Thirteen-year-old Dakota Allen and canine friend Jules visit with Martha Jean Barnette at the Barrow County Senior Citizens Center in Winder. CONTRIBUTED

Sunday Conversation with Jaclyn Nguyen

Animal shelter uses volunteers to bring people, pets together

As if heading up Barrow County Animal Control were not a big enough job, Jaclyn Nguyen makes it bigger. “We want to show the community that we are not big and scary and there just to write citations and euthanize animals,” said Nguyen, who took the job as the county’s director of animal control in March 2015. Changing minds and admittedly a historically high euthanasia rate have meant enlisting the help of community volunteers and partners. “The community has really rallied,” Nguyen said. “The more people we have coming to volunteer, the more animals get the chance to be adopted.”

Q: What does your department do?

A: We are what most people think of as the dog pound. We are in charge of stray animal pickup and other animal-related issues in Barrow County. We also have a shelter where people can adopt animals and where we bring in strays so people can claim their pet.

Q: Do you actually like your job?

A: I love my profession. It has its moments when it is hard and heartbreaking but you get to meet all sorts of people you wouldn’t normally run into in your everyday life. You get to help animals. You get to make a better name for shelters overall and serve the community.

Q: What kind of animals end up in the shelter?

A: It runs the gamut. We get a lot of pits but also a ton of labs and hounds and shepherd mixes. Most of the dogs up for adoption are bigger than 40 pounds. In the summertime, we get inundated with cats. About half of our animals are strays and the other half are surrendered by their owners.

Q: Wasn’t your facility once considered a high kill shelter?

A: In 2013, Barrow County impounded 2,280 stray animals and euthanized 910. That’s about a 40 percent euthanasia rate, which is high. So far this year, we have brought in 2,270 strays and euthanized 234.

Q: How have you brought the numbers down?

A: We are being proactive. We offer all kinds of assistance programs, including a food donation program for people who can’t otherwise afford to feed their pets and would end up bringing them to a shelter. We also offer assistance with spaying and neutering. We partner with a lot of groups. Before I got here, there was a very small volunteer program. We now have volunteers in here almost every day. They play with the animals and get to know their personalities. They help with adoption events and finding the right pet for the right family. They allow us to do more outreach events in the community and show people that we have really great dogs and cats looking for homes. We recently started several new programs as part of the volunteer program, including one with the Barrow County Senior Citizens Center.

Q: What is that program about?

A: We have some volunteers who wanted to reach people in the community we may not normally reach. Every Wednesday, Connie Wofford, Cindi Allen and her son, Dakota, take dogs to the senior center to visit. The dogs come from Frankie and Andy’s Place, a sanctuary for senior pets that has taken some of our animals, including Boris, Fiona and Jules.

Q: What do the residents get out of the program?

A: It helps keep them interactive and up and moving and makes them feel more attached to the community. Some of the seniors with pets are living on fixed incomes so we donate dog food to anyone who needs it. Some of the seniors love the companionship of dogs but live with family members who don’t have a lot of time to take care of a dog.

Q: What do the dogs get out of it?

A: They are just like people. They are happy to get loved on. They get to see new things. They get new sniffs.

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