Photo Credit: Joshua L. Jones
A November sales tax referendum would bring in almost $600,000 for new dog kennels and other improvements at the Athens-Clarke County animal shelter. But that’s only part of a new focus for ACC Animal Control.
“Over the 13 years I’ve been here, the mission of Animal Control has shifted,” says Central Services Director David Fluck, whose department includes Animal Control. “It used to be ‘control,’ and the shelter was an adjunct to that. Now, the shelter is at the forefront.”
With the focus changing from law enforcement to helping animals and educating pet owners, last year the ACC Mayor and Commission funded a part-time volunteer coordinator and a second supervisor (one now oversees the shelter, and the other animal control officers). A new administrator, Michelle Carrigg, took over in January, with former administrator Patrick Rives moving to an analyst position in Central Services.
The division is also promoting an animal caretaker, Juan de Leon, to be its first Spanish-speaking animal control officer. “A lot of people don’t know the resources they have at their disposal” because of a language barrier, de Leon says.
A 2011 SPLOST project, completed in 2016, added six new kennels, several dog runs, cat cages, cat and puppy interaction areas, a food prep room, a quarantine room and office space to the shelter, located at 125 Buddy Christian Way near the airport. Some facilities, though, remain subpar.
A visit last year by a state Department of Agriculture inspector found problems with the shelter’s 24 older kennels, which were constructed about 30 years ago. According to a presentation Fluck made Feb. 13 to the SPLOST Citizens Advisory Committee—a 22-member board that recommended projects to the mayor and commission—concrete blocks in the 30-year-old kennels are cracking, and cleaning chemicals are eroding the chain-link fence. Animal Control patched up those problems for the time being, but dogs are still exposed to cleaning chemicals because of a lack of indoor drains, and the heating and ventilation systems in the kennels are also working poorly, Fluck says, adding, “There are things we can do better.”
The $559,000 project is a drop in the bucket of the 10-year, $278 million SPLOST, a 1 percent sales tax for capital projects like new buildings and infrastructure. It received dozens of positive comments from the public and easily cleared the bar for recommendation by the citizens committee. “It got a really positive response, because people love animals,” Fluck says. “That’s what it’s about.”
The animal shelter is heavily dependent on volunteers, and their suggestions have driven many of the changes there, according to Fluck. For example, the animal rescue group Best Friends—which is affiliated with Athenspets, the group that runs Animal Control’s adoption website and contributes the Adopt Me feature to Flagpole—is conducting an assessment of the shelter’s operations. Dogs’ records are now color-coded based on how much experience a volunteer needs to be able to handle them. Some volunteers have started taking shelter dogs for day-long “doggy day out field trips.” Animal Control also recently won a $5,000 grant for a fledgling foster-care program.
Fluck says the plans don’t call for expanding the animal shelter because, no matter how big it is, it will fill up. When it gets full, and dogs are in danger of being euthanized, rescue groups usually swoop in to relieve the overcrowding. ACC euthanized fewer than 10 “adoptable” dogs last year, Fluck says—a figure that doesn’t include dogs that were too sick or unsocialized to find new homes. But Animal Control is about to start tracking all euthanizations, a practice that’s more in line with animal rights groups’ recommendations.
Fluck recalls one volunteer who wouldn’t let anyone leave without adopting a dog—and if they took home one, she’d insist on two. “We called her The Adoptinator,” he says. The hope is that a more attractive kennel area will expedite adoptions, too.