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Savannah Chatham Animal Control Under Fire; Pets Left Voiceless

The Savannah Chatham Animal Control facility is facing criticism from a number of area animal professionals, one of whom is a veterinarian who has worked at the GA pound:

“They’re hoarding,” said Dr. DeAnna Douglas in an interview Thursday. “There’s a lack of enrichment, poor sanitation, they’re not providing preventative care.”

While the complaints by Dr. Deanna Douglas are valid in the sense that sub-standard care is unacceptable, the underlying theme of her affidavit seems to be that the pound should be killing more, which is obviously never a solution.  For example, Dr. Douglas states in her affidavit that although “pet adoption is a worthwhile cause”, the pound must function primarily as a dog catcher facility if it is to uphold its mission.  This is representative of the outdated “catch and kill” model of animal sheltering.  She further complains that pregnant dogs are “often exempt from euthanasia” and allowed to whelp in the isolation ward where the families are kept for 5 – 6 weeks in runs covered in urine and feces.  The former – that pregnant dogs and their unborn puppies are allowed to live – is not the problem.  The latter is.  Dr. Douglas seems to imply that killing would be better than forcing the pups to live in unsanitary conditions but this is a false choice.  There are other options available.  Keeping the runs clean comes to mind as one alternative as does partnering with the community to foster pregnant pets.

Dr. Douglas makes one point very clear:  The local rescue group known as Friends of Animal Control Team Savannah (FACTS), enjoys the unique privilege of keeping its animals housed, fed and cared for by the pound.  And they are able to have taxpayers foot the bill for the care of these animals for an indefinite period of time ranging from months to years.  Meanwhile, Dr. Douglas has killed young, healthy animals by request of the pound for “space” when their mandatory holding period expired.

Why would FACTS be allowed to have the public pay for the sheltering of its animals at the local pound?  I don’t know but some wonder if it has to do with FACTS’ founder, Diane Abolt, being the spouse of County Manager Russ Abolt.  A state inspector at the pound on September 13 pulled a cat’s cage card which was incomplete, at best:

Image of cat cage card at Savannah Chatham Animal Control as appearing in the state inspection report from 9-13-2012. (click to enlarge).

The inspector cited the facility for its shoddy record keeping after spending hours trying to determine who this cat was, how long he’d been there, where he was going or anything at all:

Portion of the Savannah Chatham Animal Control state inspection report from 9-13-2012. (click to enlarge).

The inspector gave the pound a week to get this cage card sorted but:

On a return visit the following week he found the same card reading “Diane’s cats x 3,” prompting him to cite the shelter for “willful disregard.”

The inspector’s findings seem to reaffirm Dr. Douglas’ concerns about the indefinite rescue holds placed on pets at the pound:

In his comments on a Sept. 5 inspection he wrote: “It was also observed that some of the kennels were tagged with the names of some of the local rescue organizations. I asked about this and it was relayed to me that some of the organizations tag some of the animals as theirs and place the animals under their license — also receiving the adoption fees. The holding period set by the county allegedly does not apply to these animals and some may stay housed in the shelter for extended periods of time.”

During a meeting of the Chatham County Commission on October 19, the county manager had nothing but praise for his wife’s rescue work:

“She’s the Mother Teresa of dogs and cats,” Russ Abolt said.

Angie Koban, an area professor and shelter volunteer recently detailed her concerns about the conditions and lack of protocols at the pound in a letter to a local paper.  Like Dr. Douglas, Professor Koban paints a false picture that animal sheltering choices are limited to hoarding and killing.  While we know this to be incorrect, her observations are nonetheless noteworthy:

Because [the facility] is understaffed, the cages are not cleaned properly and do not get cleaned more than once a day.


I have seen many animals (especially puppies and kittens) living in a cage full of animal waste.


It is proper protocol to have sick animals or animals newly arriving at the facility residing in an isolated area. I have witnessed these animals being randomly placed into empty cages, or more often, with another animal. Without an isolation area, it is impossible to stop the spread of disease and the dogfights that ensue when random animals are placed together. […]  One of my volunteers, Kyle Adams (AASU student and CCAC volunteer), reported to me that a dog was brought in after 5 pm and was placed into a kennel with a dog that had been at the shelter for a while. The following morning, staff found that the new dog had attacked the first dog, creating fatal injuries.


Also, the exceptionally long holding periods of dogs being held by F.A.C.T.S are inhibiting the proper movement of animals and therefore creating a backlog of space.


In order for my students to enter the facility to provide enrichment, they must sit through a lecture by a CCAC volunteer, Mrs. Diane Abolt, the unpaid Director of Volunteer Operations and Director of F.A.C.T.S., who does not have formal animal sheltering experience (to my knowledge). While this volunteer is in charge of all volunteers at the facility, there does not seem to be (i.e., she does not present anyone with) an official protocol for volunteers or employees that addresses: 1. How dogs are consistently handled when they enter the shelter, 2. How volunteers and employees are to interact with the animals, 3. How cages should be washed, 4. How dogs should be fed, 5. How cats should be handled, fed, etc., 6. How animals are arranged, etc., etc.

The state inspector echoed the concerns about improper housing:

“Sick animals should be housed separately in such a manner as to reduce the spread of communicable and/or infectious disease,” inspector Scott Sell wrote in his report.

Calling the facility “a jewel,” Russ Abolt said the only outstanding issues raised by the Department of Agriculture were structural ones.


County officials say they’ve addressed the inspection problems and are making plans to improve the shelter long-term, including the six-month hiring of a part-time veterinarian approved by the Chatham County Commission Friday.

I don’t see how hiring one part-time vet for 6 months is going to solve any problems at a shelter with no protocols, no separation between county money and a county official’s spouse’s rescue group, and no one advocating for putting in place the proven programs of the No Kill Equation.

The county manager thinks the place is a jewel.  The loudest advocates are framing the only choices as hoarding and killing.  The community pets in Chatham Co have no one advocating for their most basic right:  the right to live.  I don’t think Mother Teresa would approve.

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