Animal Shelter busier since COVID

Suwannee County Sheriff Sam St. John holds a puppy while four year old Wyatt Green is not sure whether he wants to pet the puppy or play with their toys! -SVT Photo by Tami Stevenson

Miranda Douglas introduces one of their longest residents at the shelter, Target, to two-and-a-half year old Blaton. Target was adopted the following week after this photo was taken.
-SVT Photo by Tami Stevenson

By Tami Stevenson

For those that live in the rural parts of the county, finding abandoned dogs along the roadways is a heartbreaking and frustrating situation and it happens more frequently than many would imagine.
These dogs eagerly wait for their owners to return with every car that passes, sometimes staying in the very spot where their owners left them for days, waiting for them to return. They are scared, hungry and don’t know what to do.

Animal control officers from Suwannee County Animal Shelter (SCAS), along with Sheriff Sam St. John, urge residents to count the cost of owning a dog or any other pet before they make that commitment. The larger the pet, the bigger the commitment, and that commitment should be for the life of the animal.

A new program implemented by SCAS may help potential pet owners decide whether having a pet is the right thing for them. The program is called ‘Staycation.’ Residents can chose a dog from the shelter and take it home for the day or up to five days. They are given a questionnaire to fill out that lets the shelter know if the dog is minding its manners, likes car rides, enjoys cuddling, is leash trained, house trained, plays with toys, knows any tricks, gets along with other dogs, etc. Many of them are up to date on their rabies and other vaccinations and are spade or neutered.

Since the pandemic, the shelter found they are busier than normal. Residents are abandoning their animals because they can’t afford to feed them.

And…”Yes, dogs can get COVID,” says volunteer Vet Tech Diann Guy.

Surprisingly, they receive eight to ten calls per day from pet owners that say they no longer want their pets and expect the shelter to take them.

Sheriff St. John said residents need to understand the shelter is a homeless facility only. They can’t just take everyone’s pet when they can no longer care for them or simply get tired of them. The shelter has their hands full with homeless pets. Residents can call and officers can provide the pet owner with resources that may be able to help them, but SCAS is a homeless facility only.

However, if a stray dog or cat comes around a resident has never seen before, that’s when they will step in. Animal control officers ask that residents call before they bring a stray animal to them. They also will come out and pick the stray animal up, after the resident calls the Sheriff’s Department. They hold the animal for five days. If no one comes to claim it, they are then able to legally adopt the animal out.

If they have to put an animal down, it is normally because they are full. They said they don’t go by how long the animal has been there, it depends on how aggressive they are. They basically will choose the animal that is the least adoptable. Yes, there are pets that are so abused by their previous owners, they can become vicious and are, sadly, no longer adoptable.

Rescue shelters from all over the state come periodically and take all they can off their hands. Last month they took ten dogs and five cats, for instance. They also had fourteen adoptions last month and three fosters.

“That pumps us up!” Said Animal Control Officer Denise Watson.

The University of Florida helps spade and neuter the adoptable pets. The shelter also recently started a new program where they are going around to businesses asking for donations to help with spade and neutering. Even some residents will donate to that endeavor.

Some residents also foster the animals by coming by to take them out of their cage for walks and give them human interaction to help socialize them, which is a great help to the shelter in creating adoptable pets.

In the last few years, they have built concrete kennels and created dog runs for exercise next to the meet and greet/play area where pets can interact with their potential ‘forever home’ humans.

They send the officers off for continued training as well. “I’m a big advocate for training. Knowledge is power,” said St. John. “As the sheriff, it’s so nice to have a good staff under you. They are a blessing to have when they are trained properly.” He added, “That goes for the entire sheriff’s department. I know they are going to go out there and get it done.”

Recently they took the dogs to an event in Branford and made an adoption day out of it. Out of eight dogs, six of them were adopted.

They have two adoption events coming up, Christmas On The Square in downtown Live Oak, on December 3, from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. and at Farmers Co-op on December 10, from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. Farmers Coop is located at 1841 Howard Street in Live Oak.

Anyone wishing to help out, the shelter is in need of dog and cat food, bedding, pet toys, etc.
Suwannee County Animal Shelter is located at 11150 144th Street in McAlpin. The office phone number is 386-208-0072. Hours of operation are Monday thru Friday from 9:00 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.

Meet the staff at Suwannee County Animal Shelter. L-R: Sheriff Deputy Mary Lou Ramirez, Animal Control Officer Nate Day, Suwannee County Sheriff Sam St. John, Receptionist Miranda Douglas, Animal Control Officer Denise Watson and Volunteer Veterinary Technician Diann Guy. -SVT Photo by Tami Stevenson

These adorable puppies are eager to be adopted. -SVT Photo by Tami Stevenson

Left, Animal Control Officer Denise Watson talks with Receptionist Miranda Douglas about the dog runs while Wyatt Green, left background, plays with Target. -SVT Photo by Tami Stevenson

L-R: Sheriff Sam St. John, Animal Control Officer Denise Watson, Receptionist Miranda Douglas and Wyatt Green (center) stand in front of the concrete kennels. -SVT Photo by Tami Stevenson