It has become a place where even deaf dogs escape death.
In about 20 years, Columbus advanced from a grungy, high-kill dog pound out by a prison off Schatulga Road to the clean, 21st century facility now housing the city’s Animal Care & Control Center and PAWS Humane on Milgen Road.
PAWS didn’t go back 20 years, in a presentation at a reception last week celebrating its progress. It began its history with the adoption center’s opening in 2009, when PAWS and CACC partnered in establishing dual facilities right next door to each other.
CACC is an “open admissions” shelter, meaning it will accept any animal, captured as a stray or surrendered by an owner. PAWS is a “limited admissions” shelter that pulls selected pets from CACC and offers them for adoption.
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It also promotes neutering pets to reduce overpopulation, the primary driver of euthanasia. As long as people let dogs and cats breed like wild animals, saving every pet is impossible. No shelter has room to accommodate a population explosion.
But incorporating a low-cost neutering program with rescues and adoptions has proved to be effective in reducing CACC intakes and euthanasia rates, which plummeted from 6,095 animals killed in 2010 to 871 last year.
Part of that population-reduction effort was funded by a $700,000 “Best Friends” grant in 2014 that spurred the neutering of more than 6,000 stray cats that were captured and released.
“That’s really been great for us,” said Drale Short, head of the city’s Special Enforcement Division that oversees CACC. The program’s ending in September, and CACC is shifting it to PAWS. A second grant of $25,000 from Petco will keep it going as PAWS looks for additional funding, Short said.
PAWS’ statistics show Columbus in 2010 had a 79 percent euthanasia rate and only a 21 percent save rate. Those percentages since have more than reversed: Now the save rate is 87 percent, and the euthanasia rate is 13 percent.
Among those saved from death is a dog that is deaf.
The star of PAWS’ reception last week was Beethoven, a service dog the Muscogee Sheriff’s Office pulled from PAWS for training to comfort jail inmates suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder or other mental afflictions.
Now 4 years old, the big white mixed-breed with funny ears and crystal blue eyes went through six months of training – three times a week, two hours each time – before he was certified as service dog in August 2015.
Now he visits not only the jail, but schools, hospitals and hospice. Because he can’t hear, the jail’s loud, sudden noises do not startle him, said his trainer, sheriff’s Lt. Cynthia Zeisloft.
She has dozens of stories to tell about the dog’s effect on people, like the time he visited a hospice patient who immediately perked up and smiled as he started calling Beethoven “Sam.” No one corrected him.
Zeisloft found out later that the man had a dog named Sam, and that pet was to visit him later that same day. So he got to see Sam twice, shortly before he passed away.
Back in the 1990s, a deaf dog like Beethoven might not have stood much of a chance, had he wound up at Columbus’ old cinderblock dog pound off Schatulga Road, where thousands of animals were killed each year to make room for more.
It was in 1999 that Columbus Council helped push for a change – not by giving animal control more money, but by taking it away: Councilors voted to take sales tax money allotted to the dog pound and spend it on a midtown swimming pool, the one that later turned into a natatorium.
Animal lovers were outraged, and that anger fueled the drive to form PAWS and push for the new animal control facility that opened 10 years later.
Still the pressure to keep up with CACC intakes continues. This week PAWS is offering free adoptions to free up room at the city shelter next door. Animal Ark, another rescue organization, is pitching in.
“Animal Control has seemed steady full, but between us and Animal Ark, we are making good progress over there,” said Casey Smith of PAWS. “We extended free adoptions through Sunday.”
You can see pets available for adoption online at www.pawshumane.org.