ELLIJAY, Ga. – “The greatness of a nation can be judged by the way its animals are treated.” A sign say in front of the Gilmer County Courthouse’s Jury Assembly Room, brought by one of the supporters of the county’s Animal Shelter and an expansion plan alongside two major donations for the facility.
The plan actually includes both expansion and retrofitting of the facility. With encouragement from groups like FOGAS (Friends of Gilmer Animal Shelter), Volunteers Helping the Gilmer County Animal Shelter, Paws Be Good, Homeward Bound, Furry Paws, and many others according to Jack Peyton of FOGAS, who spoke first in the Commissioners meeting on September 9, 2021.
The expansion and donations have been discussed before with questions arising over how the county will support the annual increase in budget for maintaining a larger facility.
Many of those who spoke at the meeting, including Animal Shelter Director Daniel Laukka, stated that the need for a larger facility is already here and more growth is coming. Laukka and others spoke about how animals have become so increased in number that they are being housed in areas like offices simply because their is not enough room elsewhere. With cages in his own office for cats, Laukka spoke of the benefits that the expansion and retrofit will provide in caring for the animals, and how some money could be saved in the annual costs.
Minor items like having to take animals to the vets office for spay/neuter appointments will be neutralized as the expansion has a small area for vets to come and perform the procedures in the animal shelter with equipment in the shelter.
Laukka said he already has 2 vets committed to coming to the shelter to do this. With volunteers continuing to help when possible, speakers in the meeting repeated the need that they have seen as they have helped and visited the shelter. He also noted that a local commercial laundry service has offered to service new laundry equipment designated in the retrofit for free. Also helping with some additional maintenance costs.
Additional discussion moved from what is needed to what has already been accomplished. Dr. William Mitchell, a veterinarian, walked to the podium and said, “I am here to speak in support of Daniel.”
Though the topic at hand was about plans to expand the animal shelter, many of the speakers spoke specifically to what Director Daniel Laukka has accomplished and the leadership he has provided. Dr. Mitchell went on to say he has worked with Animal Control facilities for several decades, “I have never seen a more dedicated and hard working individual than Daniel.”
Laukka himself said he could never do what he does without his staff and supporting groups. It is a collective of efforts from the community that support the shelter.
Programs from supporting groups have allowed for help in the community like low cost spays and neuters for those who need it and the capturing of feral cats in order to spay/neuter and then re-release.
All of these culminate in a department that citizens said has every county in North Georgia looking at Gilmer and how they handle this. One speaker went so far as to call it a “mecca” of the animal shelters in the area.
Laukka himself noted that in 2013, the shelter averaged around 1800 to 2000 animals a year. Laukka noted that close to 1100 of those animals were euthanized every year. WIth expansion first looked at four years ago, according to Laukka, the county instead went with a van that is used in partnership with other programs in other states in the north.
With this hard work towards becoming a “no kill” status, Laukka said in the meeting, “Ninety-nine percent of the animals that come into the shelter now, leave the shelter alive, adoptable, healthy. I get all the credit for it but I couldn’t do it without all the volunteers and the employees. The employees do way more than anybody could ever know.”
Almost 45 minutes of discussion saw every single person that did stand to speak on the topic discussing their support for accepting the donations and the expansion plans. After that, the commissioners moved to the agenda item on the plans.
A very emotional night saw several speakers fighting back tears, and so followed Chairman Paris as he said, “I understand. I can’t say a lot, but I’m going to make a motion to accept the money and build a shelter.”
Post Commissioner Karleen Ferguson later seconded the motion after clarifying and Paris’ amending his motion that the county fund an expansion with costs not to exceed the fund for the building from the donations. He explained the fund contains a little over $1.5 million. As such, the fund is specifically designated for the shelter. Paris said there is nothing else it can be used for.
According to a statement by FOGAS, “The input, planning, architectural work, and engineering have been completed for this expansion project.” Now, the county will take on the plans with the intent to bid and begin construction. The engineer was present at the meeting and relayed that with the work that’s been done, the county could be bidding the project by the end of the year with construction to begin in 2022.
Speaking on the expansion, Director Laukka said, “I could probably stand up here and talk for hours about what we’ve accomplished over the last few years but I want to accomplish more over the next few years as well. It’s definitely something we have to do together.”
ELLIJAY, Ga. – An announcement today from Gilmer Chairman Charlie Paris informed the public of an additional large donation to the Gilmer County Animal Shelter.
The announcement came amid a special called meeting, but it is the first mention of the donation in public as Commission Chairman Charlie Paris said it happened yesterday, February 23, 2021. Paris said that the county is receiving $1 million in a donation to expand and improve the county’s Animal Shelter.
The county has received other donations recently. Two separate donations of $200,000 each set the county to expect to add in $100,000 in county funds to improve the Animal Shelter. Paris noted then and reiterated today that the county is looking at an increased need in the department.
These previous donations, when made, pushed the county to look at the shelter and the use for that money in improving and addressing the needs that were coming.
Paris suggested that the coming need to increase staff at the location is likely inevitable as he said that Gilmer’s Shelter is gaining a statewide reputation for its operations. The Director of the Animal Shelter is Daniel Laukka. Laukka has been praised numerous times through the community and through the county’s government during specific meetings addressing the department such as budget meetings.
The shelter has made allies both in and outside the county, working with other shelters to find homes for pets. Some of their efforts outside of the county include transporting animals north for support outside of the state of Georgia. These animals that have not found homes here in Gilmer are given more opportunities elsewhere. Just this week, the Animal Shelter posted information about transporting pets to Illinois.
However, these programs are made possible by community support and aid. One of the most well known partnerships comes from working with the public through the community driven support program, “Friends of Gilmer Animal Shelter” (FOGAS).
According to their page, FOGAS is a Georgia, non-profit, tax exempt, 501(C)3, all volunteer organization that raises funds to save homeless pets at Gilmer County Animal Shelter.
The now $1.5 million project to expand the shelter is facing two separate issues that the county is discussing. The first being that such an expansion will undoubtedly increase expenses for the Animal Shelter, a department that is one of the county’s smaller budgets according to the board. Post Commissioner Hubert Parker urged the board as a whole to consider the increase that this project will bring, not only though increasing required staff for operations but also for the increase in utilities and supplies. Paris said at one point that he expects a need for one or two additional personal even before looking at plans to expand the facility.
The second issue comes not from the shelter itself, but rather from today’s economy. With the effects of the COVID-19 virus still being felt, Paris noted that building supplies and costs are still increasing. Though the county had an architect look at plans and consider the project last year, Paris said in today’s meeting, “What I was anticipating that we could get for that half million dollars, turns out, in today’s environment, to be just about what we can for that million-and-a-half dollars.”
Paris said that a lot of the increase seems to be coming from the COVID virus through materials and shortages.
The Board of Commissioners is taking extra time on the project. Considering the new donation, changes are coming to increase the plans and to address the new donation. One idea to address came in today’s discussion as Parker asked if the board might consider asking the donor if part of the funds might be set aside for operations. Parker explained that the concept might include setting aside $200,000 or $300,000 and to use the earnings off of that to help support the animal shelter operations. However, he offered the thoughts as an example that the county could discuss with those who gave the donation.
Paris did note that any project or plan for the facility still has a lot of unanswered questions. Having just received the donation, the county is looking at possibilities and their impacts on the county and the Shelter going forward.