Weaving a Grassroots Safety Net for Homeless Animals


The term “homeless pets” brings to mind ragged kittens and soulful puppies huddled against the cold, but in rural counties it’s just as likely to mean packs of large dogs roaming the countryside terrorizing residents, killing livestock, and attacking pets. It also means picturesque country roads blighted with the bodies of companion animals — victims of gunshots, traffic, disease and starvation. It means that families enjoying a swim in a creek may stumble upon entire litters that were thrown off the nearest bridge. It means the staff at the county dump dreads Mondays, wondering how many bags squirming with life were tossed over the fence during the weekend. It means any resident can wake up to find one or more animals have been dumped at the end of their driveway. In Pike County, GA, it means all of that and more.

CARE 3In 2007, Mrs. Deloros Smith was attacked on three occasions by roaming dogs inside her own gated and fenced yard. Her neighbor Don Bailey recalls the incidents leading up to her death. 

"She had called the sheriff’s office after the initial attack, only to be told that deputies could do nothing unless they actually witnessed the attack. On the second attack, the sheriff’s deputy maced a dog that was acting aggressive, and the dog retreated. Upon the third attack, a deputy wounded the dog, and it was captured several days later. Mrs. Smith was hospitalized after the third attack and died from her injuries."

Despite the outrage following her death, deputies were acting according to the law in a county without animal control ordinances. Even if they had picked up the dogs when she reported the first attack, there was nowhere to house them because Pike doesn’t have a county shelter for lost or homeless pets. Neighboring counties with their own tax-supported shelters will not take Pike County animals. 

After the initial uproar, her death faded into old news. Except for Don Bailey.Don founded Friends of Pike County Animals in her memory to work toward animal control and a shelter in Pike County. He became a familiar face at public events — handing out fliers, setting up a booth displaying newspaper clippings telling her tragic story. Passersby could put money in his donation jars dedicated to building a shelter someday. The sheriff’s office gladly shared with him their mounting statistics about aggressive animal reports. The Pike County Journal Reporter covered abandoned pet stories and dog attacks on the front page.

Don brought all that documentation to public awareness workshops, county commission meetings, and when he met individual commissioners. Even though many county residents support his efforts, culture change takes time. Throughout much of the rural South principles of responsible pet ownership, such as population control and fencing are not priorities. After three years the movement seemed hopelessly stalled. Then in July 2010 the photo of a wounded dog jump started it again.

1/7/2012 11:40:38 AM

You are so right Mike that the problem starts with the owners, but the animals pay the price. I hope our stories from Pike County help you find a way to start addressing the problems in Crawford County.

1/7/2012 11:38:40 AM

Helen, I'm so glad your feral cat situation was handled in a humane way thanks to your concern. We also have many fine rescue organizations and low-cost spay/neuter options in many parts of the United States. However, the rural south is lagging behind much of the country in addressing pet overpopulation and abandonment. At a meeting about these issues in 2010, I heard the director of the Georgia chapter of the Humane Society say that animal welfare issues trail behind spousal abuse issues by about 20 years. She went on to say that the level of concern about animal welfare in the South is about where concern over spousal abuse was 20years ago. We have seen a surge of concern in the past two years and many more new options for spay/neuter, rescue and adoptions. Culture change takes time, and peer pressure will be a major force.

Helen Fowler
1/5/2012 11:48:49 AM

Thank you for a moving story about a grave and sad problem. I am a reader from Great Britain, although we too have a problem here with abandoned pets we do not have large numbers of dogs roaming wild. We have long standing animal control regulations and societies both national and local to deal with stray dogs and other animals. We have many animal charities that offer help to both domestic and wild animals. Hear in Britain we have a big problem with abandoned and feral cats, in the severe winter of 2010/2011 two very thin cats started visiting my home, this then became seven when they showed up with a bunch of kittens! Although I love all animals I feared been overun with cats and the cost of food. The main British animal charity, the RSPCA agreed to neuter all the cats and kittens at my local vets for free. This was a great relief. There were other organisations that would have offered to help me. I give thanks to all that are trying to help animals in need and hope you have success in creating laws and regulations to help prevent cruelty to man's friends.

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