GBHS unveils vision for operating Jasper animal shelter

Posted 1/11/19

In coming weeks, people will be hard-pressed to recognize the City of Jasper Animal Shelter, as the rewards of a new agreement are reaped.Jasper Mayor David O'Mary, along with City Clerk Kathy …

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GBHS unveils vision for operating Jasper animal shelter


In coming weeks, people will be hard-pressed to recognize the City of Jasper Animal Shelter, as the rewards of a new agreement are reaped.

Jasper Mayor David O'Mary, along with City Clerk Kathy Chambless, met with Greater Birmingham Humane Society (GBHS) CEO Allison Black Cornelius Thursday morning to film the latest installment of "Mayor O'Mary Weekly" and discuss the new partnership between the city and GBHS.

The agreement went into effect Monday, which gives GBHS operational control of the Jasper animal shelter. The Jasper City Council recently approved to pay just over $200,000 annually for GBHS to run the shelter — a cost O'Mary says isn't much more than what the city was paying to operate the shelter on their own.

"What we get is going to far exceed anything that we could've ever done locally," O'Mary said. "I'm so excited about having Greater Birmingham come to Jasper and be willing to reach an agreement with this government to handle our animal shelter."

Cornelius said local animal advocates called GBHS over a year ago to ask for help in managing the city's animal shelter. Talks later began with the City of Jasper, and an agreement was recently reached.

This is the first animal shelter in Alabama that will serve as a subsidiary of GBHS.

"We look for certain elements of the partnership to know if it's a good partnership or not," Cornelius said. "This one had all those elements for it to be a good, strategic partnership."

GBHS animal behaviorist and transport coordinator Lindsey Cross is serving as the city animal shelter's new manager. In addition, Jessie Ezekiel, an animal care technician with GBHS, will be a full-time employee and help to increase community awareness of adoptable animals.

Three people from Jasper will also work for the animal shelter, along with a licensed vet tech. Cornelius and Ivana Sullivan, GBHS chief programs officer, will visit the shelter on a weekly basis to ensure things are running smoothly.

"You're going to have a very different HR model there than you've had in the past," Cornelius said.

Giving new life to an old facility

First on the agenda is getting the city's current animal shelter operational on Birmingham Avenue in downtown Jasper.

The animal shelter has been closed since October due to a distemper outbreak, so GBHS crews and volunteers have fully disinfected and thoroughly cleaned the facility. On Thursday, workers were busy painting and renovating the building to make it an inviting space for potential adopters.

"Our staff can't turn around people's attitudes about animals if when you come into our facility we look like we need to be turned around," Cornelius said. "We're working hard to paint it, to make it beautiful — put some flowers out to make it look like a place that's welcoming to this community."

She added, "It doesn't have to smell terrible. It doesn't have to look terrible, and it shouldn't."   

Once renovations are complete, an area of the building will be dedicated to animal intake and general health assessments.

"Jasper City animals will be vaccinated upon intake. They will receive flea and tick treatment. They will receive medical baths, if that's what's needed, and they will receive immediate veterinary medical care," Cornelius said. "If we can get them good medical treatment the day they arrive, they are going to be more healthy and people will want to adopt them."

Every animal adopted from the city animal shelter will also be spayed or neutered — no exceptions.

It is unknown what adoption fees for dogs and cats will be in Jasper. 

Trap Neuter Return (TNR) services will also be offered as a result of the GBHS agreement with the City of Jasper.

Cornelius is hopeful animal adoptions at the city shelter will resume in a few weeks. Then the city and GBHS will focus on preparations to relocate the shelter to a home on Whitehouse Road that has been identified as a good location for a new shelter. O'Mary has previously stated an addition will be added to the Whitehouse Road property, and the surrounding landscape will provide ample space for outdoor kennels.

The city is hopeful to be moved into the new facility in the coming months.  

"I would expect as soon as these guys get operational in the old facility that we'll be back around this table to formulate a plan," O'Mary said. "I think something pretty drastic would have to happen for us not to have it. Our commitment is there, and we have the financial sources there to make it happen."

GBHS wants to grow with Jasper

Cornelius said there is much more to the Greater Birmingham Humane Society's agreement with the city than meets the eye. 

She was complimentary of how the city has grown over the past few years, particularly its downtown district, and she said GBHS wants to be part of the change.

"I think that Jasper is making a huge change and has for the past several years, and it becoming a more progressive community," Cornelius said. "GBHS came because we believe this community is headed in a direction that's positive."

GBHS intends to sponsor a number of community events to allow the general public to interact with adoptable animals. They also hope to recruit shelter volunteers and tackle animal abuse in the county.

Renovating the current shelter and preparations to open a new facility are also part of changing the culture in the City of Jasper and Walker County as a hole, Cornelius said. 

"If we want Jasper and Walker County to be progressive and attract employers ... then how we treat people, animals and the environment in Walker County is going to have a huge impact on that," she said. 

135 years of service

Cornelius spoke on Thursday of the history of Greater Birmingham Humane Society, spanning over a century.

Currently, GBHS operates an animal control service in Jefferson County, and GBHS has even assisted with animal cruelty cases in Walker County.

Aside from their home base in Birmingham for intake, adoptions and surrenders, GBHS also operates the GBHS Spay/Neuter & Critical Care Clinic in Hoover, which includes an externship program with Auburn University College of Veterinary Medicine.

Cats and dogs from the City of Jasper Animal Shelter will travel to the GBHS veterinary clinic for spay and neuter procedures and other medical care. Chambless said part of the city's agreement with GBHS includes the transport of animals to the clinic.

Cornelius said 40 spay and neuter surgeries are done at their animal hospital each day, and 100 TNR surgeries are performed there each week.

Last year, GBHS served over 21,000 animals, equating to nearly 2,000 each month.

It's a legacy of animal advocacy and service that Cornelius said is inherently sewed into their agreement with the City of Jasper.

"It's a very exciting time for myself and all in our municipal government," O'Mary said.