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Anniston to take animals to Pell City, but space may be limited

Anniston will soon send some of its stray animals to Pell City’s animal center for safekeeping, but that change alone may not be enough to keep Anniston within its budget for animal care. 

“There may be some months when we can’t take any animals at all,” said Brian Muenger, city manager for Pell City.

Anniston officials announced last week that they’d soon begin using the Pell City animal center, to take advantage of a cheaper intake fee than the city’s now paying at the Calhoun County animal center. 

Anniston city workers collect strays inside city limits, but the city contracts with animal shelters to house them. When Calhoun County resumed control of the county animal center last year — after terminating its contract with the nonprofit that had been running it — Anniston’s City Council entered a contract to house animals at the center for $100 each. 

A few months later, that price rose to $150. County officials have said the volume of animals from Anniston is one reason for the price increase: Anniston is the center’s biggest customer, the source of nearly half the animals being held there. Attempts to reach animal center officials for comment Tuesday were unsuccessful.

Anniston city officials last week said the cost of animal upkeep had nearly burned through the $50,000 set aside for animal care in the current year’s budget. City Manager Steven Folks announced the city would also use the Pell City center, which charges $90 per animal. 

City spokesman Jackson Hodges was quick to point out that the change didn’t mean all the city’s animals would be headed to Pell City.

“We’ll still use the county, too. It’s not a full switch,” Hodges said. 

Muenger, in a Tuesday telephone interview, outlined the reason why: Pell City will take in Anniston animals only when it has space. 

“In a good month, we’re likely to be able to take in no more than 50 dogs,” he said. In some months, he said, the center has no space at all. And space can sometimes vanish fast, as it did in April when the city took on more than 50 Chihuahuas as a result of an animal hoarding case. 

The price to house an animal wasn’t always so high. Jane Cunningham, director of the nonprofit Cheaha Regional Humane Society, said that when her group ran the center, it charged only $40 per animal. The problem, she said, was that there were often more dogs than the center could house

“Literally you could have run the shelter with just Anniston’s dogs,” she said. 

The county’s contract with Cheaha didn’t provide enough money to allow the shelter to accommodate more animals, Cunningham said. In retrospect, Cunningham said, she realizes Cheaha could have charged a higher fee. 

Hodges said city workers began daily trips to Pell City this week to drop off animals.

Muenger said Pell City began running its own animal center several years ago after canceling a contract with a nonprofit that was doing the same work. He said the city has managed to cut its number of strays in half, partly by encouraging spaying and neutering and partly by working with animal rescue organizations to take on animals.  Calhoun County’s animal center has also put out a call for rescues to work with alongside the county. 

Muenger said cooperation from the public has also helped the Pell City deal with emergency animal shelter needs. Again, he cited the 50-Chihuahua glut the city saw last year, which was widely publicized in local media. 

“If we’d taken in 250 Chihuahuas, with that level of interest, I think we could have found homes for all of them,” he said. 

Capitol & statewide reporter Tim Lockette: 256-294-4193. On Twitter @TLockette_Star.