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Decatur Animal Services Director Mindy Gilbert and 11-week-old hound Abdul outside the Decatur Animal Shelter.
Daily photo by John Godbey
Decatur Animal Services Director Mindy Gilbert and 11-week-old hound Abdul outside the Decatur Animal Shelter.

Better life for animals
Area governments join trend
toward improved facilities

By Sheryl Marsh 340-2437

Dog pounds at landfills and other dismal places are becoming extinct as municipalities and counties build facilities to improve quality of life for animals and encourage adoptions.

The Morgan County Commission recently announced plans to build an animal shelter to provide a homey atmosphere and better care for cats and dogs.

The county's shelter is at the landfill on Alabama 20 and that could be a hindrance for adoption.

"A lot of people don't feel comfortable going there," said Animal Control Director Claudia Ray. "It really depends on location. That's why it's important when they build one to make it easier for people to get to."

County Commission Chairman John Glasscock's proposal to build one at the Hartselle-Morgan County Industrial Park coupled with a garbage transfer facility is moving forward. Hartselle officials initially expressed concerns about such a project possibly adversely affecting federal funding for infrastructure. But Mayor Dwight Tankersley said that issue is resolved.

Animal life has changed over the years and the days of throwing a mangy dog or a feeble cat into a ditch are gone. But an industrial park is not a preferred location, an official said.

Decatur Animal Services Director Mindy Gilbert said a trend of providing better care for animals has been in place for years, but government entities are slow to line up.

"For 20 years the industry has been preaching about the facilities and kinds of facilities and nobody has paid attention," said Gilbert.

"Typically, government does not pay attention because they look at the back of an industrial park or a landfill. They look at the value of property and not at what they could achieve by placing a facility in a location that's going to engage the community."

"For decades in this country the pound has always been at a landfill and at the end of a dirt road by a railroad track," Gilbert added. "But that is changing with the realization that the majority of people have pets."

Decatur is building a new shelter near Wilson Morgan Park. The current shelter is at the city's public works compound on Central Parkway Southwest.

Other options for animal care are available.

Veterinarian Robert Pitman, owner of Limestone County Veterinarian Clinic, said a spay/neuter law that passed last year has started another trend.

The Limestone County Commission and city of Athens contract with Pitman to house and care for stray animals in the area.

"There are several counties that have gone to this type of arrangement because of the spay and neuter law," Pitman explained.

"It addresses the issue of overpopulation. When they leave here, they're spayed and neutered and that's known to decrease the number of unwanted animals by more than 60 percent."

The Limestone shelter adopted out more than 700 cats and dogs last year and all were spayed and neutered before they left, Pitman said.

Pitman's veterinary practice is separate from the shelter he operates for the city and county.

Athens and Limestone animal control officers go get stray animals and take them to the clinic, according to an employee of the shelter.

Lawrence County has a similar arrangement for animal services.

Carolyn Atchison converted an elephant barn into an animal shelter for Lawrence in 1999 and started contracting with the county to house and care for stray animals.

She said a woman sued the county after a dog allegedly attacked her child.

Atchison said she attended a meeting where the matter was discussed and that's when she decided to offer her facility and service.

"The woman filed a lawsuit against the County Commission because they didn't have an animal shelter," Atchison said. "So after that meeting, I decided to do what I could to help."

A staff veterinarian provides care for the animals, which includes spaying and neutering. The County Commission pays for the veterinarian, two employees and the services.

Glasscock said the Limestone arrangement would probably be something the Morgan Commission would consider.

"I think we would look at that," Glasscock said. "If there's a veterinarian here that can do it cheaper than we can and adopt them out and do what is necessary with these animals, then it's certainly a viable thought."

Whatever the county does, Gilbert said, the key is having a place that will attract people.

"The challenge isn't necessarily building bigger shelters but building shelters that communities feel good about coming to," Gilbert said.

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