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Effingham Magazine

The Effingham County Animal Shelter- Finding Forever Homes

Story by Kelly Harley | Photos by Tonya Perry

Step inside the Effingham County Animal Shelter and you’re met with the lively sounds of the animals it houses. With some major improvements made over the last several years, both animals and staff are embracing a much-needed transformation. It was five years ago when Lorna Shelton gladly accepted the Effingham County Animal Shelter’s director position. With 28 years of shelter experience, she had a vision for the shelter. Her vision included decreasing the number of animal drop-offs, cutting euthanasia rates, increasing adoptions and improving living conditions. “There were core things that were missing in this shelter. We had a group come in and do an assessment and we took their advice and starting implementing their suggested changes,” says Shelton. When Shelton first started, the shelter was taking in roughly 2,300 animals a year. That number has decreased each year and Shelton estimates she will take in around 1,500 this year. The euthanasia rates have also seen a steady decline. Thirty-eight percent of all animals admitted to the shelter in 2018 were euthanized, as compared to 49 percent in 2017. Shelton credits much of the decline to new programs and better adoption education. Gone are the days when people could adopt an animal without having it spayed or neutered. “No animal leaves the shelter unless it’s fixed. This chips away at the number of animals born in the community,” says Shelton. Animals also receive their required vaccinations before being adopted out. With the financial support of Helping Out Pets in Effingham (HOPE), a non-profit that raises money to help the shelter, Shelton works with local veterinarians who provide spay, neuters and vaccinations. The implementation of the Barn Cat program is another way the shelter is reducing the number of animals euthanized. Each week the shelter takes in many feral cats also known as community cats. Using grant money and citizen donations, the program allows for all cats to be spayed or neutered, have a rabies vaccine and an ear tip which shows they have been fixed. These cats can be very beneficial to farms and warehouses and will keep the rodent and snake populations under control. Adoption fees are reduced for approved applicants. Shelton was also instrumental in changing a local ordinance on feral cats. Healthy, feral cats can now be trapped, spayed or neutered and returned to the community with a clipped ear. Before it was illegal to release them back into the community thus increasing the number of cats in the shelter. Another accomplishment is the dedication the shelter has in finding animals a good home. Shelton works closely with local resources to support the effort. One Love Animal Rescue in Savannah helps to transfer animals to no-kill shelters and rescue groups after the animals have been fixed, vaccinated and treated for health conditions. “We have some wonderful rescue groups that work with us to get the animals into forever homes.” While the number of pets in the shelter continues to decline, overcrowding was a big problem when Shelton came on board. “Diseases were being spread due to overcrowding. We’ve made a lot of space improvements and it has helped in keeping our shelter clean and reducing the spread of disease,” says Shelton. Most of the upgrades came through material donations and cash donations. Some of the biggest enhancements include: the addition of outdoor kennels and outdoor runs (new roofs cover the runs), stainless steel cages that prevent animals from escaping, an isolation room/nursery for cats, installed baffles to absorb noise, and added air conditioning and heat to all buildings. Shelton adds that better adoption education is also key in reducing the number of animals the shelter takes in. “I work with people who come in to adopt. I try to be a matchmaker and find a perfect fit. Sometimes people come with an idea of what they want, but don’t take into account the animal’s needs and family routines,” says Shelton. “We hope that by finding the right match, it eliminates people returning an animal because they didn’t know what they were getting into.” With the holidays approaching, Shelton sees more people who come to the shelter looking to adopt an animal to give as a gift. She makes it clear that adopting an animal during this time could bring unwanted consequences. “People love to wrap a cute animal up in a bow. I tell people this is the worst time to bring an animal into a home because the routine is anything but.” Shelton says that aside from unfamiliar people in your house, people usually have more things that they don’t usually have in the house and more food is left out around the house. Shelton doesn’t discourage people from giving pets as gifts but offers a better approach. “I tell people to take a picture of a cat or a dog and wrap that up with a leash or collar. Tell the person that after the holidays, you will all go to the shelter and pick out an animal. Animals in shelters, usually have been through a lot in life and we want them to start with a solid foundation in their new home.” Shelton is spot on when she says animals in the shelter haven’t had the best lives; however, she truly believes animals change. She and her staff work with them to make sure the animals can trust again and have the behavioral skills they need when adopted into a family. She wants people to know that when they adopt a shelter pet, they are saving a life and opening up a spot for another animal. There are also pedigree dogs out there for those looking for breed-specific dogs. It’s no doubt the shelter has come far in the last few years and they have done so on limited resources. Shelton says when cuts are made to a county budget, shelter money is one of the first things to go. She credits much of the success to the wonderful groups and citizens who back the shelter financially and through volunteer resources. Not everyone is in a position to adopt an animal; however, there are other ways to support the shelter’s mission. “We will gladly accept donations such as laundry soap, food, and paper towels. We look for sponsors, too, who will pay for an animal to be fixed. If people wish to make financial contributions, we encourage them to donate to HOPE,” says Shelton. “A small donation can have a huge impact on one of our shelter animals.” If you’re interested in adopting an animal from the shelter, you can visit and see the available animals. You can also search for a particular kind of animal and pull results from other shelters.

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