LAWRENCEVILLE - Baby Boy backed away from the dirt, when officials scooped it into the air.
But his owner was appreciative of all the dirt meant - a beginning Tuesday to the long-awaited project to build a new animal control facility in Gwinnett.
"It'll mean great things for Gwinnett. We'll be able to help a lot more animals," said Animal Control Officer John Skamalos, who adopted Baby Boy, a pit bull, from the county's Lawrenceville shelter last week. "It's long overdue."
The dream of a new shelter began more than 10 years ago, officials said, and they are anxious for the building to take shape along U.S. Highway 29.
"It'll be a nicer, cleaner environment that's more conducive for adoptions," Animal Control Manager Sammy Jeanes said. "It'll be public oriented."
But the space will also be fit for the pets, with more kennel space, operating rooms for veterinarians, separate ventilations systems to allow for quarantining, a bonding room where dogs can be introduced to other pets in the family and a special room for other animals such as reptiles and rabbits. Outside, a barn will be available for farm animals.
The Police Department's K-9 unit also will be housed at the facility.
"They often say a society is judged by how it treats the innocent," said Commissioner Mike Beaudreau, who is the owner of six rescued cats. "With this palace, finally, Gwinnett County has stepped up to the plate."
Dennis Kronenfeld, the president of the local chapter of the Society of Humane Friends, brought his dog Ulysses to the event Tuesday.
"To me, it means that hopefully the euthanasia rate will go down," he said. But he wanted to remind people to spay and neuter their pets. "If nobody spays and neuters the new facility will be filled in a year."
The $5.8 million project, which was funded by the county's penny sales tax, will take about a year to build.
Chairman Charles Bannister said he was glad people didn't give up on the idea of a new shelter because of the long wait.
"There's a lot to do between the idea and the groundbreaking and a lot more to do between the groundbreaking and the real life of the thing," he said. "I'm sure everybody will be happy and impressed when this is complete."