Animal shelter is not ‘your typical pound’

Published 12:00 am Friday, March 12, 2004

When Lucille Carpenter became animal control director 14 years ago, the City of Demopolis maintained what she grimly disparages as “your typical pound.”

“They took ’em in, kept ’em awhile and then killed ’em,” she says matter of factly. “I decided it needed to be more.”

For Carpenter, that meant better facilities and better care for the animals entrusted to her safekeeping. It also meant finding a more humane way to end the lives of those animals for which no home could be found.

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Gone is the grisly method of simply backing up a pickup and gassing animals to death with the carbon monoxide fumes from the truck’s exhaust. “I put a stop to that,” Carpenter says, eyes flashing.

Today, animals are euthanized by intravenous injection in a veterinarian’s office.

“I haven’t always had real strong political support,” she says of her efforts to upgrade the facility, “but the community wants this animal control shelter, I can tell you that much.”

Carpenter has instituted a number of changes since she took up the job of championing the rights of animals that cannot speak for themselves. She established accounts at the Demopolis Animal Clinic and Greensboro Animal Clinic to provide medical care for those animals that require it. Those who wish may contribute to the accounts to help offset the shelter’s operating expenses.

She also partnered with Network IT, a local computer services company, to take the shelter online. Those with Internet access may view photos of animals available for adoption and learn about the shelter’s services.

One of the biggest changes in animal control in recent years has been the advent of tougher laws intended to prevent abuse.

“Alabama has wonderful laws designed to protect both animals and humans,” Carpenter says.

Many are surprised to learn those laws provide for prison sentences of up to 10 years for abandoning animals or intentionally abusing them. Says Carpenter, “Alabama law also gives animal control officers the right to go in and get an animal if they feel it’s being mistreated or if it’s a public nuisance.”

Still, not all Demopolis residents have gotten the message. Carpenter opens a file cabinet containing several dozen folders. Each folder represents an animal owner who has been charged with abuse.

Carpenter pulls a folder at random. Inside is a photograph of a dog whose collar had cut into its neck so severely that folds of skin hang loosely down to its chest.

She closes the cabinet.

“I remember one dog they brought in,” she says. “He had the mange so bad and had been starved so bad that I don’t think we could have ever cured him. We had to put him down.”

The shelter charges a $20 adoption fee, which helps to defray the expenses of taking care of the animal. But it is also meant, in part, to discourage people from adopting animals to be used in illegal dogfights, a growing problem, according to Carpenter.

“They won’t hardly pay $20 to use one for target practice for a pit bull,” she says, her voice tinged with barely concealed contempt. “They’ll go steal ’em one instead.”

Stray cats are also becoming a problem. Many have been abandoned and taken to the wild. The shelter, however, only accepts dogs.

The shelter handles an average of two or three animals a day. Some are lost pets whose grateful owners pick them up. Others are not so lucky.

Officially, the dogs that find their way to the shelter stay for a maximum of eight days and are then euthanized if no one adopts them. Unofficially, Carpenter has been known to grant the occasional canine stay of execution.

“Don’t tell the mayor this,” she confides, “but sometimes I take ’em home with me — and I have foster homes I can send them to.”