08/17/08 — Wayne County Animal Adoption and Education Center finally opens

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Wayne County Animal Adoption and Education Center finally opens

By Nick Hiltunen
Published in News on August 17, 2008 9:44 AM

Here's hoping that Fluffy the gerbil likes puppies.

That's because Fluffy, of Eureka, was getting a new house-mate: a German shepherd mix adopted Saturday morning from the new Wayne County animal shelter.

The shelter opened Saturday after years of concern about the county's aging animal control facilities. The old building was a 14-cage Brick Street 1950s structure called grossly inadequate by county officials and others.

The German shepherd puppy -- christened as Maya on Saturday morning by her new owner Taina Cruz -- was the first animal to be adopted from the new shelter.

Taina figured that because Maya and Fluffy, her gerbil, are both of the feminine persuasion, their relationship would blossom easily.

"Well, they're both girls, so they should get along just fine," Taina said.

The girls said they would have to convince their grandmother and guardian, Eureka's Helen Wilkins, that the pet store would be their next stop.

"We need a leash and a collar," Taina said before passing off Maya to Mrs. Wilkins -- she had to, as the puppy's incessant licking of her face made it hard to talk.

Hundreds of people attended the animal shelter's opening on Saturday, as Humane Society representatives and county officials such as county Manager Lee Smith and Commissioner Bud Gray spoke about the shelter.

The new facility allows for new activities, county animal control Director Justin Scally said.

For one thing, the shelter includes an education room -- named after veterinarian Stan Griffith -- that will allow Scally and other animal control personnel to educate the populace about spaying and neutering pets.

"We can have education programs, we can have the Humane Society educator in here ... we want to encourage people to spay and neuter," Scally said.

Scally formerly held a job in animal control in a county in Maryland, and said that the number of animals taken in illustrates a spaying-neutering problem in Wayne County.

At his former job, a Maryland county of about 1/2-million people, animal control took in about 12,000 animals a year.

In Wayne County, home to about 113,000 residents, animal control takes in as many as 7,000 animals a year.

"There's a large difference in population there, but not so large a difference in the number of animals coming in," Scally said. "We believe a portion of it has to do with people not spaying and neutering. We need to promote responsible pet ownership."

On top of large numbers of abandoned, neglected or owner-less animals taken in, animals also stood little chance of adoption in the tiny Brick Street facility.

An early 2000s assessment by the national branch of the Humane Society revealed a grim situation for owner-less Wayne County animals, said local attorney and past Humane Society president Jean Hollowell.

"They determined that our facility was inadequate, and that it was imperative that we build a new facility," Ms. Hollowell said. "Because of the conditions at the old facility, (they suggested) that animal control should euthanize every day."

The issue of euthanization was also a source of controversy -- up until Scally took the position about 18 months ago, animals were euthanized with carbon monoxide gas.

"The way euthanasia was being conducted was carbon monoxide, which is a controversial approach," Scally said.

Ms. Hollowell called the method "cruel and very painful."

"It was heartbreaking and devastating," Ms. Hollowell said of the former euthanasia practices, as tears welled in her eyes. "It's not the fault of the county -- it's the fault of the public (and) irresponsible pet owners."

Current county Humane Society President Suzanne Tyner said that spaying and neutering education is necessary even with the new facility.

Without proper spaying and neutering, even the new facility -- Scally said the new Clingman Street facility is "10 times bigger" -- will fill up eventually.

"Wayne County needs to take better care of its animals," Ms. Tyner said. "After hunting season, you see hunting dogs on the side of the road -- people just turn them loose.

"Then there are the barn cats they don't fix, and we've got 100 feral cats running around the farm -- you've got them in Dumpsters, you see them all on the side of the road. We just need to take better care of our animals. Animals depend on us for their love and their care."