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Athens County provides a unique refuge for wildlife and strays

Athens and its rural outskirts see a wide range of animals as the seasons change that is monitored by the Division of Wildlife of the Ohio Department of Natural Resources and the Athens County Dog Shelter. 

“In the spring we get a lot of calls about animals that have been found that people believe to have been orphaned, but this is seldom true,” said Lindsay Rist, Communications Specialist at the Division of Wildlife. “We get calls about public hunting properties as well as questions about regulations.” 

Black bears, bobcats and warbler species have been documented in Athens County. Osprey and bald eagles have been sighted along the river near Stewart Street. Those birds have used the Hocking River to catch fish. Division of Wildlife biologists caught an American eel in 2018 during a sampling of the river to check fish populations and gather data about the ecosystem. 

“Wildlife do not follow county boundaries, so we typically don’t have specific county population information since it can always change,” said Rist. 

The Division of Wildlife advises people to check for nests in trees, brush and chimneys before starting outdoor maintenance. Taming a wild animal will lower its chances of survival in the wild. Those animals have nutritional needs that are best met in their natural habitat.

The District 4 office in Athens serves 19 counties in southeast Ohio. The Athens County Dog Shelter is a slightly smaller operation run by the Athens County Sheriff's office. 

The dogs typically brought to the shelter are on the outskirts of Athens. They are either strays, surrendered by their owners or found by another person. The shelter sometimes travels to pick up an animal if the dog is afraid of people, or the shelter is trying to locate the owners. The dogs are then screened for vaccines and microchip implants before being fed and bathed. The dogs’ teeth are also checked to determine their ages. 

"When dogs are entering the shelter, they are checked for lice, which makes it easier to identify the owner, and reunite the animal with their owner," said Ryan Gillette, Detective and Athens County Dog Warden.

The Athens County Dog Shelter keeps a ledger of dogs in the shelter that details the dog’s age, the amount of time it was in the shelter and where the dog came from. That ledger also shows if the dog was sold or adopted, and if that money goes to an auditor or another party. 

"The vast majority of animals (in the shelter) are Lab and Beagle mixes because they are popular dogs in the United States," said Gillette.  

After three business days, the dogs may be adopted if no one comes to claim them. The only other time dogs are released from the shelter is if they are euthanized. 

"We have a lot of the same wildlife in my hometown, Bellville, but I don't think we have the sheer numbers Athens does,” said Hayley Brown, a freshman studying management and strategic leadership. “We have quite a few people who hunt for sport or to protect their cows and crops.”

In Bellville, there aren’t many stray pets because people just take them in, Brown said.

"I don't think stray animals domestically are a seasonal issue,” said Brown. “But as they get older, that's when you see more people leave them.”


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