By Sydney Champagne
Large, open and airy living quarters line the walkway. Straight ahead and to the right is a second row of similarly large rooms, and together these rows comprise a small building. Play areas or “interaction pens” are situated on either side of the building where toys and half-eaten treats decorate the ground. Each room sports a small sign indicating the name, ledger number and general information of its resident.
She weighs 40 pounds and is only a year old. She has beautiful reddish brown hair that is stunning in the sun. She is “clean” and available for adoption.
He is a hefty, 64-pound boy who is just three years old, a bit more mature than his neighbor, Ruby. He, too, is clean and ready for a forever home.
Todd and Ruby are only two of dozens of pups at the Athens-Clarke County dog shelter. Nestled off an old country road, also known as Buddy Christian Highway, the dog shelter is home to a handful of strays and owner surrenders where they receive food, shelter and, thanks to a dedicated staff and a variety of volunteers, a lot of love and attention.
“We love having volunteers come in,” said C.J. Miller, a caregiver who works the front desk at the shelter. “We can’t possibly take out every dog every day, so individual volunteers and volunteer groups are really helpful.”
Despite operating similarly to a pound, the term “dog shelter” is much more suited to describe the friendly, warm environment. Versus generic, stacked and crowded cages that often characterize standard pounds, the Athens-Clarke Country dog shelter situates its pens outward and outside, so the animals can see the light of day, feel the breeze, and hear the world. If the outside elements are not what they prefer, the pups have the option to escape into the back of their pen, which faces inward and is inside the heated or cooled building. From this inside portion of the pen, each dog is given his own food and water bowl – a gift in its own for many of these animals.
Despite seemingly existing as a haven for many of these dogs, the shelter is actually a byproduct of law enforcement.
“We are a local government animal control agency and our primary goal is public safety,” Superintendent Patrick Rives said. “We are responsible for the enforcement of specific laws such as animal cruelty laws and keeping the public safe from dangerous animals.”
According to Rives, enforcing the law led to a collection of animals that required kennels and food. This, he explained, is how the Athens dog shelter came into existence.
Although the animals receive temporary medical treatment and housing, the dogs remain subject to euthanasia if they are not adopted. In order to lessen this trend, however, the shelter works with volunteers who advertise the pups on the shelter’s website to reach as many prospective adopters as possible. At this website, volunteers post pictures and personality statuses of each pup so viewers can get a sense of the dogs before they actually visit the shelter. In addition to using the internet as a mode of awareness for the dogs, the shelter also works with a variety of rescue groups.
“We do a lot of outreach,” C.J. Miller said. “We work with about 50 to 60 rescue groups who take in many of the animals that either need special care or have just yet to be adopted.”
The shelter further promotes adoption by establishing a customer-friendly adoption process.
“It’s not a daunting process,” Miller explains. “We try to make it as easy as possible.”
With an adoption fee of $50 and a reimbursement check of $25 dollars for those who show proof of having their new dog fixed, the shelter staff hopes that reasonable prices will further help with adoption rates.
Doors are open six days a week from 10 a.m. until 4 p.m. to visit Todd, Ruby and their many neighbors.