Faithful readers of The Nugget may have noticed that the Pet of the Week section, which showcases adoptable dogs and cats from the local animal shelters, has been missing its representative cat or dog from the Lumpkin County Animal Shelter several times this winter.
That could’ve been due to the fact the shelter was actually running out of animals.
“Home for the Holidays,” an initiative funded by the shelter’s non-profit, “Friends of Lumpkin County Shelter Animals,” reduces the adoption prices of the shelter’s dogs and cats in an effort to push for more adoptions and getting more shelter animals in their “forever homes” for the holidays.
This year’s event was especially successful, leaving the shelter nearly empty heading into the new year.
“At the very end we had one cat [left] out of that program,” Wayne Marshall, the shelter manager said. “We had animals coming in, so we did have animals on property, but numbers were very low.”
The shelter holds every animal that comes in its doors for five days in order to monitor for diseases that might not show up during the animal’s initial intake exam. With the animals coming in not yet ready for adoption, the shelter found itself with just a single cat up for adoption. Marshall credits his younger staff for taking the initiative to the social media realm for an extra push.
“We do run this program every year,” Marshall said. “We had more of a media push this year in that we just had the young people that are very tech-savvy get it out there on all the different social groups and it really did pay off for sure.”
Yet the shelter-emptying year-end endeavor was only a microcosm of the efforts put out by the shelter all year, which managed to successfully adopt 448 of the 948 animals taken in by the shelter in 2019. The 47 percent adoption rate was up nine percent from 2018 where the shelter had 819 intakes and 311 adoptions.
But it’s the improvements on the numbers regarding the pets that don’t get adopted that has tails wagging. Of the 500 animals that weren’t adopted in 2019, the shelter was able to transfer 115 to other shelters or organizations that could better take care of the animal and try to find its new home.
“We've improved relationships greatly with other rescue groups and shelters and enjoyed working with them,” Marshall said. “We're enjoying a really close relationship with [TLC Dahlonega-Lumpkin County Humane Society]. It’s so beneficial to the animals and our citizens that we all work together for the benefit of the animals. They're great people down there and they've done so much to help us.”
The shelter has also created a relationship with VCA Chestatee Animal Hospital that through a partnership with the Friends of Lumpkin County Shelter Animals, is helping to treat animals that would’ve gone untreated in the past.
“In the past, we were not able to treat [heartworms] because it's very expensive, but through a new program we've developed with VCA which is our overseeing vet group, and our friends group, we are able to treat these adoptable heartworm positive dogs and get them to homes.”
Melissa Jordan, the hospital manager at VCA, had high praise for the shelter and its staff.
“Wayne, his team, and Friends of Lumpkin County Shelter Animals, have been such a blessing to work with," she said. “They have made every effort to find each pet a home and the results have been phenomenal. We have never seen this kind of effort, love, and compassion before and we are so proud to call them our shelter partner.”
Another 118 pets were able to be returned to their owners, which is up over twice as many from 2018. Marshall attributes those improvements in large part to the shelter’s microchipping policy.
“Any animal that comes into the shelter and then leaves the shelter, whether that be returned to owner or adoption, is microchipped. And that helps us get, as you can see with the numbers of returned to owners, that's considerably higher: 118, [the] year before that was only 54, so big push there to get them back to where they belong, for sure.”
Marshall credits his team’s willingness to “think outside the box” as a huge part of their success.
“We've taken a lot of new initiatives, working with rescue groups, just trying to think outside the box to get animals adopted,” he said. “For instance, we took on a very nice German Shepherd, a very large German Shepherd and we got with staff and made some phone calls and we got it transferred or actually adopted by a group that works with disabled veterans, so the dog is going to be trained and placed with a disabled veteran so I thought that was pretty cool. We also, thinking outside the box, we work with USDA, when we have beagles that are trainable that come in, we call them up, they come down and evaluate them and they pull the beagles that they put on airports and the different ports of entry so that's another way that we're getting animals out.”
These improvements have made a difference at the shelter, but are often life-saving for the animals. In 2014, The Nugget ran a story about a man who saw the shelter’s pick for Pet of the Week, Roza, but was unable to adopt the 2-year-old Boxer mix before she was euthanized. Roza was one of five animals put down on that particular day in 2014 due to “Time and Space” requirements.
However, not a single animal was euthanized at the Lumpkin County Animal Shelter in 2019 for the specific reason of “Time and Space.”
“I have not had to euthanize for time and space in several years, because of our push for transfers and all that,” Marshall said. “This last year, nothing was euthanized for time and space.”
Shelter policy requires the staff to reduce shelter population down to 75 percent anytime the shelter reaches maximum capacity. The other reasons animals are put down at the shelter are either medical reasons or aggression.
“Whether it be a severe old-age disability, dog suffering, or severe medical issues, we get trauma in here, gunshots, we get animals that have contagious disease,” Marshall said. “Those have to be euthanized. The other category for euthanasia is aggression, and when we say aggression, we mean, something's not safe for the public. If it's something simple like a social behavior, we can work with that or recruit our non-profits and rescues that can work with those as well.”
According to Marshall, the shelter euthanized 289 animals in 2019, down 116 from the 405 animals put down in 2018.
“And even with that 405...our numbers are significantly less than other county-run facilities,” Marshall said. “It's a burden that we got to carry and it's truly hard on us. But we're the last stop. These are animals that other people didn't want to pay for or get treatment for or couldn't, and we do provide that service, but our goal is hopefully to get to a point where it's a very minute number and we're well on our way there.”
PUSHING FOR CHANGE
Shrinking that number has provided Marshall and his team with the motivation needed to make the extra efforts to save their animals’ lives.
“That's the worst part of our job, and it kills us and that's why we push so hard for those other possibilities,” he said.
Marshall is committed to keep improving in 2020 and beyond.
“The goals for this next year and for the future is to continue this trend,” he said. “We're looking to continue to increase adoption and transfers, to formulate new friendships with additional rescues and just think outside the box.”
Yet the shelter can’t do it without the community.
“All this positive stuff is happening because the public is engaging with us,” Marshall said. “Because instead of looking at a county shelter in a tough light, they're seeing the positive. They're seeing how clean the facility is, the quality of the animals that we can get back out there into forever homes and because of that our friends group is able to fund special projects which have been tremendous life-savers.”
And so for continued success, Marshall is calling on the public to continue to allow the shelter to help so many animals.
“I need support of the friends group first of all,” he said. “[People] can join, they can donate. Donations are what's critical, those financial donations to the friends group, I can't begin to tell you how many animals that allows us to save. All these heartworm cases we've been able to save has been because of those donations. Some of the advanced tests that we can run now and the heart worm treatments and things like that are because of those donations. Being able to sponsor the home for the holiday program is solely because of the financial donations to the friends group so the more the public can help us the more animals we can get to forever homes.”
Donations can be made in person at the shelter as well as via mail to PO Box 2077. The shelter is open to visitors from 12:30-4:30 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday. Visit Friends of Lumpkin County Shelter Animals on Facebook to learn more about the shelter’s non-profit group, or to join.