SPARTA, Ga. — A pet lover's nightmare -- the ASPCA rescued 65 dogs from a Hancock County home where someone was hoarding them. We spoke with a woman who wants community support to prevent it from happening again.
"Just because we're a poor county doesn't mean we can't put together a system, '' Martha Harris says.
Harris grew up in Hancock County. She's been the president of Hancock Animal Friends Inc. since 2010 because she says there's a problem.
"It was organized to provide some kind of structure in the county with no animal care and control,” Harris says.
You read that right. According to the 2021 Census Bureau, more than 6,000 people live in Hancock County, but they don't have an animal shelter or animal control.
Harris says it's easy for animal hoarding incidents to happen, like a recent case where a woman had 65 dogs on her property. The ASPCA reported that the dogs were living in poor conditions, and many had mange or other health problems.
"She had an open heart, she did not look the other way. She became overwhelmed and did not know who to reach out for help," she says.
Harris says she and the volunteers she works with help to pick up strays and relocate them to shelters, but she says it's tough to watch.
"Now in downtown Sparta, you can go down and probably see half a dozen dogs with horrible skin issues just roaming around,” she explains.
Harris says one problem is that people don't know how to care for their dogs. She says she wants ordinances requiring spaying, neutering, and pet registration. She says the city has been working for three years on creating an animal shelter.
"We just need better laws and enforcement of those laws and for people to start caring and realizing what a huge problem it is,” Harris says.
Mayor of Sparta Allen Haywood says the animal shelter has taken a long time because of money. He says Sparta is one of the poorest counties.
"What we serve the people, water, sewer, and natural gas. Those services come first. We have dilapidated systems here that were neglected for over 20 years, and so now, that's what we're trying to direct the funds that we have,” Haywood says.
He says he's been working with Hancock Animal Friends to create stricter ordinances and those should be completed this month.
"You got to educate your pet owners. They got to be responsible, but you can't just all of a sudden give someone a citation because they didn't because they didn't have their dog vaccinated or whatever,” he says.
Haywood says he knows that there is an animal control problem. He says the Hancock Animal Friends have done an amazing job with no government help.
“We're in the early steps. We're going to do what we can to make sure that the pets we have and the people who have pets take care of their pets like they should,” he says.
Mayor Haywood says the animal shelter should be up and running in the early summer, if their employees are trained in time.
If you'd like to support Hancock Animal Friends, they're having a fundraiser in October at Mockingbird Hill Farm in Sparta. There will be a raffle, prizes, food, games, and a "Cutest Dog" contest.