WE’VE ALL SEEN the heartbreaking photos that interrupt the light-hearted comedy running on TV; the abused, neglected, or abandoned creatures rarely fail to jerk a tear. We’ve all seen the strays wandering the neighborhood, or even worse the victim of a hit-and-run. Even those who don’t own pets are hard pressed not to feel empathetic to the plight of these poor animals.

The folks at Floyd County’s new Public Animal Welfare Services facility, P.A.W.S. for short, located at 99 North Ave., Rome, are hoping to make these travesties a thing of the past. The $6 million S.P.L.O.S.T. funded facility provides a jaw- dropping improvement in capability for animal control officers.

Construction on the new P.A.W.S. center began in January 2016 and the new building was occupied by December.

Boasting 232 enclosures that can hold up to 300 animals, with 48 dedicated to felines and 40 dedicated to large dogs, the new facility is able to house more abandoned or neglected animals in need. The large dog enclosures alone are equal to the entire capacity of the old building. The new 18,000 square foot P.A.W.S. is state-of-the-art with a medical HVAC system, visitation rooms, enclosed exercise yard, laundry rooms, secured medical storage, separate intake and adoption areas, and full grooming facilities. There is a small galley, and lockers and showers for staff to keep themselves groomed after a long day in the field.

The enclosures themselves are designed to be flexible enough to handle whatever comes in, with the ability to open or close off sections as needed; they are even lined with a bacteria resistant coat-ing to mitigate the spread of diseases through the animals housed there.

Jason Broome, Director of Animal Control for Floyd County, is very happy with the new home of P.A.W.S.

Broome started as a road officer in 1998 and became full-time director in 2006. He has seen everything from snakes to injured bobcats during his time with Floyd County. The staff at P.A.W.S. are incredibly excited about the new capabilities at their disposal, including the surgery center aimed at providing sterilization services. Volunteers and county employees are hoping that the beautiful facility will help to foster a shift in the citizens of Floyd County towards an educated and engaged culture of animal lovers and pet owners alike.

P.A.W.S. hopes that the new facility will allow them to provide their guests with a slew of services like medical testing and treatment, grooming and sterilization of incoming strays. The facility was designed with increased capacity and comfort in mind, but those involved with the program would probably rather see it stay empty.

Stray cats and dogs can be a nuisance and even a danger to homeowners and their pets alike, but most of us would rather see them in a loving home than in a kennel. The sad fact is that most of these animals are not dangerous or unhealthy, but more likely lost, abandoned or neglected.

The P.A.W.S. staff and volunteers work tirelessly to care for and house these poor animals, but are focusing efforts on stray prevention and sterilization campaigns in an attempt to reduce the number of homeless dogs and cats being taken in. Some easy tricks to prevent strays from wandering into your back yard are as simple as making sure that trash is secured, and avoid leaving pet food unattended outdoors. To keep your own furry friends from becoming feral felons, make sure that they have a secure area to play outside, and always walk them with a secure leash and harness or collar. Buying an engraved I.D. tag with an address and phone number is a cheap and easy way to increase the chances that a lost pet will be able to return home safely, and of course be sure to display their current rabies tag as well.

P.A.W.S works closely with several local non-profits to help educate the community and direct pet owners to low-cost spay and neuter clinics, and quality vet care. They also work together to help find homes for our furry friends still living in cages, sometimes connecting a pet with a loving new owner across the country.

Floyd Felines is one such group focused on cat rescue. Last year 1500 cats were brought in, however only 27 were returned home to their owners. With so many lost felines coming through the facility, Floyd Felines helped christen the new facility with a donation of 12 pallets of cat food worth roughly $200,000. The Animal Rescue Foundation has worked for the last six years to help provide vet care for the sick and injured animals that find their way to P.A.W.S., including transportation.

Working in conjunction with the Environmental Health Dept. local vets offer a low-cost rabies clinic around the end of the summer each year, and the National Spay Alliance has a recently opened facility in Calhoun offering low cost services to locals. Through the combined efforts of these local groups the live release rate has increased form 20 percent in 2008 to 75 percent in 2016, and euthanasia has dropped from 65 to 14 percent.

If interested in adopting one of the guests at P.A.W.S there are a few things to keep in mind: You must be at least 18 to adopt a pet, have written permission if you are a renter, and no ordinance violations within the past two years. The adoption fee is $40 for dogs and $35 for cats, however no-cost adoptions are available for felines around September.

P.A.W.S. has all the information on adoption as well as educational resources for pet owners on their official website, www.romefloyd.com/departments/animal-control. Questions may also be directed to the P.A.W.S. staff by calling 706-235-4545.