Since June, 20 dogs have been killed at the Columbus animal shelter because there wasn’t enough space.
City officials who run the shelter as well as nonprofit rescue partners Paws Humane, Animal SOS and Animal Ark have identified their limitations and steps the public can take to help them.
Among the biggest limitations is space. The shelter is prevented by state law from turning away animals.
Columbus Public Works Director Drale Short told the Ledger-Enquirer that typically one dog is held in the shelter’s 52 enclosures. Of those 52, twelve are reserved. Six are used to hold biting dogs and the other six are for medical isolation if needed.
The enclosures are divided in half by a sliding door, but closing that door and putting two dogs in one space wouldn’t be safe or sanitary for the dogs and the small crew of staff members, Short and rescue partners told the L-E. There are currently 14 animal control staff members.
The shelter could add more crates to hold dogs, but that’s a temporary solution, city and rescue officials said. Georgia Department of Agriculture guidelines prevent the use of crates and kennels for permanent housing at shelters and rescues.
“The reality is everybody is limited to the amount of space,” Short said. “When that space is gone, we don’t have a choice.”
These factors played a role in the euthanization of 8 dogs on Aug. 10.
Short and interim shelter director Contreanna Barker-Pearson told the L-E they did everything they could to prevent killing the dogs on Aug. 10, including leaving officers and animals in air-conditioned trucks as they tried to find space.
Animal Ark, Paws Humane and Animal SOS said they did as much as they could too. Space at Paws and Animal Ark’s facilities were full. Fosters couldn’t be found. Homes for the eight dogs weren’t found.
When dogs are killed due to lack of space, length of stay and aggression are the primary factors, Short said.
“It was heartbreaking for the staff that day,” Barker-Pearson said.
What are possible solutions?
All of those groups recommended that owners have their animals spayed or neutered as well as microchipped.
This will cut down on the number of animals coming to the shelter, Short told the L-E. Her office oversees the shelter’s operations.
Animal SOS is working on a program to more quickly get lost pets back to their owners. Animal Ark has a community pet program where owners can get help rehoming their pets. Through grant funding, PAWS can offer owners food assistance and offset vet care costs.
Paws is also using a new program called Home to Home where pets can be placed for adoption. It offers owners a way to rehome their pets without dropping them off at the shelter.
The city is also working to get pets back to their owners. Beginning Sept. 6, owners won’t be charged a fee if they reclaim their pet within two days after arriving at the shelter.
“It circumvents the shelter system altogether,” Pierce said. “We’re doing everything we can to keep animals out of the shelter and focus on the ones that are coming in.”
The shelter is also working to communicate more closely with the rescue partners. The city agency formed a group chat to give the rescues the most updated information on the number of dogs that need to be moved from the shelter, Paws Human Director Courtney Pierce told the L-E.
“There were just a lot of hands in the cookie jar,” she said. “(Previously), we would get varying numbers. I think it was just a lot of confusion about how many they actually needed. … They’ve streamlined the communication.”
The goal is not to bring more animals to the shelter, the rescues and animal advocates said.
“The solution to all this can only be the community itself,” said Sabine Stull, the director of Animal Ark.
“The community would be the solution for foster homes and adoption and for holding on to their animals.”
This story was originally published September 7, 2022 4:00 AM.