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Out with the old ... in with the new
Revamped animal shelter to open soon

Cheryl Hardt only knew Wilson for a few days, but he was already her best friend.

However, only a week after she adopted the little dog with the sweet disposition into her family, she buried him in her backyard.

"He was going to be a great dog," Hardt said through tears. "It was a huge blow."

A veterinarian told Hardt that her dog, which she adopted from the Gwinnett Animal Control Shelter last month, had a severe case of parvovirus. He had stopped eating the night she brought him home, and within days he was vomiting and listless.

The disease, though, can be prevented through a vaccine, and Hardt can't imagine why the animal control shelter didn't perform the procedure.

It's been a problem for the shelter for years, and countless dogs have been euthanized because of the spread of the disease.

But officials hope a new shelter, which will open later this year, will provide a safer environment for man's best friend.

The building, under construction on U.S. Highway 29 east of downtown Lawrenceville, has more space for quarantining sick animals and areas for veterinarians to work.

Animal Control Manager Sammy Jeanes said cases of parvo are hard to control, since dogs often have the disease long before they enter the shelter.

"There's no answer. I wish there was," Jeanes said. "It happens in pet stores. It happens in every kennel. There's nothing we can do."

In the new shelter, which will open at the end of the summer, dogs will be kept in pods that have a separate ventilation system. Jeanes said that should cut down on the spread of air-borne diseases such as parvo.

"You'll never eliminate disease," said Dennis Kronenfeld, the president of the local chapter of the Society of Humane Friends and a member of the county's animal advisory board. The air system, though, will help, he said.

On Friday, Kronenfeld announced that a veterinarian and a vet technician will spay and neuter animals twice a week beginning in August.

"That's something we think is very important because of the numbers of animals," Kronenfeld said. "The only way we can cut down on the euthanasia is by spaying and neutering. ... This time of the year, it's unbelievable how many come in, and animal control has no alternative but to euthanize them because they don't have the space."

The county now requires that people who adopt animals have them spayed or neutered within 30 days, but Kronenfeld said the regulation is easy to get around and only about 70 percent of people comply.

The Society of Humane Friends steps in and performs procedures on pit bulls and other dogs that are often adopted for breeding purposes before they leave the facility, he said.

The new building also has room for more animals - 72 cats in the adoption area and 243 more in the cruelty/bite/sick area compared to room for 72 total now, plus room for 172 dogs in the adoption area and 65 more in the quarantine/cruelty and sick area compared to 144 spots now.

Kronenfeld said he's also working on an educational program in the new shelter's auditorium, and he believes the facility will help improve morale among the animal control officers.

"Right now, it's a nasty, dirty facility that under the best conditions is depressing to work in," he said. "Having a neat, clean, nice facility is going to make animal control officers feel better. ... It's not an easy job. For the most part, they love animals. The new facility should give them hope."