The Heard County Animal Control building is a small cement building, just to the side of the Police Department. It has a long history of controlling the animal problem in Franklin, Georgia by killing unwanted animals.
Enter Dawn, a tiny, determined, miracle worker of a woman who is the volunteer unofficial rescue coordinator for Heard County and is pretty much single-handedly responsible for saving the dogs who land in their shelter.
She used to volunteer in a shelter closer to her home in LaGrange, but she took a full-time job at the local elementary school and could no longer volunteer because the shelter was only open 10-2 each day.
SIDE BAR: Shelters that have restrictive hours like this are unlikely to have a robust adoption or volunteer program. They will also struggle with reclaims, as most people can’t get to the shelter during those hours to look for their dog or adopt a dog or volunteer. More people-friendly hours is one simple change that can have a profound effect on the live release rate of any shelter and on the quality of life for the animals in its care.
Twice a week (at least) after work, Dawn drives the 30 minutes from her home in LaGrange to volunteer at the Heard County shelter, taking pictures and gathering information about each dog. She then works her network connections to find them safe passage.
The two paid employees of the shelter, Katie, the shelter manager and Hannah, the clerk, both quite young and unlike the typical Animal Control staff we encounter on our trips, work with Dawn and also try to find local adopters. A bulletin board hung on the wall in the tiny lobby, showcasing some of the local adoptions. A young puppy (too young to be fully vaccinated) trailed the women as they worked, charming everyone and worrying parvo-paranoid me.
“Heard County is an Animal Control facility, not a shelter,” insists the sheriff’s department next door; they do not like dogs to linger in the shelter. The dogs have a three day legal stray hold, but after that their survival depends on space available, Dawn’s efforts, and the compassion of Katie who loves animals but has only eight shelter runs to house all of the dogs for Heard and several other surrounding areas.
Dawn spends hours searching for rescue for the Heard County animals, often driving the transports or portions of them herself. In 2021, the trio saved 603 dogs and only euthanized animals with severe medical needs.
I asked if anyone else volunteered to help with the dogs or network to rescues, but there is no one. Dawn is the only volunteer. Katie responds to every animal control call in multiple counties for animal control and is away from the shelter as much as she is there.
The kennels are narrow and dark, but the dogs had toys and worn karunda beds. We pulled out a large hound dog, Cooper, who was thrilled with our attentions, slobbering us up and whacking the walls with his busy tail in the small space. Nancy struggled to get a picture of him in his exuberance. He is a beautiful brindle, freckled hound whose microchip revealed he’d been adopted just before Christmas from a neighboring county. After contacting that county, Katie learned that Cooper had jumped out of the bed of his new adopter’s pick up truck. The adopters didn’t want him back. Before we left, Katie got an application for Cooper and called the potential adopters who seemed like a good match.
The others, a small beagle, a black lab/pit mix, and another pittie mix with kennel cough, all had rescue commitments. So, all four of their current residents were safe—a good day.
Before we left, Katie was called out on an emergency and returned with a frightened white doodle mix with blood on its head. His owner had been in an accident (the blood was his owner’s) and the shelter would hold the dog until next of kin could be contacted.
It was a reminder of how any dog could end up in a shelter. Many of us don’t think about what happens to our dogs if we are in a car accident or have a health crisis. Who steps in then? Animal Control. That’s their job. It’s one more reason why our county animal care facilities need to be created with the care (rather than the control) of animals in mind.
Most of us love our animals and consider their comfort sometimes even above our own. But what happens when we are not able to care for them because of circumstances beyond our control? Wouldn’t it be best if our local animal control facility was a safe, comforting place?
In Heard County, if not for the tireless work of Dawn, I’m not sure many animals would be safe or comforted. They’d have just three days to be reclaimed before their lives depended on the whim of circumstance.
At one point during our interview, I asked Dawn what would happen if she walked away. She shook her head, not wanting to think about that. Too often when we drive away from a shelter visit, I have the same thought, “This isn’t a sustainable model. Thank God for [name of current volunteer saving the animals], but what if she gets sick or tired or has a family emergency or has to move?”
For now, Heard County’s canine population is blessed with an angel named Dawn. But in reality, Dawn is a human, not an angel. She won’t be here forever. There has to be another way.
If you’d like to help Dawn and the animals of Heard County, consider shopping her Amazon Wishlist.
Until each one has a home,
The mission of Who Will Let the Dogs Out (we call it Waldo for short) is to raise awareness and resources for homeless dogs and the heroes who fight for them.
You can learn more about what is happening in our southern shelters and rescues in the book, One Hundred Dogs & Counting: One Woman, Ten Thousand Miles, and a Journey Into the Heart of Shelters and Rescues (Pegasus Books, 2020). It’s the story of a challenging foster dog who inspired me to travel south to find out where all the dogs were coming from. It tells the story of how Who Will Let the Dogs Out began. Find it anywhere books are sold. A portion of the proceeds of every book sold go to help unwanted animals in the south.
Amber’s Halfway Home is our short documentary film we produced in partnership with Farnival Films. It follows the work of a remarkable woman and one day of rescue in western Tennessee. Selected for fifteen film festivals (to date), it’s won eight awards (including Best Short Doc, Best Soundtrack, Best of Fest, and Audience Choice), and was nominated for an Emmy! It is a beautiful, heartbreaking, inspiring story we hope will compel viewers to work for change. Please watch it and share it far and wide.