COVINGTON, Ga. — The Newton County Animal Shelter has partially reopened to the public after being closed earlier this year because of COVID-19.
Nevertheless, it already has picked up where it left off with relatively higher numbers of adoptions fueled by online access to animals’ images and information, officials say.
Newton County Animal Services, which operates the shelter, also is nearing completion of a sales tax-funded, $1.2 million expansion and renovation.
The facility on Lower River Road south of Porterdale saw a monthly record of 80 adoptions of cats and dogs in August, said Cindy Wiemann, director of Newton County Animal Services.
Safety concerns around COVID-19 prompted county officials to close the facility to the public for five months this year.
However, the closure apparently did not slow the demand for residents of the shelter — which has averaged 60 adoptions per month in the 10 months it has been open to the public since May 2019, Wiemann said.
Wiemann has led the department since February 2018 after working with Gwinnett County Animal Services and the city of Madison. She is active in such organizations as the Georgia Animal Control Association and National Animal Care and Control Association.
She credits photos of the shelter’s pets being placed on the website petfinder.com, along with the department’s partnership with the Duluth-based nonprofit Planned PEThood.
Both partnerships led to an increase in adoptions because the agencies’ services made Newton County animals more visible and attractive to potential adopters, she said.
It also allowed the department to drop its euthanasia rate from 70% in 2017 to 20% this year, Wiemann said.
“Having animals online makes a huge difference,” she said.
Photos of available animals have been placed on petfinder.com and other sites since early 2019, Wiemann said.
Some recent adopters have come from other states to the Newton County shelter after seeing animals online.
One couple traveled from Michigan in August to adopt a 10-year-old mixed-breed dog they had seen online, she said.
“Without it being online, it never would have been seen,” Wiemann said.
Planned PEThood provides veterinarian-administered rabies vaccinations and sterilizations of animals at its location in Duluth in Gwinnett County.
The agency regularly sends a van that picks up adoptable Newton County animals, transports them to Duluth and returns them to the shelter.
Newton County Animal Services provides other vaccinations and does microchipping, Wiemann said.
She said most animals that cannot be adopted either have severe medical problems or have temperaments that make them aggressive toward humans.
However, the department also works to place some animals that cannot be adopted as house pets — such as feral cats that can no longer be domesticated because they have adapted to living in the wild.
Animal Services attempts to place feral cats into programs operated by area nonprofits which market their potential as “barn cats” that can help dispose of rodents, Wiemann said.
The county department employs eight full-time workers. During the five months it was closed, the shelter followed National Animal Care and Control Association guidelines for decreasing intake by only responding to emergency calls such as aggressive dogs, livestock in the road or sick and injured animals, a news release stated.
Shelter officials began allowing the public to have access to the shelter for those interested in dogs again in July. They recently opened access to adoptable cats ubut is limiting the number it is taking in, Wiemann said.
Visitors must wear masks and shelter official limit the number in the building, officials said.
In late January, county leaders celebrated a groundbreaking for an addition and renovations to the 40-year-old original building.
Proceeds of a 2017 Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax are being used to fund the $1.2 million project, which includes an addition to the original building to double the shelter’s space; and a redesign of the building for better use of the space, officials said.
As a result, it will allow Animal Services to house more animals; provide better segregation of cats and dogs; and create areas that allow potential adopters to have better access to the animals, Wiemann said.
The work will provide better ventilation for the building; make cleaning and maintenance faster and easier; and create more quarantine space for sick animals, Wiemann said.
The work also will allow Animal Services to provide emergency space in situations when animals are discovered in illegal hoarding situations, she said.