It's only been two weeks since Atlanta Animal Rescue Friends Pet Central made its debut in the Village, but they've actually been around since 2002. Having its headquarters mainly consist of the founders' and volunteers' homes for several years, it was time, they decided, to make a resource center for the public.
As a no-kill, non-profit, spay/neuter center, AARF Pet Central is truly the ultimate resource center for dog and pet owners, or for anyone that wants to adopt a dog or cat. They are the "Whole Foods for pets" with their wide range of healthy food and supplies; they have an in-house cat adoption center; they have a dog washing area, complete with a raised tub so owners don't have to kneel; and educational pet courses, such as dog obedience and potty training, are offered in its large, open area dog room.
AARF originally was slated to debut earlier this year, but because of construction delays in addition to , they had to delay their opening in July.
Susan Leisure, one of the founders and directors of AARF, talks to Patch in this week's Meet the Owner about how the community has supported them after the burglary and how AARF started.
Patch: The adoption center is so cute. Who designed it?
Susan Leisure: We actually had some of our former adopters contact us and say, "We'd really like to design the cat room." They actually designed it, and built all of the climbling ledges and everything for the cats. Cats really love to have their vertical space, so by building this, it actually allows us to have more cats in here and for everybody to have their own space and to be comfortable and not cramped.
Patch: What encouraged you to open in the Village?
Leisure: I actually live in Stone Mountain. Not in the Village, but I live in unincorporated Stone Mountain. I have pets, so I know that if I need pet food or training or any resources, I'm driving out of Stone Mountain and taking my business somewhere else. So part of it is just knowing that there's a need here.
It's a good fit for what we're doing. We're trying to not only reach out to the people that already have pets but to find adoptive homes, but to also be a resource to people in the community who are having training issues or any other issue with their pet.
People are really having to go 10, 15, 20 miles away to find those, which means they're taking their business outside of Stone Mountain, and taking their money outside of Stone Mountain. So if we can provide all of the services here and sort of keep the business here, I think it's sort of a win-win for both pets and the community.
Patch: How did you get involved in animal care?
Leisure: I actually started as a child, sort of being involved in animal rescue and animal welfare. I was really involved in Indiana, and then moved to Atlanta for graduate school, and I tried to volunteer at a couple of different places. I didn't find anything that was a good fit, and a friend of mine and I actually founded AARF in 2002, sort of as a result of doing rescue on our own.
We made a decision to just do it legally, officially and licensed and all of those things that we need to be an official organization. We've really been running it as volunteers and running it out of our house since then. So this is the first time we've actually had our facility and our transitioning toward being able to be paid to do it, as opposed to just doing it as a volunteer.
Patch: Until recently, how exactly did things work without having a factility before?
Leisure: Well, we did have foster homes, and we started out primarily as an adoption organization. So, literally, all of the records were at my house, the license was held at my house, everything was based out of my house.
Pretty soon after we started, we realized there were other aspects of starting animal welfare, so we started a spay/neuter program that we're still running today; we have a humane educational program for kids where we do things like dog-bite prevention and pet safety classes for kids; and we have a senior program called Silver Paws where we match senior pets with senior citizens, and we continue to pay for the bills and provide support so those pets can stay in a home.
It just gets to the point where we're running all these programs out of my house, and the other director would have some things at her house, and the volunteer coordinator would have some things at her house, and it just got to the point where we became such a large corporation that we kind of needed a central location to run all of the programs.
Patch: How many animals do you normally assist every year? It must be lots.
Leisure: Our numbers are actually lower than a lot of groups. Because we don't have a huge shelter, you know, we don't have 1,000 dogs or 500 dogs in this shelter, so our adoption numbers are actually pretty low. I would say we adopt out less than 100 animals a year, but the number of pets that come through our spay/neuter program, with the number of pets that come through our training program, that's hundreds of pets every year. We subsidize probably 400-500 pets every year through our spay/neuter program, and what we try to do is basically, anybody that needs help getting their pet fixed, we will subsidize it depending on what they can afford.
Patch: It was reported that you were burglarized in May. How have you guys been coping with that since?
Leisure: You know, it was heartbreaking at the time. We had literally gone to animal control that morning, picked up a dog, and we're on our way over, and we saw that side door is open, and we go, "Oh, what's going on?" We thought, maybe, a couple of volunteers who had been doing some work for us were here and we didn't see their cars or something, but we came in and realized that someone had come in and taken a lot of stuff.
It's been OK, because we're trying to look at it as, if someone's going to break in, it's better to do it before any animals were here. If we had to figure out that we needed to upgrade our security system, it's better we do it before anybody gets hurt.
The people that came in didn't vandalize or didn't come in with sledgehammers and spraypaint and totally trash the place. The stuff that they took was just stuff, and it was replaceable stuff, and we've had a lot of community support as a result, with people saying, "I have an extra saw," "I have an extra ladder," "I have extra drills," whatever. We've had a lot of community support of people helping us get finished.
And I think, in this economy, you just have to almost expect that's going to happen. ... People are so desperate, and I think it was just a crime of opportunity. Someone said, "I bet they have tools, they're doing renovations," and then took stuff they could probably pawn. I don't necessarily think it was a malicious break-in, and I think if someone came in and just totally trashed the place and was really trying to attack what we're trying to do here, I think that would be so much harder to deal with. But I don't think we were targeted, I don't think it had anything to do with what we do, so I think it's been easier to deal with just knowing that it was a random sort of crime of opportunity.
We've upgraded our security system as a result, so we feel a little safer, with what we have now. We have a lot of community support, people saying, "Please don't leave. Don't let this sort of thing chase you out of the neighborhood." The response that we've gotten shows us that we're in the right place. That there are people that really want us here and really need the services that we're offering. And so the response after the burglary has just reinforced the fact that we know we're in the spot that we're supposed to be in.
Patch: Is there anything you want to add?
Leisure: We encourage folks to stop in if they have pets and if they'd like to have a pet. If people are having a behavioral issue with their dog, we want them to come in and talk with our trainer, and if they need recommendations for food or supplements. We want people to think of us as a first place to go if they have a question about their pet, we want to be that resource for the community. We're not just a pet store, or just a training place; we want people to think of this as their resource that they come to figure out or at least get some advice or direction on how to adopt a pet or help the pet they have.
AARF Pet Central is located at 6570 James B. Rivers Drive in the Village. It's open Tuesday through Friday from 10:30 a.m. to 8 p.m., Saturday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., and Sunday from noon to 5 p.m. They are closed Monday. For more information on the organization, visit aarfatlanta.org and for more information on the Stone Mountain facility, visit aarfcentral.com.