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Contributed photo by Jonathan Shatz / Gabi, an 11-year-old miniature pinscher mix, lives at the Humane Society of Northwest Georgia — where she has spent the past 10 years. She's waiting for her forever home and family, Executive Director Jonathan Shatz said.

Gabi dances around, reaching up to paw at the table where her cake with 11 pink candles sits. She waits with a smile on her face for a slice and quickly nibbles when passed her portion of the treat.

But this isn't a typical birthday celebration. This party marks the decade Gabi has spent living at the Humane Society of Northwest Georgia shelter in Dalton.

The miniature pinscher mix was surrendered in February 2010, and guesses are she was born in mid-September 2009, said Jonathan Shatz, the shelter's executive director. But every year, the shelter and its volunteers celebrate her in January at a monthly volunteer meeting.

"She really needs somebody to bond with her," said volunteer Karen Zanfardino.

Gabi is a one-person dog, Zanfardino said. She takes her out on walks in the park and sometimes to the mountains on vacations so she has a change of environment. Gabi's a bit territorial, Zanfardino admitted, but that's because she bonds quickly and gets jealous. In her time with the shelter, Gabi's been known to growl and bite but has never broken skin.

Zanfardino said she'd love to take Gabi home, but she already has six dogs of her own and she's not entirely sure how Gabi would adjust to being in a home with other animals. "Nobody's adopted her long enough for us to see," she said.

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Staff photo by Sabrina Bodon / At her 11th birthday party, miniature pinscher mix Gabi enjoys a slice of her birthday cake.

In the 10 years Gabi's been at the shelter, there was one family that drove up from Macon, Georgia, and adopted her, but gave her back after a weekend. Zanfardino said that's not enough time for an animal to adjust to new surroundings.

This is the first year the team at the Humane Society is celebrating her birthday at its new location, which it moved into in September. The shelter helps an average of 400 animals a year, and the new $2.5 million facility doubles the number of animals the shelter can care for.

The move was years in the making, said Shatz, and has improved the morale of volunteers and the image of the shelter.

The old 3,000-square-foot shelter had dark sheds that held overcrowded kennels, outdated cages, and outdoor areas that became muddy. At the new 12,000-square-foot location, the animals have more space to roam, there's an artificial turf outside, and room to expand. There's also a space for a veterinarian fit with a surgery area, but there is no timeline for that yet.

At the old shelter, the highest number of dogs adopted in a month hovered around the low 40s. In November the shelter adopted out 48 dogs, and 47 in December, Shatz said, plus 17 cats each month. There are currently 54 dogs and 42 cats in the shelter.

Unlike other shelters in the area, this one doesn't partner with any services to ship off the animals in its care for adoption elsewhere.

"The adoption process and outcome is a very important part of our mission," Shatz said.

In some cases, HSNWG has specific requirements for adopters. Those looking to adopt white husky Ghost, for example, must have a property with a 6-foot-high fence.

For Gabi, the shelter is looking for a single-adult home.

Zanfardino said that if Gabi is adopted, she'd be missed by longtime shelter volunteers, but she hopes it happens one day.

"Gabi's patiently waiting for her forever home," Shatz said.

Email Sabrina Bodon at sbodon@timesfreepress.com

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