Report details messy, unsanitary conditions at Walker County Animal Shelter; Commissioner Whitfield says all is under control now

Kevin Key takes a dog out of a kennel to meet a potential new family at the Walker County Animal Shelter on Friday, April 28, 2017, in Chickamauga, Ga. The shelter is partnering with Target Zero to reduce the shelter's euthanasia rate.

A new report is detailing conditions at the Walker County Animal Shelter that forced the facility to close and stop taking adoptions earlier this summer.

The report, released this week by the Georgia Department of Agriculture, details a dirty, unsanitary and infectious environment at the Walker County Animal Shelter.

Walker County Commissioner Shannon Whitfield said Thursday that the shelter was completely overwhelmed with adoptions, saying it took on more than it could handle.

Once things were out of hand earlier in June, the shelter made the decision to close its doors.

The next day on June 21, Chelsea Turner, an inspector with the Companion Animal and Equine Division of the Georgia Department of Agriculture, stopped by the animal shelter in Chickamauga for an unannounced, routine inspection.

When Turner completed the inspection, she reported that the shelter had failed in eight categories, including not having enough water for animals in certain parts of the shelter, failing to have appropriate ventilation, unsatisfactory humane care and sanitation.

Turner found that animals were being kept in bathrooms, hallways and shelter offices, and noted things like exposed electric wire from where a dog had chewed through a wall.

Shelter employees told Turner that the shelter had been closed since the day before because of overcrowding. At the time, they were only taking adoptions by appointment.

Turner found that there were 142 animals living in 75 stalls and enclosures, including 106 dogs in 65 spots.

Turner also found that three dogs had parvo, a highly contagious and potentially deadly canine virus.

She reported that there were about 36 cats and one litter of kittens in the main office, main office room and the hallway, along with two dogs.

All throughout the shelter, Turner reported the building smelled like urine and feces and that the bedding and stalls were not clean.

"It did not appear that the office was adequately ventilated to provide for the health of the animals at all times," Turner wrote.

She located one dog in a side room off the main office in an enclosure that "had not been cleaned" and there was "dried urine and feces."

A second dog was housed in a hallway between the main office area and the employee break room with feces and urine in the enclosure. Dead flies were on the floor near the office entrance and Turner found that the bathroom was also used to house animals.

In the bathroom, the Sheetrock had been chewed through by a dog, exposing electrical wire.

The dog kennel area had 106 dogs with 65 enclosures and was only being cleaned once a day, "which did not appear to be adequate to prevent the spread of disease," she wrote.

Getting things under control

Whitfield said that while conditions at the shelter got out of hand, he said the reason was because the staff at the shelter couldn't turn away any animals.

"Our staff has such big hearts for animals and they want to save every animal," he said. "They know if someone comes in and is trying to surrender an animal and if they say no, they're probably going to drop it off somewhere and just abandon it. So the staff got to the point where they didn't have the heart to say no."

Whitfield said he was part of the group that made the call to shut the shelter down. He thinks someone in the community made the call to the Department of Agriculture, hence the timing of the inspection.

The animal shelter wasn't fined or penalized, Whitfield said. He related the inspection to when the Department of Health inspects restaurants. He said the experience with the state agency was a smooth and collaborative one and that the inspection came at the right time.

"When the [Department of Agriculture] walks in the next morning, we've got animals everywhere and have to figure out what to do," he said. "[The Department of Agriculture] wants to be there to help make you better."

Whitfield said the shelter has made great strides in terms of finding animals homes and reducing euthanization rates.

(Read more: Walker County shelter reopens with upgrades)

"In 2015, Walker County was euthanizing an average of about 25 animals a week, which is horrible, inhumane and morally wrong," he said. "When I came into office, we started making changes."

In 2018, the shelter had to euthanize only 56 animals, and this year it has only euthanized 15 so far.

Whitfield added that through private donations the county was able to purchase a $31,000 truck that will be used to transport animals to rescues around the country.

Two weeks ago, the shelter made its first delivery to Kentucky. On the truck were 30 dogs and one rabbit.

The Georgia Department of Agriculture came back to the animal shelter a handful of times after the initial visit. On July 8, the department reported that all enclosures were clean and that all the pets appeared to be healthy and were receiving "humane care."

The three dogs with parvo that were found during the first inspection were released from quarantine on July 19.

Contact Patrick Filbin at or 423-757-6476.