Sue Garcia and Lori Kekel: Cherokee County Animal Shelter

Rob and Ms. Susan Garcia, Director of Cherokee County Animal Shelter

I interviewed Ms Susan Garcia (Director) and Ms Lori Kekel (Operations Manager) at Cherokee County Animal Shelter.

How long have you been working here?

 SG Since 2007.

LK 5 years and volunteered 5 before that.

 Do you have any pets?

 SG 2 Maltese mix dogs and 1 old cat.

LK 4 4 dogs and 2 cats. 3 Pitbull-mixes and 1 Collie mix.

What is your favorite dog breed?

 SG Shetland Sheepdogs.

LK Mixed breeds have better personalities.

 What did you want to do when you were growing up?

 SG Vet.

LK Math teacher or Graphic Designer.

 What is the best part about running a shelter?

 SG All the happy endings we have. Reuniting dogs with owners and placing them in happy homes.

LK Helping the animals.

 What is the worst part about running a shelter?

 SG Animals that don’t make it out, for whatever reason.

LK The amount of animals that need help.

 Has there been more strays or owner surrenders coming in?

 LK Our intake is about 60% strays and 40% owner surrenders.

 How many dogs come in every year?

 LK The average over the past few years is about 4000-4500. 10 years ago it was over 7000.

 How many lost dogs and cats come in and the owner finds them?

 LK Reclaim numbers are 500 to 800 per year. That is low and sad.

 What can I do to help you?

 SG Keep putting the word out there.

LK Sharing information about adoptions and finding lost pets is a big thing.

 Are you making any big changes?

 SG We try to make changes every day. We always want to keep learning and keep making progress in all areas – animal welfare, marketing etc.

LK We have made big changes over the past few years. We participated in the ASPCA Challenge and learned to use ‘fee-waive-adoptions’ and special promotions to help get animals adopted. We utilize a “Paw-it-forward” initiative whereby donations cover adoptions so people can adopt without paying the adoption fee.

Do you move animals to other shelters because I think Cobb County should give you some of their dogs?

 LK Because we are a county funded government agency the taxpayers in Cherokee County pay us to take care of the animals in Cherokee County. Cobb County tax payers pay the Cobb County Animal Control to take care of that county’s stray animals. However, in emergency situations we do work with other counties. We’ve taken animals from Henry County when they had to clear the shelter for renovations and we took animals from Gwinnett when they had a canine flu epidemic.

 How do you make money?

 LK The basic running of the shelter is County funded but to cover extra animal related costs and projects we fundraise and apply for grants. The puppy mill and hoarding situations we encountered in the past couple of years required us to apply for extra grants.

 What advice to you have for me?

 SG Keep learning. Keep up with your school-work. Be respectful. Reaching out and talking about animals is important. When kids see you helping they realize it is possible to stand up for someone who is small and helpless and in need of a voice.

LK You are making a big impact with what you do. The things you are doing and sharing with other kids is important. Keep on setting an example. Emphasize spay and neuter programs.

Rob and Ms. Lori Kekel, Operations Manager of Cherokee County Animal Shelter