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What animal advocates had to say to local leaders
Animal Shelter
Elected officials and representatives from local animal groups recently met at the Forsyth County Animal Shelter. - photo by Kelly Whitmire

Local and state officials representing Forsyth County recently heard about what they can do to help with the local animal shelter from the boots – and paws – on the ground.

On Wednesday, officials with the Forsyth County Animal Shelter, the local Humane Society and the Georgia Pet Coalition welcomed several elected and community officials to discuss a variety of topics about pets, adoptions and legislation and gave a tour of the facility.

Keeping rules local

In recent years a push has grown against puppy mills, or businesses that mass-breed puppies for sale.

Sue Bova with the Georgia Pet Coalition said 1,200 animals were rescued from puppy mills in the first quarter of 2019, including Gracie, who came from a puppy mill in Berrien County in south Georgia.

“She lived for five years in a small cage. She was overbred litter after litter after litter after litter,” Bova said. “Her physical state, when I got her, you could feel every bone in her spine, she was about 18 pounds, both ears were infected... when you talk about the burdens this puts on all of our resources, these dogs have to be absorbed throughout the state.”

Gracie has made a huge recovery, but Bova said the work isn’t done.

In response to puppy mills, many municipalities have banned them. Lobbyists on behalf of the businesses to have attempted to get state legislatures to adopt rules limiting the ability to impose local restrictions, or preemption.

Such rules have previously been considered by the state but did not make it through the Georgia General Assembly.

“We do not want anything like this to pass in Georgia because it hurts you, it hurts your ability as a community and as Forsyth County, you’re responsible for all these animals that come in and you have to bear the burden and the cost of all the homeless or needy animals in your community,” said Debra Berger, with the Georgia Center for Humane Education. “So you should be able to have some say-so as to whether more animals are allowed to be brought in for profitable purposes.”

Bark park

A new dog park is planned across County Way from the animal shelter, and District 4 Commissioner Cindy Jones Mills said she hopes it will be a benefit for the shelter and adoptions.

“I’m excited because I thought it was a perfect place for it to be because I think that what [shelter director Cindy Iacopella] can do with it here. I think it will help with adoptions so much,” Mills said.

Mills said even in areas near the shelter, many in the community have no idea it’s there.

“Even being north Forsyth, I got to meetings all the time where people don’t know there’s an animal shelter here, and I’m just blown away,” she said.

The project will cost about 700,000.


Helping helpless animals

Forsyth County Animal Shelter director Cindy Iacopella said there will be a lot of new programming at the shelter starting in 2020 to reduce the population of homeless animals, such as offering reduced-cost or free spaying and neutering for certain areas in the county with high animal populations.

“Instead of being the big, bad animal shelter, we actually want to be a community partner for our residents and serve as a helping hand,” she said.

Some of the current offerings are a pet food bank for owners who may be struggling financially and helping with medical expenses.

Another upcoming program will train members of the Forsyth County Sheriff’s Office’s jail staff to learn to train dogs and pass that skill onto inmates, who will then raise the animals to serve as therapy animals.

“Our goal is to start out with obedience training and adopt some dogs out through the shelter,” said. Lt. Thomas Moore. “The next step in the program will be starting to do some therapy dog training. Our ultimate goal is to continue obedience training, adopt out dogs and screen people to be the recipient of a therapy dog, whether it be a veteran with PTSD, law enforcement with PTSD or perhaps even a child victim of a crime and donate the dogs to people in need in those situations.”