By KEVIN HENSLEY

ELLIJAY, Ga. – Any pet owner goes through the process of worrying about their pet going missing.

More often than not, the pet will return safe and sound. But if the pet does not return, the Gilmer County Animal Shelter is a good place to check.

According to GCAS Director Daniel Laukka, residents are not taking advantage of that opportunity. The end result is a shelter that is consistently at full capacity.

“It seems to me that a lot of [the pets] we do [pick up] have homes,” Laukka said. “But we never get a call [looking for the pet], it fills our shelter up. So we end up having to find them new homes, when they probably already have one.”

Shelter Officer Jeremy Word has the task of picking up the majority of the animals that come into the shelter and sees the problem firsthand.

“People don’t want to keep their animals on their property,” Word said. “They won’t want to keep them up. Especially the ones outside of town. They don’t believe in putting a dog up. If they would, it would probably back on 50 percent of [pick-ups].”

Nearly 700 dogs have been brought into the shelter this year. But fewer than 100 people have shown up to reclaim their animals. When an animal is picked up or surrendered by a third party, the shelter waits five days before starting the process of figuring out what to do with the animal. Most of the time, an animal is adopted or rescued by an organization.

GCAS director Daniel Laukka listens as members of a rescue group explain their ideas for the dog they are taking with them. (Photo by Kevin Hensley)
GCAS director Daniel Laukka listens as members of a rescue group explain their ideas for the dog they are taking with them. (Photo by Kevin Hensley)

“The rescue group contacts that we have are pulling a lot more [of our animals], because I’m reaching out to them,” Laukka said. “They have set up a couple of new rescue groups that they transport to. That really helps us out. I’ve built some new relationships with other rescue groups. Tri-State Pet Rescue in Blue Ridge is probably the biggest one I use for transports. We can get animals out three, four times a month on these transports to other states.”

The efforts of the shelter are cutting down euthanasia rates considerably, as the shelter views putting an animal down as a last resort.

“We try real hard not to have to [euthanize an animal],” said Laukka. “Sometimes, there is just no other way. We have sick animals that come in. We have wild animals that come in. We have scared animals that come in that need some work. So, when you don’t have an empty space and you have animals that are adoptable, you have to make a decision.”

Ordinances on animals at large can vary from county to county. For Gilmer County, the ordinance states that is a violation of the law to allow an animal to roam freely on any public property, vacant lots or private property without receiving permission from the property owner. The constant pick-ups and third party surrenders have a simple solution.

“Spaying and neutering would help a lot,” Laukka said. “We try to do that if they come through here and end up leaving. If this is not done by whoever claims the animal, legally within 30 days it becomes the property of the shelter and we can take it back. If someone comes in to reclaim a dog we’ve had to pick up or has been turned over to us, there is a $25 fee. If the animal is not up-to-date on rabies shots, I will take the animal to the vet and meet you there to get the rabies shot done. If they come in a second time, it’s a $50 fine. The third time is $100. We implemented that policy a few weeks ago.”

All of the work put into caring for an animal once it comes into the Gilmer County Animal Shelter can be viewed as thankless. However, shelter employee Vickie McLaughlin finds the task of caring for the animals rewarding.

“I feel like it is a privilege to get to come in and take care of these animals,” McLaughlin said.

“We save more than we don’t,” Laukka said. “When you do that, it can be rewarding. It’s not easy. It’s frustrating and it’s not very fun sometimes. But when you can watch an animal walk out the front door because of what you did, it makes you feel good.”

The Gilmer County Animal Shelter is located at 4152 Highway 52 East in Ellijay. The shelter is open to the public 1-4 p.m. Tuesday-Friday and 1-3 p.m. Saturday. For more information, call (706) 635-2166 or visit its Facebook page, “Volunteers Helping the Gilmer County Animal Shelter.”

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