Former vet tech starts animal advocacy group

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By Toni Stauffer

The dogs in the Russell County-Phenix City Animal Shelter bark and jump with joy as Sheila Stafford walks past, surveying. She comes to a kennel at the end and looks concerned as a small black and white puppy hides in the corner of the kennel, afraid to approach her. Stafford is thinking of his future as she takes out her camera and takes a picture she will later post to her Web site in hopes someone will save him. Stafford comes once a week and takes photos of every dog, and asks about the ones she no longer sees. Sometimes she gets great news, but most of the time the news is bad or vague.

The sad reality is that after seven days, if an animal is not claimed or adopted, it is euthanized under Alabama law. This includes kittens and puppies. Stafford and other members of PAWmotion, a new animal advocacy group working in Phenix City and Russell County, wants to increase adoptions to move the shelter to no-kill status, but rules that prevent the assistance of outside volunteers and transportation of the animals (which prevents fostering) impede their efforts.

A vet technician for 15 years, Stafford moved from Boston to Alabama in January of this year with her husband Gary and their two small children. Gary, who has served in the military for 18 years, is stationed at Fort Benning. They bought a house in Phenix City.

Shortly after their arrival, Stafford began volunteering with Columbus Animal Control in emergency and critical care. She met other founding members Chrissie Willis and Jessica Palmer. They discussed how there is a lack of resources in the Phenix City area, especially for the Russell County-Phenix City Animal Shelter and decided to start an organization to help fill the need.

“We want to be able to help the down trodden,” she said. “Yet while their (the shelter’s) concern is these animals are adoptable, we want to be all-encompassing and work broadly with other shelters in other states, because they may have resources we don’t. Columbus has all of this help, including residents of Phenix City who go over to help and, meanwhile, our own community isn’t being taken care of. If you see a problem, be the solution—and so, we started PAWmotion.”

The explanation of why the shelter does not allow the fostering of animals, or outside volunteers who could take animals to do offsite adoptions at pet-friendly places like PetSmart, can be found on the county-city shelter’s Web site: “Since there is no veterinarian on staff at our government-run facility, it poses too much liability to allow persons to foster without the ability to administer vaccines to the potential foster pet. If the foster parent were to be bitten and/or infected, the city would be liable.”

Currently, PAWmotion is working on obtaining its non-profit status and recently held a flea market.

“I think we really have an opportunity to help members of our community who cannot help themselves,” PAWmotion volunteer Trina Herrington said. “And also educate the public on spaying/neutering their pets.”

For anyone who would like more information about the group, or to learn how to help, you can find PAWmotion on Facebook; also, Stafford manages a page on Facebook called Friend of the Forgotten Pets of Russell County-Phenix City Animal Shelter where adoptable animals are pictured with details.

As for that sad, little puppy, his story has a happy ending. Not long after Stafford’s visit, the puppy was saved by Pups on the Plains, a rescue group founded by students at Auburn University.

Editor’s Note: There also exists a non-profit, no-kill animal rescue society in Russell County: the East Alabama Humane Society Inc. According to its Web site: “EAHS strives to rescue animals that would otherwise be euthanize(d).  Among its activities are a volunteer program, a foster-pet program, and a program for feral cats.” The society holds pet adoptions at Petsmart and also adopts out from its shelter located at 712 13th Street, Suite E, Phenix City. For more information, call (334) 298-6446. Operating hours are 10 a.m.-6 p.m. ET Monday through Friday and noon-6p.m. ET on Saturdays.