Whitfield County to step up animal control with new building

A new building for the Whitfield County Animal Shelter more than tripled its work space, allowing more room for its work finding good homes for the county's unwanted animals - and reducing that population through spaying and neutering.

"If you live in Whitfield County, due to the generosity of the commissioners, you can get your dog or cat spayed for $20," shelter Director Diane Franklin said. "So that's our goal: to stop pet overpopulation."

Franklin said it's mandatory in Whitfield County for pets to be spayed or neutered if they're older than 6 months. Enacted in 2018, the law says animal owners can be fined if their animals are not in compliance. The law makes exceptions for licensed breeders and animals medically unable to have the simple procedure.

At that price, there are no excuses for not having your pets spayed or neutered, said Jevin Jensen, chairman of the Whitfield County Board of Commissioners, who was standing near Franklin at the opening celebration Friday. As an owner of several rescue dogs, he said the shelter is one of his "passion projects."

The shelter was built with the help of Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax funds, Jensen said.

"It's not a multimillion dollar facility, it's $200,000," he said. "We had to get donations, we had to get volunteers, we had our own staff working on it. It's really a community effort to stay on-budget with inflation and supply chain issues."

The facility was built to be comfortable for the animals, but Jensen said it's also "warm and inviting" for community members coming to find a pet to adopt. The building is decorated with multiple animal-themed murals by local artist Mayelli Meza. Many of the pets of shelter workers were featured in the murals, adding to the community feel of the shelter.

A member of the four-person shelter staff, Whitney Weaver, said before the new building opened, employees had to do everything in the same space. Medical procedures, employee meals and community members meeting animals all happened in the same office, she said.

Her favorite part of the new building is the medical area, Weaver said, where everything the staff needs can be kept organized. She said she does several jobs at the shelter, but transportation coordinator is her main job.

Franklin said the old office was "run down" and only about 500 square feet. The new building - built specifically for the shelter - is 1,800 square feet, she said.

When Franklin first started at the shelter in 2017, about 60% of the animals brought in were euthanized. Now staff members euthanize no more than 4%, and their goal is to find a good home for every animal. She said the shelter has built relationships with rescues all over the country - but she and Jensen agree that reducing the unwanted animal population through spaying and neutering is an important part of their strategy.

(READ MORE: Animal kill rates rise amid Whitfield County shelter squabble)

Animal shelter representatives will be in the county's parks all summer promoting their spay and neuter program, Franklin said. Goodie bags will be available at those community outreach events, she said. The shelter also just received a $10,000 grant from the Department of Agriculture, which Franklin said will help staff members spay and neuter more animals.

The Whitfield Animal Shelter, at 156 Gillespie Drive in Dalton, can be reached at 706-278-2018.

Jensen thinks more community members will adopt animals due to the more welcoming space, and he said he hopes that means fewer resources are diverted to transporting animals out of the county. He said he's confident the two-pronged approach of adoptions and a robust spaying and neutering program will be successful to reduce the shelter's animal population.

"Between the adoptions and the spay/neuter program, we should never have to expand (the facility) again," Jensen said. "This is our long-term home."

Shelia Long, known by her friends as Cricket, said she appreciates the work of the animal shelter. She and her husband run a rescue in Dalton called Another Day Rescue and said all the animal-related organizations in the county cooperate well together to find homes for animals. She came to the opening to support the shelter's work.

"I hope we can find homes for all the unwanted animals if people can open up their hearts and give them a good home," Long said.

Contact Andrew Wilkins at awilkins@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6659. Follow him on Twitter @tweetatwilkins.