Dade County, Georgia, residents help animals and call for better services

Staff photo by Matt Hamilton / Barbara Havlin holds Maggie Mae, a rescue with a broken leg and a bullet lodged in her hip, as they look out the window of their home in Trenton, Ga., on Friday, August 5, 2022.

Some Dade County, Georgia, residents are calling for better animal control services in the county, pointing to the many animal lovers and advocates having to open up their homes and wallets to fill the gap.

County elected officials are making plans to improve services, they said, but no timetable has been set.

Barbara Havlin, a Dade County resident, said she has 14 dogs at her house now, including five mostly-black Labrador retriever puppies. Several have white spots, so one with a white foot was named Twinkle - a creative name that will differentiate her when she is attempted to be homed by a rescue organization, Havlin said.

Her newest dog has a big injury on his neck from what Havlin thinks is a fight with another animal. She said the wound's not healing and is festering.

"He's a good dog," she said.

Havlin said she got involved when she saw a dog tied to a roadside guardrail soon after she moved from California in 2006.

"That's when I realized there's a problem," she said, beginning a long volunteer career helping foster dogs and offering spay and neuter services to her new-found community.

"Burned out" and having health issues, Havlin said she mostly retired from helping animals in Dade County a year ago, after about 15 years of service to the community.

"It just never ends," she said. "You can offer free spay and neuter, it doesn't matter, people still don't want it. Because they're lazy and can't be inconvenienced early in the morning to drop off their dog. I don't know... we do what we can."

Much of the networking to foster and rehome animals happens online, using resources such as a Facebook group called Friends Of The Future Dade County Animal Shelter. Animal advocates also partner with rescue organizations and part-time foster volunteers like Havlin to foster and re-home animals.

At the Dade County Board of Commissioners meeting Thursday night, Trenton Mayor Alex Case said he's been researching a pre-designed metal building that would offer more services than the current animal shelter. Right now, he said the shelter only houses a few animals the city picks up. The shelter isn't open to the public and doesn't take animals found or surrendered by the public.

Case said personnel like a full-time director and a veterinary technician would also be needed. An inter-governmental agreement with the county would be needed to determine how the facility's cost would be split, Case said.

Ted Rumley, Dade County board chairman and executive, said a lot of people don't think an animal shelter is needed in the county, but he said the county gets a lot of calls about the topic and it needs to be addressed. Case agreed.

In a phone interview, Rober Goff, Dade County commissioner, said county officials are aware of the problem, but a new facility is expensive - and will require an ongoing budget, too. Right now, the county partners with the city of Trenton for animal services, he said.

Goff said animal care is a priority, but issues like public safety and preparing for natural disasters have come first.

Havlin said she thinks local government isn't doing more to help with the animal problem because people like her have stepped forward to help.

"It's like our county, they've resisted for the longest time of actually doing anything to build a shelter," Havlin said. "But people are demanding it more and more."

A frequent complaint from animal advocates in Dade County is that Trenton doesn't post photographs of the dogs they house at its shelter. Georgia law says that if Havlin takes in a dog, she has to post a photograph so it can be reunited with it owner.

She expressed concern that the city doesn't have to follow the same rules.

Along with upgrades at the shelter, Havlin thinks the county should require pet licensing, but in some of the remote areas of the county, "you're talking about some very independent mountain people up here."

(READ MORE: Whitfield County to step up animal control with new building)

Erin Wallace, a Trenton resident, said she got involved with fostering Dade County animals when she saw some puppies on the side of the road and had to assume somebody "put them out." She fosters with Marion Animal Resource Connection but has taken a short break because her child is starting school.

"We need an animal shelter down here bad, bad," Wallace said, adding that she saw another litter of puppies posted on social media recently. "We can't do it all."

Goff said spaying and neutering is needed and important.

"If people have dogs or cats and have them spayed or neutered, it would take care of a large percent of the problem they (animal advocates) are wanting us to fix," Goff said.

Dogs bred for hunting and bird dogs aren't the ones having unwanted puppies because their owners don't let them "run around," Goff said. It's people's "porch dogs" allowed to wander the neighborhood that have the puppies dumped carelessly, he said.

"It's sad, I'd love to get my hands on the people doing it (dumping dogs) because it's wrong," Goff said. "If you love that animal at all," get it spayed or neutered and avoid that problem, he said.

A retired military veteran, John Huffman runs a social media page called Your Dade Helper. He moved to Dade County in 2011.

"That was 2,300 jobs ago," he said, while taking a break from cutting trees for an 81-year-old who needed help.

Huffman also advocates for a new shelter and thinks an easy way to ease the burden on Trenton's small shelter would be to post photographs of the dogs in the shelter's care. He said not many people even know the shelter is there, and he said he is concerned the animals housed there aren't given proper care.

(READ MORE: Due to increased volume, Walker County, Georgia, considering combining animal control and animal shelter)

Huffman also said the Dade County commissioners aren't taking action because volunteers are filling the gap.

"And they make their homes into animal shelters," Huffman said. "With their own money, everything. I talked to a lady who spent $600 on an animal with a broken leg, she spent another $1,000 on another dog. Every once in a while they'll (the commission) say something like, 'yeah we're looking into that county shelter thing,' but every time it comes up, it's blown off."

Other residents are networked to focus on animal care, but Huffman said his focus is government accountability. He said he wants to see more documentation on finances related to the Trenton shelter and where the dogs are being sent by rescue organizations partnering with the shelter.

Contact Andrew Wilkins at [email protected] or 423-757-6659. Follow him on Twitter @tweetatwilkins.