Chattahoochee Humane Society director talks challenges facing shelter

Published 9:00 am Friday, May 6, 2022

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VALLEY — When she was growing up, Shon Sims was often told by her mom that she must have been born with a puppy under one arm and a kitten under the other. She was an animal lover from the start and that love for animals has served her well in the 17 years as director of the Chattahoochee Humane Society animal shelter.

At Wednesday’s noon hour meeting of the Kiwanis Club of Valley, Sims talked about the shelter’s present services and where the current board of directors would like for it to be in the future.

Dantz Frazer is the current president, John Radford the vice president, Stanley Tucker the treasurer, Shirlee Ausman, secretary, Dale Frazer, the volunteer/foster coordinator with O’Neal Shaw, Dave Shirley and Karen Meadows also serving on the board.

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The shelter is located a 3265 Fairfax Bypass on Valley’s south side. It serves all of Chambers County and receives annual funding from the Chambers County Commission and the cities of Valley, Lanett and LaFayette. At one time, an estimated 4,500 animals were being brought to the shelter in a year’s time. It was an overwhelming number, making the shelter pretty much a kill center. Many of the animals being brought there were euthanized.

Things are a lot better now. Thanks to good work being done in the form of animal rescue organizations, spaying and neutering and leash laws, the euthanasia of animals at the CVS shelter is a relatively rare event now. A total of 11 dogs were euthanized at the shelter in 2020 and only three in 2021. The numbers are higher for cats.

“We have a feral cat problem,” Sims said. “We would like to have a feral cat program.”

She explained that feral cats are not socialized to people and do not make good pets. If they are picked up by animal control, they will more than likely be euthanized at an animal shelter. It’s in their best interest to continue living outdoors. This can be done through a feral cat program. This is a humane procedure where a cat can live out its normal life span without breeding in the wild. When captured, they are spayed or neutered and given the shots they need before being returned to the area where they were found. A feral cat that has been treated is marked by having a portion of its ear clipped.

The CHS has a goal of having a no-kill center but is not there yet.

“Euthanasia is an ugly reality,” Sims said. “We do not want to do it. We hate it. Rescues have been very helpful to us in avoiding this.”

Dogs are euthanized for medical reasons and in some cases when they are overly aggressive.

The best way people can help the Chattahoochee Humane Society is to make a donation, Sims said. Donations can help fill the gap between what the shelter receives from local governments and its expenses. The shelter receives a little over $12,000 in local funding, but its expenses exceed $16,000. People can help not just with monetary donations but also with pet supplies. It costs the shelter approximately $200 every week to get the healthy dog and cat food along with litter the animals being housed there will need.

“It’s not good to give them the cheap stuff,” Sims said. “We do take dog food, cat food, bleach and detergent.”

A big problem to contend with is that shelter personnel have no idea of what an incoming animal was exposed to before they were brought in.

“Parvo is deadly for dogs,” Sims said. “We don’t keep puppies because of that. We want a rescue to get them right away.”

Sims said it’s unrealistic to compare what the Chattahoochee Humane Society is capable of doing to what surrounding communities are doing.

“Our donation base is very small compared to other communities,” Sims said. “We have four full time and two part-time employees. The Lee County Humane Society has 27 employees, and it’s more than that in Columbus.”

Chambers County is larger in size than Lee County but has far fewer people. Lee has an estimated 175,000 people compared to 34,000 for Chambers.

Despite its best efforts to reduce euthanasia, the local shelter faces a perception problem. “People have told us they won’t use us because we are a kill facility,” Sims said. “We are a public facility and have to take what is brought in.”

While dog fighting is illegal in Alabama and Georgia, Sims knows it’s taking place here.

“We have bulldogs coming in that are torn up,” she said. “In some of our service areas, it’s against the law to own pit bulls.”

It’s illegal in Lanett, and there are restrictions on them in West Point.

“You can have them in Valley, LaFayette and rural Chambers County,” Sims said.

In 2018, the Alabama Legislature enacted Emily’s Law, which established a uniform procedure to declare a dog dangerous. It establishes a three-step procedure starting with the filing of a sworn statement, followed by an investigation and court hearing.

Sims said a large percentage of the dogs being brought to the shelter are pit bulls or pit bull mixes.

Since the shelter is under contract with the county and its major cities, they have to take all dogs and cats brought there. They have to keep each one for seven days to give an owner time to come and claim it.

“We have a low reclamation rate,” Sims said. “We need to find a way for pet owners to be more responsible.”

There’s a complicated route to follow when someone’s pet has been picked up and they want it back.

“They have to go to city hall and pay for a release form,” Sims said. “An adoption fee is $100, but the animal has gotten all its needed vaccinations and has been de-wormed. We’re now losing $30 on all our cat adoptions.”

Responsible pet ownership, Sims said, is to keep your pet for life and give it humane treatment.

Sims said there are much worse options than a Humane Society animal shelter.

“If we had a county pound, you won’t get the same services you get with a Humane Society shelter,” she said. “A pound will keep a dog or cat for seven days and put it to sleep.”

The local Humane Society went through a rough period when a plan to relocate the shelter didn’t work out. Sims said the new board is trying very hard to make the right decisions and to earn the trust of the public.

“They want to do what’s best for the community,” Sims said.

Sims said that she was an employee and not a board member. A decision to relocate the shelter, she said, had not been hers to make.

“I have been accused of having done some things I didn’t do,” she said. “The previous board members are good people. They just didn’t make a good decision.”

She commended the new board on having done some needed projects.

“We are still in the same facility, but we have made some improvements,” she said. “The building has been painted, and we have a cat room where the cats can run around and not be in cages. Another community cat room has been designed.”

This will keep the male cats and the female cats separated.

Sims said that everyone is at the shelter for the simple reason that they love animals and want them to be given loving, humane treatment.

“I would love for there to be no need for what we do,” she said. “If we didn’t deal with the problems we have every day, we all could be working at other jobs. This work has to go on, and it needs to be done by people who see beauty in all of God’s creations. We don’t do what we do for the pay we get. We do it for the love of animals. People ask me why I work at a place that euthanizes animals. It puts me in a position to do all I can to stop it.”