A Hammonton rescue group brings 150 puppies and dogs a month from a high-kill Georgia shelter to adoption groups in the Northeast, mainly to local groups and the Atlantic County Humane Society in Atlantic City.

It is one of many groups transporting dogs north to save their lives, and while there are no statistics on how many dogs are coming to the region from the South, a look at animals available on petfinder.com shows a large number of southern transplants.

Nancy Beall, president of the Atlantic County Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, is extremely unhappy about that.

Beall, of Somers Point, wants local people to find homes for all the dogs in their own shelters before bringing in more from other regions of the country.

“I’m sick to death of hearing from people that they rescued a dog from Alabama, Mississippi or Georgia,” said Beall. “They are bringing them up by the busloads. Our shelters are packed to capacity. We don’t need more from the South.”

Meanwhile, Beall said, dogs languish in area shelters. Some are euthanized. Big city shelters closer to South Jersey, which she believes should be helped first when going out of the area, routinely send out emails desperately asking for help for adoptable dogs stressed by the city shelter experience, she said.

But Karen Talbot, who runs the Hammonton-based Making of Miracle Stories (M.O.M.S.) Rescue, said shelters in South Jersey and the Northeast don’t have anything like the horrendous conditions faced by dogs in many Southern states. Some southern shelters aren’t open to the public and have no adoption programs; they exist to kill animals, she said. Many states still use gas chambers, although Georgia — the state she brings animals from — stopped that practice in 2010.

“If Nancy Beall or anybody can show me one town in New Jersey that has yellow Lab litters of puppies thrown outside in boxes on the side of the highway, thinks nothing of shooting a dog in the head, or is gassing or starving them, I won’t leave my state,” said Talbot, who has been bringing dogs to New Jersey from Georgia since 2008, but in larger numbers since 2011.

M.O.M.S. has partnered with Carpathia Paws Animal Rescue Organization in Georgia to reduce the kill rate at the Hinesville, Ga., facility from the vast majority of animals to about 2 percent, she said.

Talbot and Beall are on opposite sides of a debate over the most ethical way to address dog adoption and overpopulation in southern New Jersey. Each side has dedicated supporters.

Those who want to import dogs from the South point out that New Jersey has been successful in its spay and neuter program for dogs. There are few puppies to be adopted, or even young dogs of the type most families want — mixed breeds of the hound, spaniel, collie and retriever types.

Instead, New Jersey shelters are full of pit bulls and pit bull mixes, since it is the one type of dog not being spayed and neutered locally by owners, said Steven J. Dash, executive director of the Atlantic County Humane Society in Atlantic City. The organization has had a shelter transfer program for 12 years, he said, bringing in adoptable dogs from other places.

Lower-income people are breeding pit bulls for profit, selling puppies as pets or fighting dogs, Dash said. Pit bulls can have eight to 14 puppies per litter, and at $200 a puppy, a litter brings in a lot of money, he said.

But not everyone wants to adopt a pit bull, and it’s not the best match for some families, Dash said.

Those arguing to care for local dogs first say perfectly good animals fail to find homes because they aren’t young enough, healthy enough or the right breed.

Kathy Kelsey, manager of the Atlantic County Animal Shelter in Pleasantville, said in the past two years she has seen an increasing number of people adopt southern puppies and young dogs through organizations that advertise on petfinder. She understands the emotional appeal of trying to save dogs from high-kill Southern shelters, she said, and acknowledged that 60 percent to 70 percent of the dogs in her shelter are pit bulls or pit bull mixes, and some others are older dogs with medical issues.

“But I don't think bringing dogs into our region is the answer,” said Kelsey, whose shelter must take in stray and unwanted animals from only Atlantic County. “It’s like putting a finger in a dam. It’s not really getting to the source of the problem, but it’s inundating our area with more animals.”

She and Beall believe animal activists must work to change the Southern culture, to encourage spaying and neutering and more humane treatment of animals.

The Humane Society of the U.S. estimates that animal shelters care for 6 million to 8 million dogs and cats every year in the United States, and about half are euthanized each year. New Jersey reports euthanizing 30 percent — and just 13 percent of its shelter dogs. Southern euthanasia rates are estimated to be 65 percent to 70 percent, and some shelters report euthanizing almost every animal that enters.

In the 1970s, American shelters euthanized 12 million to 20 million dogs and cats a year, at a time when there were 67 million pets in homes, according to the HSUS. Today, shelters euthanize about 2.7 million animals, while there are more than 135 million dogs and cats in homes.

“This enormous decline in euthanasia numbers — from around 25 percent of American dogs and cats euthanized every year to less than 3 percent — represents substantial progress,” the HSUS website states.

Beall and Kelsey are also concerned that diseases that have been nearly eradicated in the North may reappear if dogs are brought up without the proper quarantine and veterinary care.

“There’s more heartworm in the South, and it’s expensive to treat,” Beall said.

Veterinarian Dawn Ritter, of All Paws Veterinary Clinic in Mays Landing, said she has not seen evidence that Southern dogs are bringing more disease to our area, but she is concerned it could happen. Ritter has been practicing for 25 years and has seen an increase in Southern adoptions over the past 10 years, she said.

Talbot, of M.O.M.S., said her group purchased a five-acre property in Georgia where dogs are quarantined, tested and vaccinated. The Atlantic County Humane Society also provided a mobile spay and neuter van, she said. So all of the dogs she brings north are healthy, and most are already spayed or neutered, she said.

Some that go to organizations such as the Humane Society, with in-house veterinary care, are altered when they get here.

Talbot agreed there are unscrupulous “rescues” that advertise puppies for adoption for a fee but don’t provide basic testing, vaccinations, or spaying and neutering. They tell people to meet them on the side of a highway, as they drive dogs north, and should be avoided, she said.

While M.O.M.S. is registered with the IRS as a charitable group, some local rescues do not register as charities with the state or get 501(c)(3) charitable status from the IRS. Beall said she is concerned their finances are not being examined by an independent party, and said many are making money off the adoptions.

It’s less important that a rescue have charitable status than it is to have good care for animals, Dash said. He recommends using only rescues that provide testing, vaccinations, spaying or neutering, and microchipping; and says a fee of $200 to $300 is fair for that veterinary care.

Beall considers Philadelphia part of the local animal network and would like to see more rescues made from shelters there. Her organization fosters animals from there, as well as animals taken from abuse or neglect situations. It currently has three poodle puppies and a labrador retriever/boxer mix listed for adoption on petfinder, along with three horses.

But Dash said animals from overcrowded Philadelphia shelters are often highly stressed, and their behavior doesn’t meet the Humane Society’s temperament requirements for adoption.

“We used to pull a lot from Philadelphia, but most of them clearly were not adoptable,” he said. He had to send so many back, he switched to bringing in Southern dogs when he had extra room. He said dogs from the South are generally less stressed and have gentler temperaments that meet his organization’s requirements.

Dash said his shelter only euthanizes dogs that have temperament problems and are not adoptable, and never for space concerns alone. He also said he’d be glad to take any adoptable dog from a local shelter that is in danger of being euthanized for space concerns, but he doesn’t believe it happens.

“Our area shelters don’t euthanize friendly dogs because there’s no space,” he said. “With cats that’s definitely the case, but not with dogs.”

Contact Michelle Brunetti Post:

609-272-7219

Been working with the Press for about 27 years.