Thursday.
Under the plan, the foster home would get one or two dogs for three weeks. After the three weeks, the dogs will be returned to the shelter and tested for distemper. If all goes well, the dogs can be adopted and the shelter will be fully reopened.
The idea is a first, Mr. Irvin said. If it's successful, it's an option other shelters in the state might begin using.
"They are using some innovative ideas," Mr. Irvin said. "I'm excited about this."
There are some ground rules: Any dog already in the home must be more than 1 year old and have a distemper vaccination. The house must be examined by local animal control and state agriculture officials.
And ferrets will not be allowed - they are extremely susceptible to the disease.
Residents who open their homes to the dogs must understand a vaccinated dog is not out of distemper danger.
"The dog that we put to sleep (after a positive distemper test) had been vaccinated here at our facility," Dr. Bragdon said. "And she showed no signs."
She plans to wait until Sept. 29 to see whether all the dogs can be placed in foster homes. If not, she'll put down any remaining in the adoption area. In the meantime, pictures of the dogs will be put on the Richmond County Web site: www.co.richmond.ga.us.
"I only have so much space, and every day I get more dogs," she said.
Dr. Bragdon admits the foster home process is a hassle, but it does save the life of the dogs. The other option - aside from waiting out the quarantine - was to kill all the animals in the adoption area. And that was just not acceptable to animal control employees, who've been caring for the dogs since July.
"I fully understand why the staff has become very attached to those beautiful animals and did not want to see them put down," Mr. Irvin said. "No other program we have will get to your heart more than animals."
And eventually, he said, the Richmond County shelter problems will end.
It's a difficult thing," he said. "I don't mind telling you it is the most difficult one I've dealt with since I`ve been here, and I've been here a long time.
"We have to tell it like it is: You're going to have problems until they get a new facility."
But Richmond County voters solved that problem by approving an extension of the 1-cent local option sales tax this week. It includes $1 million for a new shelter.
"You should have a big hooray and congratulate the people of Richmond County," Mr. Irvin said.
ReachJason B. Smith at (706) 868-1222, Ext. 115.
|Foster home tips|
To foster a dog, you must be willing to:
- Allow Augusta-Richmond County to inspect your home.
- Allow the Georgia Department of Agriculture to inspect your home.
- Care for a dog for three weeks at your expense.
- Sign a foster agreement stating you will adhere to rigorous terms.
- Return the dog to Augusta-Richmond County immediately should the dog become ill.
- Face the possibility of exposing your own dog to a potentially life-threatening disease.
For more information, please call 790-6836 or check www.co.richmond.ga.us.