As Gigi’s doors swing open, visitors are greeted by dog barks that echo and bounce off the spotless gray walls, which are complete with various portraits of man’s best friend.
Since it opened in October 2018, Gigi’s Shelter for Dogs has benefited the communities of Southeast Ohio and has introduced an innovative solution to the pet adoption system.
The Need for Gigi’s
Husband and wife duo George and Tina Skestos founded Gigi’s in Canal Winchester out of a passion for dogs in the region. Fifteen Ohio State students have received veterinary scholarships, funded by the Skestos. Their love of animals is perhaps exemplified most through the work done at Gigi’s. According to the shelter’s website, the “intention is to efficiently address dog homelessness by creating a model that can be replicated all over the country.”
Gigi’s confronts a nationwide problem at the local level. Many animal shelters in rural areas of Southeast Ohio are government-funded and overpopulated with more dogs than they can care for. Some adoption centers in Columbus and Cleveland, which are generally nonprofit organizations and therefore not necessarily receiving government funds, have a greater demand than supply of adoptable dogs.
Gigi’s CEO Justin McKinniss is well aware of the problem. “The challenge [that shelters] face is that there aren’t enough resources,” McKinniss says. Gigi’s addresses that by acting as an intermediary between those overcrowded shelters and underpopulated adoption centers. The nonprofit transports shelter dogs to its 15,000-square-foot facility.
Fulfilling the Mission
The mission of Gigi’s consists of three parts: transporting dogs, improving their health and working to partner with shelters in southern Ohio. Gigi’s transports the dogs from a shelter to its facility. After the dogs are given the proper medical attention and are in good condition, Gigi’s then transports the dogs to adoption centers in urban areas, where there is a shortage of adoptable dogs. The nonprofit corporation utilizes its own fleet of vehicles and crates to move the dogs at no cost to the shelters or adoption centers. Gigi’s receives dogs from five primary shelters: Franklin County Dog Shelter, Gallia County Animal Shelter, Jackson County Dog Pound, Lawrence County Dog Pound and Scioto County Dog Pound. After treating the dogs, Gigi’s transports them to one of three Ohio urban adoption centers: Columbus Humane, CHA Animal Shelter and the Cleveland Animal Protective League.
Gigi’s has space for 40 dogs at all times and is often near capacity. “On an ideal day, we’ll start with 40 [dogs] and will send 10 out for adoption and bring in 10 more,” McKinniss says. There are several suites for new arrivals and the dogs are grouped by the county they were transported from to prevent any potential spread of disease or sickness. Each suite has a fully-stocked kitchen with healthy foods and treats.
Perhaps one of the most unique features of the new facility is that everything, from ceilings to floors, is made with epoxy and is seamless. This ensures that no harmful bacteria or germs get stuck in the cracks. The wards can simply be washed down and will exit the building through the drains in the floors.
Health is one of the utmost priorities for the caretakers at Gigi’s. There is a hospital fully equipped with X-ray rooms, a dental suite and surgery suites. Upon arrival, all dogs are given a preliminary exam and given standard flea and tick treatments. They are then given the medicine or procedures needed to bring them back to top-tier health. The average turnaround time for Gigi’s dogs between the shelter and when they are transported to adoption centers is six to nine days.
Most dogs are relatively healthy upon arrival, with basic ailments such as fleas, ticks and ear infections. Some dogs, however, are in dire need of proper care in order to survive.
“We did get a dog here named Puddin’,” says Gigi’s veterinarian Dr. Colleen Shockling. “He came to us with a fractured leg and when we did radiographs, we found that he had been shot. We were able to amputate that leg in order to give him a better life. And he was up and running around the next day and got home pretty quick after that.”
The Future for Gigi’s
Gigi’s already helps dogs with their physical ailments, and behavioral progress is the next step it plans on taking. Tentatively scheduled for spring 2020, Gigi’s will be opening Gigi’s Center for Dog Behavior, a behavioral clinic in a separate building on-site. There will be two imitation apartment rooms that are fully furnished, so that trainers will be able to help dogs learn how to overcome common behavioral issues such as jumping on or damaging furniture. It will have observation rooms for potential adopters and trainers to come in and assess the dogs’ behaviors and progress, further ensuring the dogs preparedness for adoption and ultimately taking the burden off of new pet owners to address those problems on their own.
“[Gigi’s is] creating an amazing rural-urban partnership at a time when now there’s a lot of challenges in the world,” McKinniss says. “And this is a chance for two very different areas to come together to impact the same challenge.”