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Canine way station: Innovative shelter moves dogs to where the demand is

A homeless dog could sit in a county pound for months with just one obstacle hindering his chance of finding a home full of love and happiness.

It’s not his breed, his behavior or his price, animal advocates say.

He’s just in the wrong place, a victim of supply and demand.

“They’re social, they’re smart, but we’ve had some dogs that sit for months and never get adopted,” said Jennifer Hughes, deputy dog warden at the Jackson County Dog Pound, which brought in 100 dogs last month.

Gigi’s Shelter for Dogs, a new nonprofit group operated by Columbus Humane, is putting those pooches on a new path.

It ends at Columbus Humane’s high-demand facility on the Northwest Side, where dogs find homes, on average, in about six days, CEO Rachel Finney said.

Every week, Gigi’s employees travel to four counties in southern Ohio, including Jackson, and bring crates of dogs to the state-of-the-art transitional facility on the Southeast Side. That frees up space in under-resourced and overburdened rural pounds, preventing dogs from being euthanized, contracting diseases in tight spaces or staying homeless for a long time.

Since many pounds don’t have veterinarians, it also gives the dogs at Gigi’s the opportunity for a checkup in a full-service hospital. They receive vaccines, health exams and behavior evaluations. They’re also groomed, photographed and featured on adoption websites.

Once they’re declared ready, they head north to Columbus Humane. On average, that takes about three days.

“It’s like a rest stop,” said Jessica Nelson, operations manager at Gigi’s. “You’re getting a shower and a meal and, before long, heading on your way.”

Those involved say the transitional hub is the first of its kind.

Gigi’s first-year goal is to redirect 1,500 dogs from southern Ohio into Columbus Humane or other busy shelters. So far, it’s on pace, Nelson said.

During its first month, Gigi’s has helped find homes for 112 dogs.

Some of its latest clients were taken Wednesday from seven kennels in Jackson County. Veterinarian Colleen Shockling comforted a trio of trembling beagle mix puppies, assuring them they’d settle in quickly, surrounded by lots of treats and love.

“So much changes in such a small amount of time,” Shockling said.

That’s all part of the plan, Nelson said.

Gigi’s is designed with stress-reduction in mind, with calming colors, soothing music and lavender-scent diffusers in its four separate wards. Keeping dogs from each county in isolated holding areas, each with its own kitchen and ventilation system, prevents the spread of disease.

There’s some pampering, too. From inside his kennel, Bernie, a 2-year-old mixed breed, watched cartoons Wednesday on a tablet propped nearby.

The 15,000-square-foot facility, which includes 45 kennels and a training area, is on a campus with outdoor play areas and a surrounding walking path. It’s not open to the public.

The shelter is the brainchild of dog-loving philanthropists George and Tina Skestos, a Bexley couple who donated $4 million to start the project. Before construction began, they consulted with Columbus Humane and experts at Ohio State University’s College of Veterinary Medicine to ensure they were creating a facility that would be useful and efficient.

After learning about a lack of resources and adopters in rural shelters, they partnered with Gallia, Jackson, Lawrence and Scioto counties.

Gigi’s also provides supplies and coaching to those partners to ensure their dogs stay healthy and happy, which may help speed up adoptions.

The nonprofit agency is named after the Skestos’ beloved Akita, Gigi.

“We may not change the world, but we can change the world these dogs are living in forever,” said George Skestos, 90.

He plans to expand the Gigi’s campus soon and also hopes to work with other people across the country who could duplicate the model.

Gigi’s already has started expanding its reach within the state. Last week, they sent dogs to the Cleveland Animal Protective League, another busy facility that learned about the innovative idea.

In Jackson County, Hughes said the effort already has made a huge difference for her pound, which typically sends a majority of its dogs to outside rescue groups to make room for new ones. That prevents euthanasia — about 5 percent of dogs are put down, only for severe aggression or illness, she said — but can leave the shelter’s three-person staff begging for help.

Now, every Wednesday, a Gigi’s employee comes to offer support.

“This is the beginning of something amazing for rural shelters,” Hughes said. “There’s a comfort in knowing that once a week our burden is lifted, even slightly. That gives us more resources to do more for our dogs.”

awidmanneese@dispatch.com

@AlissaWidman

Source: https://www.dispatch.com/news/20181119/canine-way-station-innovative-shelter-moves-dogs-to-where-demand-is

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