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Tour of nearby animal shelter helpful
Committee looks, learns in Gwinnett
Lance White and Heather Wood discuss the layout of the Gwinnett County Animal Shelter during a recent tour. White and Wood serve on a Forsyth County panel that is studying the best way to build and operate a local animal facility. - photo by Autumn McBride

What's next
The next meeting of the Forsyth County Animal Control & Shelter Advisory Committee is set for 6:45 p.m. June 21. To provide the basis for a design plan, members likely will hone in on the shelter's needs.

LAWRENCEVILLE -- If the animal shelter in neighboring Gwinnett County were a Great Dane, then Forsyth County’s would be a Chihuahua.

Forsyth’s shelter committee took a tour of the 47,000-square-foot facility in Lawrenceville last week in hopes of gathering ideas for opening a local shelter.

Since the start of the year, the five-member Forsyth County Animal Control & Shelter Advisory Committee has agreed there's a need for a new facility and has recommended that it be county-run.

The county currently pays the NALAA Corporation $40,000 per month to handle its shelter operation.

Lanier Orr, who holds the NALAA contract and is a member of the committee, has expressed a desire to step down. He supports building a new shelter.

In Gwinnett County, the move to a new shelter in 2005 was a welcome and much-needed change, shelter supervisor Jason Cannon told the visitors from Forsyth on Wednesday.

“Luckily enough, the county listened to our pleas for a new facility, and it’s done wonderful things for us,” Cannon said.

Shelter workers left behind an aging building that had been known for outbreaks of disease among the animals, he said.

Controlling sickness was the top priority in designing a new facility, he said, and the best way to achieve that was through separate air-conditioning units.

Walking through the facility halls last week, committee members breathed different air than the dogs they viewed through the clear windows.

Those dogs had a different air system than the cats, which were in another pod, and separate from the surgery room on the opposite side of the building, and so on.

“This facility is so huge and everything is broken up into so many sections,” said County Commissioner Todd Levent, who also serves on the shelter committee. “It’s amazing.”

The other side of the building, across an outdoor courtyard, contains the euthanasia room and a quarantine area for both bites and sickness.

It also houses a veterinary check-up room, animal control dispatch, staff offices and other operating necessities.

Out back, a barn holds livestock and there is a parking area for about a dozen animal control trucks, which pass through an enclosed port for drop-offs.

Cannon also offered tips about materials on which not to skimp, such as polymer flooring, and some of the few features he wished the Gwinnett shelter had included, such as outdoor runs for the dogs. Those were cut due to budgetary constraints.

He also recommended that instead of building “one ginormous shelter” it may be better to consider smaller satellite locations to more easily serve the population.

Gwinnett’s shelter cost about $5.5 million to build. Forsyth’s committee has proposed that about $2.5 million be set aside for shelter construction.

The funding could come from a proposed extension of the 1-cent sales tax vote. A referendum on the issue might be held as early as November.

Aside from the physical shelter design, the committee sought advice on how to run the facility once it’s complete.

Inmate labor, a topic met with debate from Forsyth’s committee, has been a welcome relief in the Gwinnett facility.

“The guys are here because they want to be,” Cannon said. “They don’t want to be locked up all day.”

The inmates contribute primarily through cleaning duties, he said, though they sometimes walk the dogs.

Gwinnett’s shelter typically has a staff of eight, plus one contracted veterinarian and one technician each day.

The shelter holds more than 200 animals, Cannon said, and averages about 300 visitors on a Saturday.

He estimated that about 10 to 15 animals may be adopted on an average weekend. The facility is open Tuesday through Sunday, closing at 3:30 p.m. each day.

“When you went to the old place, it was horrible. It was that shelter. It was ‘poor dogs, poor cats,’” Cannon said.

“When you come in here, yeah, they’re still homeless, but it’s a more open, friendly environment.”

Forsyth committee members have listed adoptions as a top priority for the future facility.

Lance White, who also heads the Humane Society of Forsyth County's board, liked that the Gwinnett shelter employs one person to work with local rescue groups.

“They’re working hand in hand with them,” White said.

Cannon’s suggestion to open satellite locations led to a committee discussion of perhaps holding off-site adoptions at county parks on the weekends.

In tight budget times, the topic of funding a county-owned shelter remains a priority.

Any revenue-generating idea gains at least consideration, and the large incinerator for animals at the Gwinnett shelter is sometimes available for residents to use for a small fee.

Forsyth’s committee added that to its list of possible funding streams.