Stray animal overpopulation in Macon

A spay-and-neuter initiative continues to be the most promising means of mitigating Macon’s stray animal population, but efforts to begin such an initiative have been held up for various reasons, according to Macon officials involved in animal control.
Mercer students might not be aware of it, but Macon has a rampant stray animal problem.

Tim Jackson, an animal control officer at the local shelter on Eleventh Street, said the shelter is operating at full capacity every week.
“We could fill this shelter up in a week if they said, ‘Go pick up strays,’” Jackson said. “And we have 60 places.”
According to statistics from the county animal control department, the local animal shelter took in a total of 1,863 animals last year alone. Of that number, less than 250 were adopted, and less than half were transferred to rescue groups to get them out of the kill shelter. At least 900 were euthanized at the shelter.
Many people get up in arms about the shelter’s kill rates, but shelter director Sarah Tenon says the shelter’s staff does all they can to keep the animals they have alive. Though it does maintain a strict holding capacity of only 60 animals, the shelter will stop accepting owner drop-offs if its facility is full.
“We have to tell [owners] if we take [the animals], we’re going to have to euthanize them,” Tenon said, adding that the other option is to euthanize another animal to make room for the new addition.
“People say we just want to kill [the animals],” Tenon said. “Well, no, we don’t want to kill them, but we do want to get out of this vicious cycle.”
The “vicious cycle” she refers to is when animals are on the street, whether they are strays or just running loose, they breed without inhibition because Macon citizens consistently fail to spay and neuter their pets. This creates a new generation of animals, who will likely grow up to do the same thing if they do not get hit by cars or starve before they mature.
Currently, Macon does not require owners to spay or neuter their pets. Macon City Councilmember Nancy White proposed a bill for an enforced sterilization law some time ago, but it has been tabled indefinitely by other members of the council who do not support the legislation.
According to White, some cities have successfully reduced their stray population by passing spay-and-neuter laws. She said the drafters of the bill modeled their legislation off the laws passed in those cities.
“There are other pockets in America that have been so successful with their spay-neuter legislation that we ship animals out there, because they don’t have any animals left to adopt,” White said.
Some of the arguments raised against the mandatory sterilization law include private property rights and the issue of enforcement, White said. She said some council members objected, saying pet owners should not be told what to do with their animals, particularly when the order involves a costly surgery.
“Typically, the people who raise this objection are not the kinds of pet owners you need to worry about,” White said.
She also said that enforcing the law would not require animal control to employ any new staff members or take on any extensive new duties. Like police officers who check insurance whenever they pull someone over for speeding, animal control officers would check for compliance with the sterilization law on their routine calls, in the course of “normal duty.”
White admits it is not a perfect solution, and because city council members do not support the bill as of yet, sterilization legislation does not look like a solution that will be happening any time soon.
However, Tenon agrees that an aggressive stance to spaying and neutering is necessary. Recently, animal control received a grant from PetsMart Charities specifically to help pet owners obtain free sterilization services for their animals. However, despite the fact that they have advertised through flyers and online campaigns, Tenon said few Macon pet owners have taken advantage of the service.
In order to raise awareness and encourage participation in the program, Tenon said the shelter intends to conduct a “community walk” in which participants go door to door to advertise the service. She also intends to have churches spread the message to their congregations, particularly those in communities located in the 31201 zip code, from which most of the stray animal alerts come.
Animal control is expected to move to a new facility out by Macon State College in August of 2014. The shelter, which has been a long time coming, will have more spots for animals and will be built with room to grow if later funding permits. However, Tenon said that until Macon residents start taking responsibility over the fixing of their animals, the problem of population will continue.
For information regarding free spay and neutering services, call Animal Control at 478-751-9200.