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Manager discusses animal shelter transformation

Queen Gadson visits a dog in kennel #143 during her trip to the Gwinnett County Animal Shelter on Wednesday in Lawrenceville. (Staff Photo: David Welker)

Queen Gadson visits a dog in kennel #143 during her trip to the Gwinnett County Animal Shelter on Wednesday in Lawrenceville. (Staff Photo: David Welker)

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The Gwinnett County Animal Shelter is located at 884 Winder Highway in Lawrenceville. (credit: Gwinnett County)

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The inside of the Gwinnett County Animal Shelter has been painted to make the facility more inviting. (credit: Gwinnett County)

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Gwinnett County Animal Shelter employee, Martin Moutray, pulls a dog out of a kennel on Wednesday in Lawrenceville. (Staff Photo: David Welker)

Since taking the helm at the Gwinnett County Animal Enforcement and Welfare Center in March of 2012, Chip Moore, a 17-year veteran of the Gwinnett County Police Department, has made a number of changes designed to save animal lives.

During the first year of his tenure, more dogs and cats were saved than euthanized, marking the first time since the 1970s the shelter had achieved that measure of success. Since then, the numbers have continued to improve. During an Aug. 5 briefing before the Gwinnett County Board of Commissioners, Moore outlined the measures he has implemented and the impact those changes have had on the euthanasia rates.

Moore said one of the first things he did upon assuming command of the shelter was to create a questionnaire that is given to every pet owner who wishes to surrender an animal. The purpose of the questionnaire is twofold, Moore explained. First, by determining why the owner feels he or she needs to surrender the pet, shelter personnel have the opportunity to share information and resources which might impact that person’s decision. For instance, people who cannot afford to care for their pet can be directed to agencies that can assist with food and veterinary care.

The second purpose, he said, is to target the owner’s emotions.

“There are questions designed to pull at people’s heartstrings,” Moore said. “Why are you giving your animal up? Is your animal good with people? Is your animal good with kids? What’s the animal’s name?”

These questions, he explained, make people think about what they are doing and the potential for euthanization.

Moore then looked at the facility itself. Determined to make the shelter more inviting, Moore changed the color scheme, polished the floors and had murals painted throughout. In the kennel area, aisles were given street names and pens were made to look like houses.

“When you walked through the shelter, it didn’t give you a really good feeling because you were seeing animals in pens and the environment was just kind of muted,” he said. “Now, when you walk inside, you feel a sense of happiness.”

Moore didn’t stop there. Another problem he noticed early on were the photos on the website. The pictures, he said, didn’t instill happy feelings. Moore, showing examples of previous photos, said the images were sad and made it look as if something was wrong with the animals.

“They basically looked terrified,” he said.

With the help of volunteers and shelter staff, Moore now presents the animals in the best possible light. Dogs are photographed outside when possible or in an in-house portrait studio during inclement weather.

“Pictures say a thousand words,” he said.

Another change Moore made was to actively involve those who work directly with the animals.

“I’ve tried to get my staff to think outside the walls of the shelter,” he said.

That effort has led to numerous ideas for community involvement including food drives, fundraisers, adoption events and volunteer opportunities. Moore and his staff are also working to secure additional funding for the shelter by competing for cash prizes.

Recently the shelter filmed its first public service announcement. The spot, titled “Adopt a Happy Life,” has been entered in two competitions, one of which has a top prize of $25,000. The shelter is also taking part in the Rachael Ray $100k Challenge. The shelter currently leads it division and is in 17th place overall.

Altogether, the changes have made a big difference. In 2009, 63 percent of the animals entering the shelter were euthanized. In 2013, the last full year for which numbers are available, only 35 percent were put down. So far this year, the rate stands at 19 percent. More importantly, Moore said, only 8 percent have been euthanized in 2014 due to space concerns.

Gwinnett County Police Chief Charles Walters praised Moore for his efforts and said morale at the shelter is excellent.

“I cannot say enough about what this man has done for the shelter,” Walters said. “It’s unbelievable and it’s directly attributable to Chip.”

Commission Chairwoman Charlotte Nash also thanked Moore for his leadership.

“I am amazed at the transformation,” she said.

The Gwinnett County Animal Shelter is located at 884 Winder Highway in Lawrenceville. More information, including hours of operation, is available online at www.gwinnettcounty.com.