Jun. 14—About three weeks ago, the Whitfield County Animal Shelter moved its offices into a new 1,800-square-foot building, converting its old 500-square-foot building into kennels, and shelter Director Diane Franklin said the new setup is already making a difference.
"The animal control (deputies) come in the entrance (of the kennels), and everything moves so smoothly and quickly," she said. "We have a dedicated area and that helps so much."
County officials held the ribbon cutting for the new building at 156 Gillespie Drive on Friday, giving residents an opportunity to see how their tax money was spent.
The expansion was funded with $200,000 from the 2020 Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax (SPLOST). A SPLOST is a 1% sales tax on most goods sold in the county.
Dr. Emily Felker, a veterinarian who works at the animal shelter, said she appreciates having a dedicated medical area and intake facilities for new animals coming in to keep them out of the general population until they can be vaccinated and staff can make sure they are free from disease.
"It's better for the animals," she said. "It's better for the staff and the public."
Felker was honored with a plaque dedicating the building in her honor after the ribbon cutting, recognizing her 20 years of work at the shelter.
"She always answers her phone, and she comes whenever we call her," said Franklin. "Without a doubt, her work with our spay and neuter program has reduced Whitfield County's stray animal population."
Whitfield County Board of Commissioners Chairman Jevin Jensen said he is happy to see the new facility open.
"This is a passion project for Dr. Felker and Dianne and for me personally," he said. "I have three rescue dogs. We didn't want to build a multimillion dollar building. But we wanted to build something modern and safe for our employees and for all the dogs and cats that come through. I think we've achieved that. We did it on budget. We had to get some donations. Animal Shelter staff and other county employees did some of the work."
"This is a very nice facility," said Commissioner Barry Robbins. "It gives us a lot more room. It's a big improvement."
"It looks good," said Commissioner Greg Jones.
The new facility has a dedicated bonding area, where people can get to know a cat or dog before deciding whether to adopt it.
Jensen said one of the goals of commissioners is to make it easier for Whitfield County residents to adopt animals.
"We don't want to kill these animals," he said. "We want to get them all into loving homes."
When Franklin started as director in 2017, the shelter was euthanizing more than 20% of animals that came through. Now, that's down to 4%, all of them animals that have to be put down for medical reasons.
Franklin said another goal is to increase the use of the shelter's low-cost spay and neuter program. That program will spay or neuter one pet per household for $20 for homes that meet certain income requirements. It is funded by a grant from the Georgia Department of Agriculture.
County commissioners in 2018 passed a law requiring most pet owners to have their animals spayed or neutered in an effort to reduce the number of unwanted dogs and cats in the county.