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Gimme Shelter: Inside ACC’s Improved Pound

Athens-Clarke County’s animal shelter is undergoing a $620,000 renovation and expansion that will provide a better life for dogs, cats and Animal Control workers and volunteers alike.

As part of the SPLOST project, approved by voters in 2010, ACC has moved its cat shelter, previously located in a dilapidated building off Buddy Christian Way near the airport, to the existing dog pound just down the street. Additional cat cages and dog kennels have been added, as well as cat interaction rooms, a food prep area, a dog-grooming room, spaces to quarantine suspected feral cats, sick animals and those that bit people, and special rooms for puppies and kittens.

“The tops [of the cages] will be open so you can actually reach over and interact with them,” says Animal Control Division Supervisor Patrick Rives. “It’s a nice temperature-controlled environment for the little guys. What it also allows us to do is free up kennel space for the bigger dogs.”

Understandably, Rives is especially excited about the new office space in the building—what he calls “the bullpen.” Previously five animal control officers had to share two computers and one phone. Now all have their own workstations with a phone and a laptop that allow them to file reports from home when they’re on call. There’s also a secure room to keep evidence from animal cruelty cases.

Outside are six additional dog kennels and several new, larger pens where potential adopters can play with dogs auditioning for their forever homes. “The dogs have a lot of room to run, so we encourage people to bring toys, throw the ball, that sort of thing,” Rives says.

Many of the improvements are already complete, and the rest could be finished as early as next month, Rives says.

One benefit of the expansion will be to reduce ACC Animal Control’s already low euthanasia rate. According to department records, just 55 out of more than 2,000 dogs that came through the shelter were euthanized in 2015. Few were put down because of lack of space; most had serious behavioral or medical problems, Rives says.

One myth Rives is eager to dispel is that UGA students often drop off their pets or turn them loose when leaving school. Animal Control doesn’t ask people if they’re students, but anecdotally, they don’t see a lot of college-age people come in, and their numbers don’t spike at the end of semesters. “If it’s happening, it’s happening in some secret way we don’t know about,” Rives says.

County policy requires that animals be kept at the shelter for at least five days before being euthanized, but in practice some stay far longer unless the shelter becomes overcrowded, in which case rescue groups often step in. Animal Control works with any rescue group that’s licensed by the state, including Athens Canine Rescue, Pawtropolis, Circle of Friends and others. “They check [a volunteer-run website] or come by and say, ‘Make us the last chance,’” Rives says. Other partners include the Athens Area Humane Society, which provides inexpensive spaying and neutering, including on a van that travels throughout the region.

It’s not just dogs and cats that find their way to the animal shelter, though. “We’ve had goats, horses, emus, cows,” says Rives, and the shelter now includes a special pen for livestock. Recently Animal Control took in an albino red tail boa that lost its home in a fire. Its owners could not take it back, but another family adopted the snake.