As Columbia County's population rises, several area rescue groups are working hard to ensure that the number of unwanted animals does not.
More unwanted animals typically means more euthanized pets at government animal control shelters.
In Columbia County, though, the number of animals destroyed by Animal Care and Control has steadily dropped. In 2003, 3,321 animals were put to death, while just 2,244 met the same fate in 2008. Adoptions are rising, said Linda Fulmer, the manager of the county's animal shelter in Appling.
Fulmer said she attributes the decreasing number of animals released to the shelter or picked up by Animal Control officers -- from 4,286 in 2003 to 3,504 in 2008 -- to seveal factors, including the efforts of four area animal rescue groups.
"They are helping with the numbers," Fulmer said.
Barbara Gleitsmann, a co-founder and the president of Happy Tails Rescue, said her group picked up 282 animals from the shelter in 2008 and has already taken 159 for adoption this year.
"We're working really hard at this," Gleitsmann said. She said nearly all the animals adopted by her group are sterilized before adoption to prevent the birth of more unwanted animals. "That's part of the deal."
Erik Emmons, a co-founder of Heartsong Animal Rescue, said his group takes in animals from 11 Georgia counties and operates Heartsong Spay-Neuter Clinic in Martinez. He said sterilization goes a long way toward controlling the number of unwanted animals and euthanizations in the county.
"It is the biggest thing by far, which is why we opened the clinic," Emmons said.
The clinic has sterilized about 6,600 pets in its 21/2 years in operation.
In March, the Columbia County Humane Society cut the ribbon on its Dogwood Park Spay/Neuter clinic in Appling.
Donna Evans, the president of the humane society, said she thinks education and the accessibility of reasonable, affordable spay/neutering are making a difference.
The humane society took 10 animals from the shelter in 2008, but they also work closely with owners to find homes for pets before they are released or picked up by animal control.
All the groups, along with animal control, work to spread the word about the importance of sterilization, pet identification and responsible ownership.
Those groups are limited, however, because they rely on donations and volunteers to do their work.
Volunteers have to love what they do to make the groups' efforts successful.
"You won't last very long if you don't," Emmons said.
The more volunteer foster homes the groups have, the more animals each can rescue from the shelter and adopt.
"We have an incredible group of dedicated volunteers," Gleitsmann said. "We love it, and we're committed to making a difference in the community. ... Without the efforts of volunteers, the situation would be absolutely dismal."
Not all volunteers have to be foster homes, Evans said. Groups need volunteers for administrative tasks, helping with animals in foster homes and at adoption events, and for fundraising.
As these groups grow and find homes for more animals, and the importance of sterilization becomes more common knowledge for pet owners, the number of unwanted pets and their euthanasia will continue to decrease, Evans said.
"We'll put it all together," she said. "We'll see if next year does the same thing; then we'll know we're on a roll."
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