By Samantha Black
Luca, a former abused dog who stayed with Animal Services, posed for the camera before he left to be with his new family. He was first picked up by Animal Services when he was chained up in a yard with his ribs poking out, but during his time at the shelter he was able to recover and double his weight. Photos by Samantha Black.
Jessica Lauginiger typically works 10 hours a day, 4 days a week, but many times works extra, upwards of 15 or 16 hours a day. She is the interim shelter supervisor at Alachua County Animal Services, which wrapped up its annual Summer Lovin’ Adopt-a-thon on July 14. The adopt-a-thon successfully found homes for 183 animals.
However, not all of the animals were able to participate. The facility’s abused and neglected animals are not immediately considered adoptable and therefore cannot qualify for the adopt-a-thon.
Before abused and neglected animals can be adopted, Animal Services employees must work to resuscitate, re-train and recuperate them back to a level where they can be adoptable and have the same chances as the other animals to find a new home. Lauginiger is just one of the staff members who work with the abused and non-adoptable animals held in the back of the shelter.
“It’s not for everyone,” Lauginiger said of her job. “A lot of people won’t last a week in here.”
Working with abused animals requires some patience and understanding. Some of the abused animals have never been on grass before or used a leash, so even simple things can be a brand new experience for them. Lauginiger said that many of these animals need a total reprogramming to counter the damage of their pasts.
“We start with the basics, as if they were a puppy,” said Lin Santerfeit, the cruelty and dangerous dog investigator at Animal Services.
As of last week, the shelter had a total of about 240 animals and just three were abused or neglected yet this number fluctuates often.
“This week we have three, next week it could jump to 10 or go down to zero,” Santerfeit said.
Animal Services receives calls regarding abused animals almost continuously throughout the day and has 10 officers available in the field to report to the scene. From there, Santerfeit said, the officers follow and enforce a very specific ordinance.
The ordinance contains legal definitions of, for example, dangerous and aggressive animals as well as what constitutes a bite or an attack by an animal. Other sections of the ordinance contain protocol that owners should be following, like providing proper water, shelter and food for outdoor pets.
These laws are in place to ensure that when an owner can no longer give proper and humane care to their pet, they will be encouraged to surrender their animals to someone who can.
Lauginiger and Santerfeit both stressed, however, that every abuse case is different, and a lot of it depends on the offender’s level of cooperation with Animal Services.
When abused animals are brought in, Lauginiger said that the treatment required is often too expensive for Animal Services themselves to provide. In cases where they do not have the means, these animals are commonly sent to rescue groups.
However, Animal Services has received considerable help through donations from the community and local pet stores.
The Wagmore Foundation, a domestic non-profit corporation and a sponsor of the Alachua County Animal Services Summer Lovin’ Adopt-a-thon, also helps the shelter year-round.
In cases where an animal is being mistreated because of the owner’s lack of funds, the foundation provides the means to give out doghouses, collars and other required materials to these households.
“You see a lot of bad in this job,” Lauginiger said. “But you also see a lot of good in the community come out.”
Jessica Lauginiger, interim shelter supervisor at Alachua County Animal Services, comforts and plays with one of the facility’s newest additions to their abused animal section. The female pit bull was rescued with missing fur patches and cuts on top of her head presumably from fighting with other dogs.
Lauginiger said their main goal is to ready abused animals for a new life with a loving family. To determine when an abused animal at the shelter can be adopted out, Lauginiger said they must be at least eight weeks old, have regained their physical health and have good temperament. She said that aid from the community has been vital in getting these animals to this adoptable level.
Santerfeit picked up a picture of a pit bull that Animal Services had rescued after he had lost part of his face as a fighting dog. In time, they were able to restore his health and adopt him out to a new loving family.
“That’s why we do this,” Santerfeit said. “That right there.”