Animal control officers Joey Hancock (l) and Tony Hyde (r) at the new Pickens County Animal Shelter on Camp Road during the facility tour held Thursday, Feb. 10.
Pickens residents may be wagging their tails next week after the long-awaited Pickens County Animal Shelter celebrates its grand opening on Tues., March 1.
The animal shelter is the final step in several years of work and planning by the sheriff’s office and the office of the commissioner to offer complete animal control services to residents here.
During the 2008 elections, both Pickens County Sheriff Donnie Craig and Commissioner Robert Jones said animal control was one of the most pervasive issues on the minds of voters. Following the election, Jones and Craig began brainstorming ways to develop an animal control ordinance, install animal control officers and ultimately construct a shelter.
Commissioner Jones signed the animal control ordinance into effect on July 1, 2009 and installed two full-time animal control officers, Tony Hyde and Joey Hancock.
Initially, county plans were to construct a new shelter near the Pickens County Adult Detention Center on Camp Road, but officials found that a ground-up facility would be too costly.
Sheriff Craig then suggested the county renovate a facility on Camp Road that was then being used by county EMS and fire, utilizing nearly 100 percent inmate labor for the renovation to cut costs.
“Sheriff Craig has done such an amazing job organizing and planning this facility,” said animal shelter manager Christina Voyles, who worked with breed-specific dog rescue prior to being hired by local officials.
Commissioner Jones, who was an electrician before taking office, even contributed some sweat-equity to the project by way of performing wiring and electrical work on the building.
The entire renovation cost $115,000. Estimates for contracting out the work came in at over $300,000. According to Sheriff Craig, estimates for a new, similar facility ran to more than $600,000.
To cut additional costs the county will also use inmate labor to clean the facility and feed the animals.
The shelter on Camp Road (located near Amicalola EMC) has approximately 120 beds, some designated for dogs, some for cats, and one area that will be used for quarantine-only animals.
Residents here will now be able to call animal control and have stray animals picked up, or they can bring animals to the facility on their own during business hours by filling out and signing animal surrender forms.
Until now animal control officers have had issues with adequate space for holding animals and often had to put residents on lengthy waiting lists.
“Before this we just had a few kennels and when we got calls we had to tell people they were on a waiting list, and sometimes the list was long,” said animal control officer Joey Hancock. “We just had to tell them to wait and call us back. Now we actually have somewhere to put them.”
And the animal shelter’s director reminds residents that the majority of animals that come to the facility, unless sick or extremely aggressive, are up for adoption.
“You’re really saving a life if you adopt your pet from us,” said Voyles. “Every dog that comes through this door has the potential to be euthanized. If you can’t find one here you like, come back later or try another shelter.”
Voyles also said residents interested in adopting may be surprised at the quality of animals that have already been coming through the doors.
“You wouldn’t believe how many purebreds we get in here,” she said. “We’ve already had purebred Jack Russells, German Shepherds and Austrian Shepherds. Some of these the owners just don’t want them anymore, so they bring them here.”
All animals that are adopted out also receive a microchip, a rabies vaccine, and the shelter is working with local veterinarians to have all adopted pets either spayed or neutered.
“We have a really strict adoption policy,” said Sheriff Craig. “Every animal that leaves is spayed and neutered, and I think over time that we are really going to see a difference around the community.”
Craig noted, however, that the shelter’s manager will be holding educational classes around the county to help encourage pet owners to have their pets spayed and neutered on their own.
To adopt an animal, the shelter charges a $25 adoption fee, and they will charge anywhere from $50 to $95 for spay and neuter fees, depending on species and weight.
There will also be a reclaiming fee if you need to pick up your own animal from the shelter.
While the shelter does not have a no-kill policy, Voyles is working closely with Pickens Animal Rescue and other rescue agencies to keep the kill rate low.
“At this point we have only had to put down about 10 percent of the animals,” Voyles said. “I have not put down a healthy animal since the first of the year, only sick or injured animals or feral cats. Pickens Animal Rescue has been great, and they are taking as many of these animals as they can, and they have a no-kill policy. But we also work with other out-of-state rescues.”
Pickens Animal Rescue Director Valerie Bates says her organization is happy to work with the shelter and that they are excited there are now other options available for Pickens residents.
“I’ve been with PAR for 11 years, and we have been fighting for animal control the entire time,” Bates said. “The county just had to find funding. Before there were no options in this county other than rescue, and PAR doesn’t drive around and pick up animals like the county does.
“We have room for 100 animals [at PAR] and we’ll take the adoptable animals that we can,” she added. “Having this is wonderful, but next we need to work on getting people to spay and neuter their pets. That’s the next step.”
You can visit pickenssheriffga.com and click on the “Animal Control” link on the right for a photo gallery of animals that have been picked up at the shelter. There you can also find the current Pickens County Animal Control Ordinances.
You can contact Pickens Animal Shelter at 706-253-8983. After opening on March 1, hours will be Monday through Friday, noon to 5 p.m. and Saturday from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.
If you have an animal that needs to be picked up, you can call the animal control line at 706-253-8988, or in the event of an emergency call 911.