The Effingham County Animal Shelter has made great strides in Cory Whitfield’s six months as director, but he gives the credit to a supportive community.
The shelter hosted a “spring fling” Friday to show off its animals available for adoption, as well as the renovations made to the shelter in recent months.
“All the improvements we’ve made so far are 100 percent from donations,” said Whitfield, an Effingham County native. “Community involvement has really kick-started this place.”
The upgrades include additional cages to house more cats, a nursery area for the shelter’s youngest animals and an enclosed “play patio” for visitors to spend time with dogs they’re considering adopting.
Along with local people and organizations making financial contributions, volunteers have spruced up the shelter grounds. An art class from Effingham County High School painted a mural on an outside wall leading to the entrance, and local Boy Scouts painted the play patio.
“When I came here, I knew the county was wanting to make some changes to serve the community better,” Whitfield said, “and so that’s what we’ve really been focusing on doing. And the only way to serve the community better is by serving these animals better.”
The statistics back that up. Since December, the shelter has increased its number of pets being adopted while decreasing by 60 percent its number of animals being euthanized per month, according to Whitfield.
“We don’t want to have to euthanize just because we don’t have a place to put them,” he said. “We do not want to use that to solve problems.”
Instead of putting a time limit on each animal’s stay at the shelter, Whitfield said, euthanasia is limited to animals that are too sick or ill-tempered for the facility to handle. When the shelter recently ran low on space, it declined to take in any new animals for a couple days rather than euthanize any.
The shelter’s adoption fees recently went up by $5, to $40 for cats and $50 for dogs. Starting July 1, the shelter’s veterinarian will give dogs rabies vaccines and five-way vaccines in-house twice a week, leading to the fee increase.
Whitfield described the shelter staff as “passionate about getting the animals adopted out to the right homes.” Visitors are encouraged to spend time with an animal they’re interested in adopting.
“We want people to think responsibly before they come here, because it’s hard to come here and not walk away with an animal,” he said. “We don’t want to see dogs right back in here. We want to make sure they’re going to a forever home.”
To that end, education is a key part of the shelter’s job. Whitfield said a big push over the next year will be to conduct programs stressing the spaying and neutering pets.
Another aspect of community education, Whitfield said, is simply telling people where the shelter is and what it does. He said he encounters people every week who don’t know Effingham County has an animal shelter.
“They think we’re humane enforcement and they ask, ‘Do you know where the nearest animal shelter is?’” Whitfield said. “We get calls like that every day.”
Whitfield joined the shelter in November as the kennel supervisor and was named director in January. One step the county took prior to his arrival was eliminating the fee the shelter charged for dropping off an animal.
Running the shelter is quite a career change for Whitfield, who medically retired from the Army after serving in Iraq and Afghanistan.
“Probably the most fun I’ve ever had at a job is working up here,” he said. “I just like serving. I love the county, I love the people I work with, and it’s a great thing to go home at the end of the day and feel like you’ve done something good.”
About the Shelter
Monday-Friday: 8:30 a.m.-5 p.m.
Now open every first Saturday of the month from 9 a.m.-noon
Adoption and kennel hours
Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday: 10:30 a.m.-4:30 p.m.
Thursday: Noon-4:30 p.m.
$40 for cats and $50 for dogs