Bulloch County Animal Services personnel received public praise from county Public Safety Director Ted Wynn in front of the county commissioners Oct. 17 for the agency's work in rescuing almost 200 dogs and cats found in filthy conditions in and around a single home one week earlier.
In the process, Wynn revealed a final count of the animals rescued and now placed with various shelters and animal rescue organizations from Savannah to Atlanta, as well as in Statesboro.
As Wynn noted, Animal Control Supervisor Joey Sanders was first on the scene for Animal Services the morning of Oct. 10. The Bulloch County Sheriff's Office had answered a call to a home off U.S. Highway 301 South near the Evans County line that night. The male homeowner reported that his wife had died, which the coroner determined was from natural causes. Inside the house, deputies found dozens of dogs and cats, and floors and furniture covered with animal urine and feces.
Sanders was called to the scene at 3:30 a.m. that Tuesday, and soon Bulloch County Fire Department firefighters were dispatched to go in wearing hazmat suits and oxygen masks to clean up while Animal Services removed the pets. Sanders' early estimates that morning added up to more than 130 animals living in every room of the house and in pens outside, but he noted that the animals were well fed. However, they showed symptoms of upper respiratory illness attributed to the unsanitary living conditions.
"A full assessment later that morning revealed what we believed to be over 150 in relatively good health but in a desperate situation," Wynn told the county commissioners a week later.
The Bulloch County Animal Services shelter has kennels for a maximum of 65 dogs and, theoretically, 44 cats.
Network of support
So Animal Services Director Barbara Diaz and Shelter Supervisor Amanda Anderson "put the word out, and thanks to strong relationships developed by animal services over the years, our staff which you see have been able to rescue and place 193 dogs and cats," Wynn reported.
That final count included 161 dogs and 32 cats, according to Diaz, who reports that none had to be euthanized. All of the cats and some of the dogs have had to be treated for respiratory infections. But most of the animals were placed at agencies with room to keep them within 2½ days of discovery and the rest by the end of the day Monday.
"Now, as a well-seasoned emergency management director, I know a disaster when I see one, and this had the potential to be that, but our staff worked diligently for days on scene to mitigate this situation and did an excellent job bringing this event to a successful close," Wynn said. "But that is a part of their overarching mission, which is to save as many as they can, and they take that mission very seriously.
"Our animal services department, led by Barbara, Joey and Amanda, is widely regarded as a source of knowledge and best practices in animal welfare," he continued, commending the department to the Board of Commissioners, County Manager Tom Couch and Assistant County Manager Cindy Steinmann.
"So, I wanted to take this opportunity for us to thank them for their service, but also to thank you as commissioners, the citizens of this county, and the managers … for adequate funding for this operation," Wynn said.
Calling animal welfare "a community issue," he also thanked the Animal Services advisory board, led by Dr. Richard Marz (a local dentist) and said the staff has a good and growing relationship with the community.
Wynn also named nine organizations that took in the excess animals from the Animal Services shelter. In addition to two local organizations — Fixing the Boro and the Humane Society of Statesboro & Bulloch County — assisting agencies including Renegade Paws Rescue Service, which is based in Savannah; the Humane Society for Greater Savannah; One Love Animal Rescue, which is also from Savannah; Coastal Pet Rescue out of Savannah, the Atlanta Rescue-Humane Society; Georgia Rescue, Rehabilitation & Relocation; Southern Souls Rescue from Harlem, Georgia; and South Georgia Equine have taken part in housing, feeding and treating the dogs and cats.
A large majority of the animals went to the more distant facilities. Renegade Paws collected well over 100 dogs to transport them from Bulloch County, and other rescue agencies were receiving some of the dogs from Renegade.
The Humane Society of Statesboro & Bulloch took several cats into care while they remain in treatment for the respiratory illness, Diaz said. As of Tuesday, the county Animal Services' own shelter was also holding several cats and one dog under treatment.
Meanwhile, the shelter was not taking in any more cats or kittens, to avoid spreading respiratory illness to them.
"They all had runny noses just like we or our children would, so we're treating them with a seven-day treatment, and they'll finish that on Wednesday," Diaz said.
She said she appreciated the assistance of the other organizations and the special recognition by the county leadership.
"It was a lot of hard work, and we just have a great team, and we couldn't have done it without all of them," Diaz said. "We just hope we don't have a repeat for many, many more years."
The couple who hoarded the animals had themselves been involved in volunteer animal rescue, according to county officials. Diaz noted that the homeowner reported receiving weekly deliveries costing hundreds of dollars from online pet supply vendor Chewy. County employees saw evidence of this, with delivery boxes and top-brand pet food remaining on the property.
"It wasn't cheap food, and there was expensive litter," Diaz said. "They just got in over their heads. I mean, these animals were well taken care of; it was just the conditions of the home. The animals were overrunning them."