By Layne Saliba
Photos by David Barnes
The sounds of dog barks and cat purrs escape the Hall County Animal Shelter every day of the week. There’s even the sound of a cow’s moo every so often.
“If you can name it, we’ve had it here,” said Mike Ledford, the shelter’s director.
The animal shelter at 1688 Barber Road in Gainesville takes in every animal that comes through its doors, no matter what. The animal shelter is also the home of Hall County Animal Control, which brings in animals the shelter has to house as well. And without it, Ledford said he doesn’t know what the community would do.
“We’ve got a great staff,” Ledford said. “They do it with passion, and obviously they care about the animals or they wouldn’t be in this business. From March through September, which is our busy time, we can have as many as 80-90 animals a day coming into this facility.”
As an open-admittance shelter, Ledford and his staff aren’t able to be selective with the animals that come to the shelter like some other shelters. As long as the person dropping the animal off has a valid Hall County driver’s license, or Animal Control picks it up within the county’s borders, it has to be accepted — even if the animal shelter knows it won’t be able to find someone to adopt it.
Ledford said that’s why animal shelters sometimes get a bad reputation — euthanasia numbers. He said they never want to euthanize at the Hall County Animal Shelter, but a lot of the time, the numbers look bad because of the amount of animals the shelter sees each day, or the condition a lot of animals are in.
“When numbers are higher in intake, euthanasia numbers are going to be higher because a lot of those intake numbers are hurt animals, sick animals or have a temperament to where they can’t be adopted anyway,” Ledford said. “When you take those out of the equation, our euthanasia rates have been less than 15 percent for the last three years.”
But for the ones that can be adopted, Ledford said the staff does everything they can to make them happy. There’s a full time veterinarian at the shelter with two veterinary technicians that help with spaying and neutering each animal to reduce overpopulation before it leaves. They also do some other surgeries when needed, but Ledford said they’re limited because they don’t have access to all the equipment they need.
A kennel staff takes care of feeding, walking and bathing the animals. Some of the most important people that come through, though, are the volunteers. They’re able to take the dogs outside, play with them and get them around other dogs and people so they have a better chance of being adopted.
“If they’ve been walked, they’ve been socialized, they’ve been around people, it kind of trains them a little bit,” Ledford said. “It allows them the ability to be around people and petted and walked and outside and not be quite so hyper in that cage.”
Not all animals are open to the public for adoption. Ledford said the shelter’s livestock program is probably the biggest in the state. Sometimes cows, horses or goats get loose and Animal Control has to bring them in. Other times, owners simply leave them when they move to a new place.
There’s plenty of room for them at the shelter, though. And Ledford said they have a pretty good network of people they contact when an animal like that comes in.
“There’s farms everywhere,” Ledford said. “They’ll take them and normally there’s no adoption fee on them. Sometimes, if we’ve had them for an extended amount of time, they’ll donate to the shelter to cover the cost of feed or hay.”
Ledford said he just wants to see all the animals get adopted. He said the Hall County Animal Shelter adoption numbers are growing every year since the community is starting to realize the shelter is an option for pets. It’s only $85 to adopt, which Ledford said covers spaying or neutering, the pet’s first set of shots, including rabies shots, and a microchip.
But adoption isn’t for everybody, though. Even if it means keeping the animals just a little longer to find the right home, Ledford and his staff never try to push adoption on anybody.
“Adoption is not an impulse buy. It shouldn’t be,” Ledford said. “You can’t force somebody or guilt someone into taking it, because we’re just going to end up right back with it when it doesn’t work out at home. So it’s a process to make sure it’s a ‘forever home’ and not just a ‘for now’ home.”