Longtime volunteer and animal lover Tim Smock has taken the reins of the Dawson County Humane Society this year.
When he was asked to accept the position of president of the humane society from former president Carolyn Bowen, Smock said he knew it was an opportunity he couldn’t pass up. Now, he’s looking towards the future of the shelter to set it up for continued success in the next decade.
Smock began volunteering with the humane society prior to the construction of the shelter, seeing it grow from six years of fundraising to opening the shelter doors in 2008. Since the shelter opened 11 years ago, it has adopted out more than 6,500 animals.
In large part, it’s due to the more than 30 volunteers at the Dawson County Humane Society Boutique and Resale Shop that has generated a revenue stream that goes directly back to the dogs and cats at the shelter.
“Their passion for that is contagious,” Smock said. “They love the interaction with the community and we have found that the community loves the interaction with the staff, and it’s reflected in the quality in the donations that we receive, the furniture, the clothing items, artwork, pictures, lamps. The community has really embraced the resale shop, and it really does operate as a billboard for our humane society.”
Smock said one of his visions for the future of the humane society is recruiting additional volunteers, particularly younger volunteers, to help fill the society’s needs at the resale shop and shelter.
The humane society is also in the very early stages of planning for an additional expansion, according to Smock. In 2018, the society purchased the land the shelter is built on that they previously leased from the Etowah Water and Sewer Authority.
“We have land here that we can build on and what we’re trying to decide is what will be the best use, the most economical use, where we can expand without having to spend a lot of money,” Smock said.
As Dawson County continues to see growth in the population, Smock and shelter director Jason Hutcherson, anticipate a needed expansion of the shelter’s intake area in order to meet the community’s needs.
Smock said that an expansion might include switching from a septic system and tying into the sewer line to cut down on internal costs, as well as expanding the animal intake areas to allow for a larger maximum capacity as well as creating a larger reception and public-friendly adoption area.
“We have to within the next couple of years get an expansion underway if we are in fact going to continue to provide the services that historically we’ve been able to provide here,” Smock said. “That will probably be our largest task at hand.”
According to Hutcherson, the shelter has full capacity around 200 animals and averages around 140 to 160 animals at any given time.
While talks of an expansion are in the extremely early planning stages, the Smock and Hutcherson have other plans to help alleviate some of the space: a foster program.
Hutcherson said he is looking to get started with a small foster program, starting with about half a dozen dogs and half a dozen cats in order to work out the kinks and get the program running smoothly.
He envisions that an animal will be paired with a foster family that will be the right fit for them which will help the shelter staff and volunteers learn more about the animals outside of the shelter walls.
“Ideally we would start with the long-timers,” said Hutcherson of the first animal participants in the foster program. “One, it would get them out of here which would be great for them and two, just to bring exposure. The foster families, they’re going to have friends, their Facebook pages. Hopefully they’re posting pictures. It’ll open up a wider audience to help find that animal a forever home.”
The foster program would also benefit animals with special needs such as anxiety and high stress levels from being inside a shelter environment.
For short-term relief from the shelter walls, Hutcherson said the humane society has been offering a Doggy Day Out program for the past two years. The Doggy Day Out program allows for someone to take one of the adoptable dogs out for the day for additional socialization. Participants can walk the dogs, take them for car rides, grab a puppuccino from Starbucks or take them to the pet store to pick out toys and treats. The possibilities are endless, and the result is a happy dog gaining social skills and a break from a high-stress environment. Participants return the dog before the shelter closes, but in some cases, Hutcherson said they will allow participants to keep a dog overnight.
The shelter’s programs and structure is something that other agencies have noted, according to Smock.
Last month, the humane society received a visit from representatives of Best Friends Animal Society, a national organization leading the charge in creating a no-kill nation by 2025.
“When Best Friends came here for a tour about a month ago, they were just very impressed with the housekeeping, the layout, just how well everything flowed here, and they were very, very complimentary,” Smock said. “It’s the first time that they had been here, and they actually went as far as to say they would like to utilize Jason and the framework we have here to go out into the north Georgia and area and help other shelters become no-kill.”
Smock and Hutcherson are proud to say that the Dawson County Humane Society has been a no-kill shelter since 2011.
For a shelter to receive no-kill status, they must have a 90 percent success rate or higher, meaning that no-kill shelters can still euthanize 10 percent of their animals in order to make room for new animals.
That’s not the case in Dawson County, with the shelter being 100 percent no-kill and not euthanizing animals to make room, Hutcherson said.
“We do our best to find room, to find homes, to adopt out, but to make sure there’s always room, if you will, in the inn,” Smock said.
Sometimes the best way to find room is by reducing the number of unwanted animals through education on the importance of spaying and neutering pets, which Smock said has been one of the humane society’s number one tasks in the community.
“We think we’ve done a pretty good job over the last 5-10 years of creating at awareness,” Smock said.
The humane society offers free spay and neuter for limited or no income families as well as for military members, which is funded through donations and grants when they are available.
Smock would also like to see increased adoptions of large dogs. It’s an issue faced nationwide as more and more people want to adopt smaller dogs, according to Smock.
“We tend to see larger dogs in rural communities and the space, the costs, the food that they eat – it’s just a greater expense for a shelter when your population tends to be larger animals and it’s not going away,” Smock said. “These are great, great dogs to adopt. They’re great animals, but we’re seeing more and more surrenders of larger dogs.”
Every weekend the community has a chance to see some of these larger dogs up for adoption through the society’s off-site adoptions at the Petsmart in Cumming as well as alternating between adoption events at the Petco and Petsmart in Dawsonville.
Overall, Smock is encouraged by the humane society’s strong foundation in the community and is excited for its future successes for the homeless animals in Dawson County.
His message to the community is “you’ve entrusted us for the last decade, trust us for the next.”
“It does take the community,” Smock said. “It takes the community to fall behind it and we’re blessed in this community to have animal lovers, people who are very passionate about the welfare.”
The Dawson County Humane Society is at 633 Martin Road in Dawsonville. For more information call (706) 265-9160 or visit www.dawsoncountyhumanesociety.org.