I’m double-posting my Lake Blackshear blog tonight to the Mackinac Island bog because 1) there IS a Mackinac connection (as you’ll see as you read; and 2) this is a cause very close to my heart. After you’ve read it, regardless of where you are in the U.S., please consider adopting or making a donation (if not to this shelter, to one near you – the need is always there), or sharing this with friends who might have room in their hearts and homes for a four-legged bundle of unconditional love.
See you back here on Wednesday for news from the Island! God bless.
Take one group of dedicated and determined animal lovers. Add a city and county with a real sense of what it takes to offer animal control that is effective, but also compassionate and humane. What do you get?
Best Friends Humane Society in Worth County.
I chanced across Best Friends on Facebook after I returned home from Michigan last fall. A few FB friends from my hometown of Sylvester reposted some photos of handsome dogs looking for forever homes, and it was the photographs that drew me back again and again. The photos on the site are snapped by Beckstrom Photography owners, Melody and Josh, who volunteer their time each month to ride out to Best Friends and turn lost pups into glamorous stars. I firmly believe those photographs are one reason Best Friends’ rate of adoption is so high.
Another reason is Best Friends’ President and Shelter Director, Shelly McPhaul, and her amazing staff – mostly unpaid volunteers (including Shelly). Shelly and her family moved to Sylvester, where her husband’s family has lived for generations. five years ago. They moved there from California and settled into the quiet life of small-town America. A year ago, Worth County (Sylvester is the county seat) decided to use some left-over SPLOST money to construct a new animal shelter, and Shelly (an avid animal lover) volunteered to be the director for six months. A year has passed, and Shelly is still there.
Two or three weeks ago, I shared on Facebook a group of dogs available for adoption at Best Friends. Not many days later I received an email from a friend we met the first summer after we bought our condo on Mackinac Island. Jeanine Kramer was a taxi driver on the Island and one of the first people I did a “Day in the Life Of” story on for the Mackinac blog. She has since moved to Savannah and drives for a carriage tour business there. Jeanine had fallen in love with Jordan, a female black and white border collie mix. She planned to drive from Savannah to Sylvester on Friday (over four hours), bring her other dog (Lucy) with her – to make sure there were no jealousy issues – and hopefully return to Savannah with a new lifetime friend.
I immediately contacted Shelly to ask if I might do a story about the adoption, and she said “yes”! Lake friend Samille rode down with me Friday, and we arrived shortly before noon, just minutes ahead of Jeanine.
The shelter accepts all dogs (they accept cats also, but adoptable cats are soon transferred to the Adoption Center of the Companion Animal Hospital in Albany, where veterinarian Dr. Carie Wisell has an outstanding record of adopting them out. Dogs can come in as strays picked up by animal control or found by citizens, owner turn-ins, or as troubled dogs who have bitten someone. Best Friends does an outstanding job of finding homes for adoptable dogs, but unfortunately not all dogs are adoptable.Those who are remain as long as possible – even if that turns into months. Puppies, of course, are what most people want, and most puppies go quickly. Adoptable adult dogs are harder to place, but because Best Friends advertises on Petfinder.com (as well as local newspapers and television), the entire world has access to the shelter on the Internet. Dogs have been placed as far away as New Jersey, and many have been placed in Florida, North and South Carolina, and, of course, all over Georgia. One dog was leaving Monday for his new home in Washington, D.C.
We took a tour of the shelter, and the first thing Samille and I noticed when we entered the kennel area was how clean everything smelled. The kennels were spotless (unless someone had just had an accident – in which case it is almost instantly cleaned up). There are 48 kennels, but in the case of puppies or very small dogs, each kennel can hold more than one. Each larger dog has a kennel to himself. Twenty-four kennels are reserved for new arrivals or sick animals. Each new arrival is quarantined until the health of the animal is determined, and they are released to the “adoptable” side of the kennel only after any health issue is addressed.
In the year Best Friends has been open, 987 dogs have entered the shelter, and 520 of those dogs were placed in forever homes. Through the generosity of veterinarians like Dr. Wisell and Dr. Allan Gardner of Sylvester Animal Hospital, medical costs are kept to a minimum, but funds are always needed for other essential items.
We sat down and talked about the many joys of finding homes for the dogs Best Friends accepts. We also talked about the pain of the decision to humanely euthanize any animal. As in most shelters, there is only so much money available, and dogs cannot be kept indefinitely. The majority of dogs who are euthanized are very ill, injured, aggressive, have unacceptable temperaments, or are suffering from stress brought on from being confined in a space for too long. Since opening, the staff has learned that kennel stress can cause aggression, withdrawal, hair loss, chewing on their feet, rubbing on fencing or a host of other things, even ulcers. There is no magic “timeline” for this, and each animal adjusts differently. One may be fine for months, while another may begin to show signs of stress after only a few weeks. Very few dogs are put down due to lack of space because foster families step up to help out. Fosters take dogs into their homes – one at a time, maybe two. Fosters socialize puppies who have never been around people and help animals with curable illnesses get healthy so they can be placed. The animals stay with a foster family as long as the family will keep them – or until a forever home is found. There is no time limit for dogs placed in foster care – AND no chance of kennel stress.
Shelly shared with us that she used to go with the animals to the veterinarian’s office and stay with them until they were euthanized by injection. She felt a need to follow through with them from the moment they entered the shelter until, if a home could not be found, they go to the Rainbow Bridge with someone they know with them. Other staff members have taken on that responsibility now (although Shelly still occasionally goes), and it is Shelly who must make the final decision to euthanize. It breaks her heart to do that, but in today’s world the only other decision – a cruel one indeed – would be to turn them loose to starve, to freeze, to be hit by cars, or worse.
How can you help? Adopt an animal from Best Friends (www.bfhsworth.com) or from any animal shelter near where you live. Yes, I now have purebred dogs, but in the past there have been rescued dogs in the Horton house, and I can tell you right now that the next dog I own will be a shelter dog. If you can’t adopt, donate. A monetary donation would be so welcome. Money pays for medical bills, supplies, and DOG FOOD! Checks can be mailed to Best Friends Humane Society, P.O. Box 5894, Sylvester GA 31791. The shelter accepts ANYTHING. Before you throw out those old ratty towels you’ve had for years, send them to the shelter – they will be used a few more years drying bathed dogs. Old bathroom mats are also useful, as are bottles of bleach, paper towels, and dog toys. In other words, anything you would use in your daily life with YOUR dog, the shelter can use. Box it up and send to the shelter facility at 787 Ephesus Church Road, Poulan GA 31781. Volunteer workers are always welcome at Best Friends – to socialize puppies, walk dogs, play with dogs, bathe dogs, clean cages . . . whatever you want to do, there’s a place for you. Just call the shelter at 229-777-7774.
By now you must be wondering, “What about Jeanine and Jordan?” I’m so happy to report that Jordan is now calling Savannah home. When I spoke with Jeanine Friday night, she said that Jordan rode beautifully in the car and was introduced to her cats without any problem at all. As she talked with me, both Jordan and Lucy were curled up on the couch, taking a nap.
Of course, I fell in love with a few dogs myself on Friday. One in particular was Winston, who staff found when they arrived at the shelter one morning last week. His owner had tossed him over the fence and left him. Shelly said he “is just lost.” He is so well-behaved that he has free run of the shelter and constantly goes to the glass front door, looking out as if to say, “When are you coming back for me?” His story broke my heart.
Visiting this wonderful shelter made me want to find a way to volunteer there on a regular basis. I’m going to try and do that. But one thing I know I can do is pack a box of goodies and write a check. I hope you will do the same . . or even better – give one of their residents a forever home. You’ll be so glad you did.