Updated: Sep 30, 2022
By Deanna Ryan and Rebecca Mills
Within the past few months nearly 50 dogs were killed due to overcrowding at the Betty Gambrell Animal Shelter, over the past four years, there were under 20. Why has there been such a large uptick in the euthanization of local dogs?
A full Emanuel County Commission board met on September 19th at 6 p.m. to receive an update from Barb Moore, director of the Emanuel County Humane Society (ECHS), on the state of the local animal shelter and to discuss ten items of business. (This article will come in two sections. This week’s section will address the Betty Gambrell Animal Shelter’s (BGAS) rate of euthanization, next week will contain the other ten items of business.)
First, Moore clarified the focus of the shelter is animal control and public safety, while the focus of the Humane Society is the humane and quality treatment of animals. “Although we have different missions,” she said, “we work together.”
The BGAS relies on donations and member support, while the animal shelter receives Special Purpose Local Options Sales Tax (SPLOST) funding. BGAS reorganized in 2015 and since 2016, Moore noted, it has spent over $21,000 in free adoptions which include Rabies vaccinations and $19,000 on medicines and incoming vaccinations, while the county has provided $0 for free adoptions and routine vaccinations.
After explaining the roles of the two organizations, Moore paused briefly and stated, “Our immediate concern is the increase in euthanasia for the sole purpose of providing space and complying with state laws. Over the last few months the shelter has euthanized almost 50 dogs. In our humble opinion that is a travesty. These dogs could find homes. There's a lot of reasons for it - the economy and Covid - a lot of people adopted dogs when they were staying at home, and now they're back to work.” Still, Moore insists there’s a better way to handle the increase of stray dogs.
The long-term concern is that euthanizing dogs is becoming “business as usual.” According to Moore, before the BGAS reformed in 2015 the county shelter was euthanizing over 900 dogs a year and “since we have formed and worked with the shelter over the last four years, there were less than 20 dogs” euthanized.
Another concern is the SPLOST earmarked for BGAS. $80,946.10 has been used but $69,053.90 is still available. Moore voiced concerns with the way the city is managing the shelter.” In the budget there's room for three full-time staff members, yet the shelter currently only has two. “I've not seen any advertisements in the paper for that position in the last few weeks,” she stated. This is problematic because the lack of staffing leads to a lower number of animals that can be kept at the shelter.
Moor also voiced her concern on the lack of transparency in the budget for animal control versus expenditures. “Where are the donations going? There's not even a line item in the budget for food for these animals. They rely specifically on donations from the community.”
The timer buzzed and Moore finished addressing the board, by wondering if the county could play more of a role and asking, “What is the future of the animal shelter?”
Commissioner chairman Jim Sherrod responded that in order for the issue to move forward “even just a little bit” there needed to be a meeting outside the business meeting. He assured Moore, “What you’re saying is not falling on deaf ears I promise.”
Moore said, “We’d like to come up with some answers, some solutions. Frankly we’re tired of talking about it.”
“I don’t blame you,” Sherrod stated. “We have some funds left over from that $150,000 SPLOST and we need a plan to finish spending that money wisely.” Sherrod acknowledged the commissioners loved their fur babies too and requested county administrator Guy Singletary to speak with the city manager Melisa Kirby and Mayor Greg Bennett to get together to come up with a solution.
Moore requested on-going oversight.
Administrator Singletary responded that the county has several joint services with the city to reorganize the three services - airport, recreation, and animal shelter because “as it stands, we, the county, have little to no activity as it relates to day to day in any of those services, and we want that to change.” Singletary agreed to set up a meeting with Moore within the week.
Chief Randy Ellison was contacted by The Crossroads Chronicle to respond to the increasing number of euthanized dogs. According to Ellison, the Georgia Department of Agriculture Inspector Beth Miller has acknowledged what we are seeing in Emanuel County. She says there has been an increase in euthanized dogs across the state. Both Miller and Ellison credit this with rescues that once pulled dogs from shelters as being full.
“Nobody likes to put animals down,” Ellison stated. “But our shelters are full so we must decide: Do we hold in place and not take in any more animals? If this is the case, we would have to tell citizens who have stray dogs in their yard damaging property or hurting other pets that we can't come. Our shelters are full. Or do we put them down and keep taking them in? Animal control is about keeping the public safe.” The dogs that are killed are not the ones causing physical danger or doing damage to property, but the ones in the shelter the longest.
Inspector Miller shows up once or twice a month to make sure the shelter is not overcrowded. If it is, the inspector can either fine the city or close down the shelter. Ellison believes there could be a better way and hopes more adoptions and fostering can occur in the near future.
The Crossroads Chronicle visited the Betty Gambrel Animal Shelter the day after the County Commissioners meeting, the animal shelter staff see their mission as being a rescue center and animal control agency. Because they are required to have open kennels for dogs picked up by animal control, they acknowledge dogs must be euthanized to make room.
The shelter just currently became staffed with a third much-needed member this week. Their job is to respond to animal control calls over our 690 square mile county, maintain the dogs in the shelter, guide volunteers, and find homes or new rescue centers for dogs, this leaves them with a very full plate.
Animal shelter staff are arguably more distraught than anyone else about last month's high rate of euthanizing.
“No one wants to do this. It’s the worst part of this job. You work here expecting to do good, not euthanize. But, we get left with no option, no matter how hard we try to find a new home for these dogs. These are dogs that we get deeply attached to. It kills us to do this,” stated a staff member who chooses remain anonymous.
BGAS can hold between 35 to 40 dogs at a given time, and is regularly at that max capacity. As a small community shelter, they are at the bottom of the totem pole when it comes to rehoming dogs.
“We’ve sent out 60 to 90 emails just today, trying to find a rescue to move our dogs to. Each place responds telling us that they are full. We have had one response, but it would be a 300 mile trip for us one way to get one dog there. Now we have to find a solution to that. We contact shelters from all around, as far as Canada.”
Shelters north of Georgia are no longer taking any bulldogs or bulldog mixes, which are about 80% of the dogs the shelter sees. This has created a huge dilemma for our shelter.
The shelter asks the community to work with them to help raise the number of adoptions, so fewer dogs will be euthanized.
To lower the amount of dogs that enter the shelter, the staff reminds citizens to keep dogs contained in fenced-in yards and inside homes and get their dogs spayed and neutered. McRae Veterinary Clinic offers low-cost spay and neuter procedures, and can be contacted at 478-237-4036.
If you would like to be part of the solution, the shelter is organizing a free adoption event at Tractor Supply set for late October. The shelter is always looking for volunteers to help clean, as well as volunteers with large enough vehicles and airplane pilots to help transport dogs to other rescues. They are in need of dry dog food, which can be dropped off at the shelter, donated at Tractor Supply or donated and shipped through Amazon or Chewy.