There were 36 empty cages at the Calhoun County Animal Control Center last week. On Tuesday, the shelter was at full capacity. According to Jane Cunningham, president of Cheaha Rescue, the group that oversees operations of the facility, pet owners not sure what to do with their cold cats and dogs have turned out in droves to see if Animal Control can take care of their pets. In most cases, the answer is ‘no,’ Cunningham said, and it likely means the pets will die.
Angie Persch, the center’s director, said there’s a lack of education among the public at large at what happens at animal control facilities like the one in Calhoun County.
“By law, we have to keep the strays that Animal Control brings in for seven days,” Persch said. “If we’re full, and you bring in a pet, I hate to tell you, but we’ll have to euthanize it. People really need to think, ‘Maybe there’s something else I can do.’”
“We really want people to think about the alternatives,” Cunningham said. “Maybe to euthanize the dog is more humane than letting it freeze to death, but you should really think of the options before you just throw it away.”
The center already has its own problems keeping pets warm. Staff and volunteers temporarily moved 30 dogs from Animal Control’s shelter on Morrisville Road to the County Agriculture Center on Bynum-Leatherwood Drive to get them out of the harsh weather. On Sunday, nearly 20 volunteers and staff helped load the dogs onto trucks and into the agriculture center, where they are temporarily being held in pig pens.
“A lot of these dogs, because of the shape they are in, they wouldn’t last outside,” said Persch, noting most of the dogs moved to the facility are underfed strays. “They don’t have the warmth or energy to survive.”
Cunningham said Saturday she was buying blankets for some of the shelter’s outside animals when she called Calhoun County Commissioner J.D. Hess to try to find someplace for the dogs to go before freezing temperatures set in on Monday.
“We’re just so thankful for the commission for giving us this space and opportunity,” Cunningham said. “This was J.D.’s idea, and it’s worked out wonderfully.”
In a good bit of fortune, the Agriculture Center already had pig pens set up inside after a weekend pig show, Hess said.
“This is good to have in case of emergency,” Hess said. “We’re not really used to this kind of cold.”
Still, the conditions inside the Agriculture Center aren’t exactly cozy, Persch said Tuesday, standing inside the facility. Some of the pens are smaller than ideal for the dogs, and chicken wire was used to close off the tops to stop some of the bigger dogs from getting out. It didn’t stop many from trying to poke their heads out as staff filled their water dishes.
“It’s not warm in here,” Persch said. “But it’s better than being outside.”
And outside is where the dogs would have to stay these three days if they were at the shelter, due to the full capacity inside.
The move hasn’t been without some positives, Persch said. Staff will be able to get some much-needed cleaning done to the outside area at the shelter, a task which will go smoother without its usual furry occupants.
Persch said the dogs are expected to stay at the Agriculture Center until Thursday, when they will be moved back to the shelter.
Staff writer Brian Anderson: 256-235-3546. On Twitter @BAnderson_Star.