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St. Frances Animal Center: Adoptions increase after changes in policy

By Jackie R. Broach
Coastal Observer

Wendy Goude took over as executive director of St. Frances Animal Center less than six months ago, but the changes she has made in that time are striking.

The center looks cleaner, hours of operation have been expanded to seven days a week, adoption numbers are up significantly and a policy that turned off a number of potential adoptive families has ended.

The policy prevented the public from going into the back of the facility to view dogs available for adoption in person. Instead, they selected dogs from a computer screen and the potential adoptees were brought up front for an introduction.

Goude, a Georgetown native, ended that practice her first day on the job, March 23.

“It was the first thing I wanted to change,” Goude said. “Picking an animal from a computer screen, it’s just too cold. I adopted a dog here and I would never in a million years have chosen her on a computer screen, and she’s the love of my life.”

She believes the dog picks the person in most adoptions and that can’t happen if all the available dogs don’t get a chance at interacting with the person, she added.

The policy was the number one complaint she heard from people when they found out she was going to work for the center, she said. It upset some people so much they refused to go back to the center while the policy was in place.

“We’re the new St. Frances,” Goude said. “We basically have a new staff and we’re doing whatever’s best for the animals.”

In August, more than 60 animals were adopted from the center, largely a result from adoption drives outside the center as well as efforts to get families into the facility. She estimates adoptions have increased by about 200 percent.

Goude’s boundless passion and enthusiasm for her job and every animal at the shelter doubtlessly also played a role in the center’s new successes.

Goude, 40, had never worked for an animal shelter before. She spent 25 years as a manager of the Rice Paddy restaurant, but as a life-long animal lover, when the position at St. Frances came available she decided to take a shot at it.

She couldn’t be happier that she did.

“It’s like my dream job,” she said. “I’ve loved every minute of it. I work for the animals — they’re my ultimate boss and, Lord, that’s a good boss to have.”

The animals at the shelter are always kept clean, classical music is piped into dog kennels to help keep the animals relaxed and happy, and “we treat every animal at the center as if they were our own,” Goude said. That’s evident as a small dog, recently rescued from a busy roadway, makes himself comfortable in Goude’s office alongside one of her own dogs.

With a new center director, Shannon Prouty, Goude is working on many more changes and hopes St. Frances will become a model for other animal shelters.

“We’re trying to be an extremely progressive shelter and be a footprint for the south,” Prouty said.

The staff has a “no kill philosophy” and is promoting networking between shelters to look for ways to prevent euthanization of animals at any shelter.

On Friday, as Hurricane Irene grazed the coast, St. Frances was welcoming a group of Shih Tzus rescued from a puppy mill. The animals had been taken in at a shelter in another county and were scheduled to be killed, so St. Frances made room for them.

The center had kennels and cages in every room and every corner, under tables and lining walls to accommodate the dogs.

“We do that all the time with high kill shelters,” Goude said. “We’re such a small place, but we have such a big heart. We all want the best thing for all animals, not just ours.”

St. Frances has also networked with rescue groups in the northeast to save lives and place animals in permanent homes.

Decades ago, St. Frances used to be the city dog pound and that’s how many locals still think of it, Goude said. Others who have lived in the area for years don’t even know the center exists.

Efforts to promote the center and let area residents know it’s available as a resource are being stepped up. An anonymous donor paid for the center to hire a local marketing firm to help. As a result, the center is getting a new logo and updated website, and will be putting up billboards along major roadways.

Events and fundraisers to increase community awareness and involvement are also taking place more often. St. Frances introduced the Meow Luau fundraiser in July at Sanford’s restaurant and the Georgetown County Sheriff’s Office recently had a pilau fundraiser for the center. The events raised $9,000.

The fifth annual St. Frances masquerade and Mutt Strut, a pet parade and festival, will be Oct. 29 at East Bay Park. A cookout is planned for November at Caledonia Golf and Fish Camp, and a Paws for Christmas party in December.

“We’re trying to have something every month,” Goude said.

A plan is also in the works to build a new facility on adjoining property that was donated to the center by International Paper Co. Goude said she wants a shelter that mirrors what St. Frances is all about.

An anonymous donation recently paid to clear the land, but fundraising for construction is still in the planning stages. All donations currently go directly into providing care for animals at the center, including medical expenses.

“Right now we’re just trying to hold our heads above water,” Goude said. “It’s a lot cheaper to euthanize or to not provide physical and mental stimulation for the animals, but that’s not who we are.”

For information about the center, visit St. Frances online or call 546-0780.

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