From behind the aluminum bars in a small kennel at the Calhoun County Animal Control Center, his round eyes radiate sugary sweetness. Buster has a chocolate-brown nose and butter scotch- yellow coat with cloudy white splotches and a playful disposition.
He might not make it through the week.
Buster is one of about 80 cats and dogs being housed at the animal control center, where the majority of animals are euthanized. Animals at the center are either abandoned at the facility by their owners, or they are carried in by an animal control officer.
The animals have just seven sure days at the facility. After that, state law permits them to be euthanized, said Charles McDonald, the center’s director.
“I take my job very seriously,” he said. “I do what I have to do.”
According to its own records, in January the facility took in 320 animals. Twelve of them were reclaimed by their owners. Eight were adopted, and 90 were taken by animal rescue organizations. The majority, 176, were euthanized.
“The population of dogs in Calhoun County is out of control,” McDonald said. “I can’t hold them forever.”
Still, some animals live longer than a week at the facility. McDonald says he always hopes the animals are claimed by an owner before their time is up.
Late last year, the center came under fire when public allegations of animal cruelty surfaced. Complainants alleged that the kennels at the center are unkempt.
McDonald denied the allegations, saying he runs a tight ship at the shelter. However, he did say the animals defecate and urinate on the floor in the overnight hours.
“We leave here at 4:30 in the afternoon,” McDonald said. “Between 4:30 at night and 8 a.m. in the morning, there is going to be poop. It’s going to be dirty.”
The cleaning process begins each morning at 8, McDonald said. It takes employees and a few Calhoun County Jail inmates at least two hours to get the mess under control, he said.
When a reporter arrived at the center Tuesday, in an announced visit, Calhoun County inmates in orange and white stripes were washing pavement at the facility with a hose pipe. The individual kennels were neat, food and water bowls full.
The facility has about 80 kennels for dogs and cats, cages for less-common visitors such as roosters, and fenced-in free space for the livestock, McDonald said. The facility is comprised of front offices and three kennel areas.
The first kennel area is for cats and small puppies, and it is in an enclosed room. The second kennel area is indoors where cement cells with chain-link gates keep the animals apart. The third kennel area is outside where an awning covers the chain-link kennels and the large-breed dogs that often stay outside there, McDonald said.
There are also a couple of mobile kennels stationed outside. Those kennels, also made of chain-link fencing, can be taken to disaster areas to collect stray animals that escape during those times, McDonald said.
But some say the facility hasn’t always been kept so neat. Former employees have said in recorded interviews that the facility was kept unclean.
“All I have to go by is the testimony that the two ladies that worked there gave us,” said Margaret Hatley, one of two animal advocates who interviewed the employees after receiving complaints about the facility.
Animal advocates last year also said the center euthanizes animals by injecting a lethal substance straight to the animal’s heart. Unless the animal is sedated, that process is illegal, the animal advocates said.
Two former employees have said the facility was “heart sticking” animals without sedation. McDonald has said that while the facility has killed animals by heart sticking, they always sedate them first.
The euthanasia room at the facility is small with a concrete floor and two stainless-steel beds. It is kept under lock and key, McDonald said.
Tuesday at the center, dogs barked and jumped at the chain-link gate that closes each cement cell. Kittens pawed at the aluminum cages that held them and cried as visitors entered the room.
Many of the animals come to the shelter after they’ve already been abandoned, McDonald said. Their frames were so withered away that their clearly defined rib cages could be seen through their coats.
Not all of the dogs appear to be homeless. Some are pure-breeds. Some have been spayed and neutered. And some can obey commands.
But health can’t spare them at the facility.
“We have to euthanize some animals that don’t need to be,” McDonald said.
Earlier this month, the Calhoun County Commission appointed a board to oversee the facility, which is funded with public dollars through the county. Animal advocates like Hatley support the move and sympathize with the job animal control officials have to do.
“I feel for anyone who is animal control. They have a very difficult job,” Hatley said. “They just need to have all the tools and all the support they can get in order to ensure it’s done properly and humanely.”
Contact staff writer Laura Johnson at 256-235-3544. On Twitter: LJohnson_Star