Volunteers find a novel way to help shelter dogs

Tribune Content Agency

ATLANTA — Volunteers at the Cobb County Animal Shelter have found a unique way to give dogs under stress and with behavioral challenges a way to escape the noise and chaos of the shelter.


“If a dog doesn’t like me, I can still go in and sit and read,” said Leslie Moffett, who started volunteering at Cobb’s shelter in December. “You’re reading, you’re doing your thing, and the animal’s watching you relax — it helps them relax.”

Moffett, an avid reader, found that opening a book and sitting quietly with a dog, or even reading aloud, can give them the opportunity to bond with people and rehabilitate emotionally.

While volunteering at Cobb County’s shelter, Moffett met fellow volunteers Brianne Cate and Camille Lillie. After seeing firsthand the struggles dogs face at the shelter, many of whom get skipped over for adoption, they created Shelters x Shelves Rescue.

Together with a network of volunteers to foster the dogs, they save “long-timers,” — the ones who spend a long time in the shelter and face the threat of euthanasia because of overcrowding.

“We’re just buying them time because they’re going to get euthanized that day,” Moffett said, adding that the dogs are often older, or have behavioral issues.

Cobb County Animal Services takes in roughly 7,000 animals per year, and the average length of stay is now six days. Currently, they have 147 large dogs. With the help of shelter staff and volunteers plus nonprofit partners, animal services aims to give the dogs “a real good chance at a great life,” said Steve Hammond, the animal services director for the county.

“We count on those rescues,” Hammond said. “They take a lot of the hard-luck dogs, the hard-to-adopt dogs … We couldn’t do it alone.”

The shelter’s “live release” rate is 90%, meaning only 10% of the animals who come in face euthanasia, including those with extreme health or behavioral problems, Hammond said. But it is currently at capacity for large dogs, so adoptions and rescues are critical at this time of year as people move, go on vacation and surrender their pets.

The challenges Cobb County’s shelter is facing are not unique: shelters in DeKalb and Fulton reported hundreds of dogs exceeding capacity earlier this year. The overcrowding, paired with outbreaks of dog flu has caused significant strains for animal shelters and rescues.

“The dog world right now in Georgia is — the shelters are slammed,” Moffett said.

The 104 volunteers at Cobb County’s shelter, who have put in 3,754 combined hours in the first four months this year, make sure each walkable dog has at least one walk per day, Hammond said, and they often get attached to the ones they see regularly.

“It’s incredible, the work that they put in, and they do it for the love of the animals,” he said.

Reading is one way the volunteers help make the dogs more adoptable, Hammond said.

And books are also a key feature for Shelters x Shelves Rescue: they receive donated books, sometimes from local authors, and sell them at events. The proceeds go toward the rescue, adding an additional revenue source for them to help support the 15 dogs currently in their care.

Founders Moffett and Cate said they have long dreamed of opening a rescue, which they officially began in April. Partnering with Cobb County’s shelter was a natural way to start since they are familiar with the dogs there.

“It’s great when you’re pulling from somewhere that takes care of the animals,” Moffett said. “Our own backyard needs support.”

Cobb County Animal Services is resuming free adoption events on Mondays in June.

Cobb County Animal Services is always seeking volunteers, Hammond said. Go to cobbcounty.org/pets to learn more about available dogs, upcoming events, and volunteer and job opportunities.

Shelters x Shelves Rescue has several dogs available for adoption, Moffett said. Go to sheltersxshelvesrescue.org to learn how to adopt a dog, become a foster, or donate.