Only about one in four animals that arrive at the Baker County Animal Control kennel survive the experience, and the remaining animals end up at the New River landfill after being euthanized.
Some are seized due to neglect or abuse, others are picked up for running loose in violation of the county’s leash law, and yet others are brought to the shelter on Steel Bridge Rd. by owners who can no longer care for them.
Since October 1, 2011, according to the county’s count, 1421 animals, mostly dogs and cats, were housed at the kennel. Of those, 1053 or 74 percent were euthanized.
“Please note that this number includes animals euthanized at their owner’s request and animals injured, sick, diseased or feral,” said County Manager C.J. Thompson.
Jay Canaday, who works full-time and runs a dog rescue from his Glen St. Mary home known as the London Sanctuary, said he’s grown frustrated by the low-priority that animals seem to have in Baker County, both in the eyes of the general public and animal control.
The county manager, in part, agreed.
“There’s no doubt it’s been a low priority of the population as a whole,” said Mr. Thompson. “If animals were a priority, people wouldn’t be dumping them on the side of the road and then they end up at the shelter.”
From the county’s perspective, the animal control department functions more as a law enforcement agency than a shelter like the Humane Society.
“Baker County Animal Control is a public safety agency,” said Georgia Monfort, the department’s director, responding in writing to concerns raised recently by Mr. Canaday.
“We house leash law violation impoundments, rabies quarantines, dangerous dog classifications, cruelty removals and abandonments,” she said.
“It’s a mission difference,” added Mr. Thompson. “It’s much more costly to operate as a no-kill shelter in a Humane Society-type atmosphere. That being said, I think we do try and do as much as we can to find an alternative to euthanasia for the animals.”
But Mr. Canaday believes more could be done at the county facility to reduce the number of animals subject to that fate.
First, he said, there are too many barriers in place for volunteers who want to help at the kennel, which houses animals collected from the Town of Glen St. Mary, the City of Macclenny and the rest of the unincorporated county. And people like him, who want to increase adoptions and rescues from the shelter, have had little success in doing so, according to Mr. Canaday.
He says there are volunteers who have submitted applications to foster, or take care of animals until a suitable home can be found, but have not been contacted by animal control, or have called and left messages that don’t get returned.
“We have a network of volunteer foster homes throughout northeast Florida, and while I have nine dogs at my home in Cuyler currently and cannot take on any more here, there are other locales where we can take dogs in, from St. Augustine to St. Mary’s to Sanderson,” Mr. Canday said.
County officials, however, said animal control has a history of releasing pets to rescues, when possible, as many only take particular breeds.
Ms. Monfort listed 18 rescues she said she works with to find accommodations for animals. Further, she said, a volunteer with London Sanctuary picked up several hound puppies, the rescue’s specialty, last year.
Mr. Canaday countered that he has never been contacted despite repeated overtures to Ms. Monfort.
“True, we do not do anything with feral cats,” he said, “but we will — and have — taken on most any breed of dog from chihuahuas to Great Danes, even though our mission statement is hounds, Dalmatians and bulldogs.”
“I’m simply frustrated,” said Mr. Canaday. “Georgia has a thankless, impossible job that few people would want, at least few people with a heart and a soul, which I know she’s definitely got.”
Mr. Canaday understands that money is tight for county government. But, he says, there are low or no cost strategies the county could employ.
He suggested making volunteering easier at the shelter to offset staffing reductions within the department and extend the number of hours people can come to the facility for adoptions.
The once three-person staff of Ms. Monfort, a second animal control officer and a third administrative employee that manned the kennel from 9 am to 5 pm Monday through Friday, is now down to two people after the latter employee left.
Mr. Thompson, the county manager, said the Baker County Commission has had a long-standing hiring freeze in place, which includes not filling vacancies. That has necessitated Ms. Monfort and her deputy splitting their time, spending mornings at the kennel and afternoons in the field.
Potential adopters can also call and request an appointment to see available animals.
“If you call and say I can’t come until 3 o’clock and I really want to come look at a kitten, they’ll meet you at 3 o’clock,” said Mr. Thompson.
He added that bull dogs and cats are the most common animals that end up at the shelter, and bull breeds are especially difficult to adopt out.
“You have to be more skeptical of whose coming in to get a bulldog due to the prevalence of dog fighting,” said the manager.
Better use of volunteers, during times more conducive to adoptions like evenings and weekends, Mr. Canaday contends, could reduce the number of animals euthanized.
It’s not that simple, though.
“The biggest challenges are there are controlled substances in the facility so you can’t have volunteers there without supervision,” Mr. Thompson said.
“The second issue is actually for the volunteer’s safety,” he said.
“Not everyone who goes down to animal control is happy, so it’s not in the best interest of the volunteer to be there with an irate citizen who shows up angry that their dog has been impounded.”
Mr. Canaday also recommended applying for grants to hire additional personnel and marketing dogs and cats on websites like PetFinder.com and Craigslist.com.
While the county is not opposed to online marketing, Mr. Thompson said staff lacks the capacity to do so. Such tasks have fallen to others, like animal control volunteer Elizabeth Barber, who launched a Facebook page to feature photos of adoptable animals.
Ms. Barber, who said she volunteers about eight hours a week at the kennel, is one of only a few regular volunteers. Most of the 45 individuals who’ve filed paperwork to volunteer, Mr. Thompson said, help with special adoption events by bathing animals and preparing them for showing.
It took some seven months, however, for Ms. Barber to build a relationship with animal control, the volunteer said.
“It took a long time to get [Ms. Monfort] to trust me,” said Ms. Barber. “She thinks one of these PETA people will come in there, or that I would be scared to see a hurt animal or move dead animals or clean up after sick dogs. A lot of people don’t want to do that, so I understand her reluctance.”
Ms. Barber praised the animal control director for her 24-hour availability to respond to emergencies and her efforts to solicit donations to keep the facility’s costs down.
“She saves the county money like ammonia does in the household,” she said.
However, Ms. Barber said, the department is in dire need of more staff. She said even when it had three employees and volunteers helping out, there was plenty of work to go around.
Mr. Canaday called for the same.
“They simply need a third person who can be there at least part time to supervise volunteers and show dogs to the public. Most people aren’t going to call and schedule an appointment, especially since there’s no way of knowing what dogs are actually at the shelter and the shelter is so far off the beaten path,” he said. “Bear in mind that many folks — I’ve talked to them — don’t even know that Baker County has a shelter.”
But using grants to hire more help would only be a temporary solution.
“One time pots of money don’t solve the underlying problem,” Mr. Thompson said. “All you’ve done is set the expectation that this is the level of service you are going to provide, and then the money runs out and you have to go back.”
Mr. Canaday knows that the county is doing a lot with the few resources at its disposal, and part of the problem rests with the community at large.
He said residents should treat their animals better in general and embrace spaying and neutering rather than the “it ain’t natural” mentality that’s pervasive here.”
At the same time, he said, small changes by animal control could make the department “more user friendly.”