Alachua County shelter awarded $15K grant

Published: Thursday, October 4, 2012 at 10:43 a.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, October 4, 2012 at 10:43 a.m.

Molly was in trouble when they found her.

The 3-year-old Shih Tzu was lying in a tarp-covered cage barely bigger than her body, surrounded by urine and feces. Her black-and-white fur was matted.

She was emaciated and vicious, said Lin Santerfeit, acting field supervisor with Alachua County Animal Services. Molly would bite.

“It was like she was the most aggressive dog you ever seen,” she said, “and she was a little dog.”

At the county animal shelter, her health problems soon vanished. And after months of special attention, her behavioral issues did, too.

She was adopted six months ago, Santerfeit said, and she hasn’t bitten anyone.

Though the shelter’s staff and volunteers were able to turn Molly into an adoptable pet, they often don’t have enough resources to help every animal.

That’s where the Wagmore Foundation has stepped in.

On Sept. 21, the foundation, a nonprofit that supports organizations reducing the number of homeless and euthanized pets in Alachua County, gave the shelter a $15,000 grant.

Of that money, $6,000 will fund animal behavioral training through the Open Paw program. Expert trainers will visit the shelter and teach staff and volunteers to recognize problems and train the animals so they have a better chance of getting adopted.

“That’ll keep pets in their homes longer and forever, hopefully,” said Hilary Hynes, the shelter’s public education program coordinator.

Dogs and cats will be taught basic manners and be house trained and socialized. Dogs will learn what’s OK to chew, and cats will learn what’s OK to scratch.

“It’s hard to predict what makes an animal attractive to an individual that walks in,” said Vern Sawyer, interim director of the county’s animal services.

But some qualities appeal to everyone. Most people want dogs that are calm, he said, and don’t bark, jump or spin around too much. They want social cats that don’t hide in the back of their cages.

Of the remaining grant money, the foundation will buy $5,000 worth of materials and supplies on the shelter’s wish list, like toys that keep the animals relaxed and entertained.

Then $4,000 will go to help dog owners who are not in compliance with county codes because they can’t afford equipment.

For example, county codes do not allow a dog to be tied to a fixed object for more than three hours in a 24-hour period. Installing a runner system that gives the dog more mobility would fix this problem.

Most people not in compliance care about their dogs, Sawyer said, but right now they might be more worried about putting food on the table for their families than buying a trolley system and harness for their dogs.

Often a citation doesn’t fix the problem, said Robert Hutchinson, a Wagmore Foundation board member. But what makes a difference, he said, is when officers can educate dog owners and offer some supplies.

The field officers can’t use county money to give away equipment to people, Hutchinson said, so the foundation provides the funding.

Though the runner system is better than tying a dog to a fixed object, it’s still not ideal.

“Truly, you would love to have every dog be a member of everybody’s home as a member of their family,” Hynes said. “It’s sad when you see the dog outside.”

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