Animal control: New foundation looks for long-term solution, $1 million

A new foundation was formed today with the goal of raising $1 million to build a new animal shelter in Blount County, possibly within 18 to 24 months.

Chris Protzman, a Blount County resident and Journal Broadcast Group Knoxville Operations Group general manager, is president of Smoky Mountain Animal Care Foundation. Rick Yeager of Blount County is spokesman for the foundation.

Yeager said the foundation’s plan can work very well. "We just need a million dollars," he said, which elicited some laughter from reporters and other board members.

Tim Adams, executive director of the Young-Williams Animal Center in Knoxville, was the first to contribute.

"Here’s your first dollar. Hopefully, the rest of the citizens of Maryville will give you one each," he said.

Protzman and Yeager spoke about the new non-profit organization in a 1:30 p.m. press conference at Protzman’s Knoxville office on Wednesday. Protzman said the foundation was created out of a need that came out of Blount County. "We have an animal control crisis in Blount County," he said.

The crisis came about when the city of Maryville in June of 2006 asked Blount County to double the $138,000 it was paying for the city to handle animal control calls in the county. When the county commission balked, they went to a month-to-month contract that ended on Dec. 31, 2006. Since the beginning of the new year, the county has been without animal control service.

Loudon County government has agreed to allow Blount County to use its animal shelter on a temporary basis, and Blount County is in the process of hiring a new animal control officer. Protzman said this was a short-term solution, and he hoped that the new foundation would help create a long-term solution.

"Today we would like to introduce the first step in that long-term solution," he said. "Our long-term solution is Blount County needs to solve its own problem."

Protzman said that there are more than six new stray animals in the county each day. Rather than euthanizing these animals, this new Blount County animal center would give them the opportunity to be adopted, he said.

Protzman estimated costs to be $1 million to buy land and build the facility. "It will take a marshalling of effort of charitable trusts and local officials who want to create a lasting legacy," he said. "This is what it’s all about, reaching out to animals and giving them a second chance."

Yeager and his wife Kandi Yeager are with the animal foster group ArfNets and are members of the foundation board. "Ultimately our first goal is to get fundraising underway. We’ve got a long way to go," he said.

Yeager said spaying and neutering will be a part of the facility. "We will have an aggressive spay and neutering program. For every dollar spent on spaying and neutering, you save $3 in dealing with neglected animals," he said.

Yeager said the foundation will reach out to businesses and local governments for help in the project.

Yeager said the foundation will be accountable for how donations are spent. Local governments that allocate funds and individuals and companies who contribute will all want to know where they money is going. "We want them to know," he said.

Yeager said that a new facility built two years ago in Loudon County has helped the county reduce their euthanasia rate to 60 percent. Often they keep their animals longer than three days because there is room and this gives animals more opportunity to be adopted, he said.

While the Loudon facility is 7,000 square feet, the Young-Williams facility in Knoxville is 12,000 square feet. Organizers said the Young-Williams and the Loudon operations are clean, large facilities. "That’s the direction we want to strive toward in Blount County," Yeager said.

Young-Williams executive director Tim Adams and Kathy Darnell, deputy director, were on hand to voice their support.

Darnell said the foundation members were to be commended for their efforts and that developing public/private partnership was the way to go in developing the new facility.

"You’re putting a firm foundation in place," she said.

Adams said that the public and private entities could work together and create a good facility. "We’re very much behind what you are doing," he said.

Protzman said there was a simple reason behind the foundation’s goals. "At the end of the day, we’re all animal lovers," he said. "It’s about coordinating and getting these partnerships."

Protzman said the first step is getting land. "I think our time line is minimally 18 months to two years and that’s if we had a grant for eight acres of land today, and we don’t," he said.

While the foundation plans to solicit funds from the public sector, they also will ask private individuals and companies for help in building the facility. Protzman estimated it would take about 50 to 60 percent of construction cost to operate the facility. The foundation president said volunteer licensing could be a step to help fund either the construction or operation of a facility.

Protzman said that just as fishermen pay for licenses and know that part of the money goes to protecting the waters where they fish, creating a license ordinance in the county could help pay for animal control. "It needs to be considered as a possible funding alternative," he said. "Even if it’s voluntary, it should be considered."

Protzman said licensing also makes it easier to reunite lost pets with their owners. "It’s a good tracking method, and trauma to the animal is reduced."

Yeager said he hoped that once the facility is built, the cities of Maryville, Alcoa and Rockford would begin using the new operation and help fund it as well.

Adams said the city of Knoxville was a similar situation. The city allocated $1.5 million, Knox County allocated $1.5 million and the Young-Williams board of directors raised almost $1 million to cover construction costs. "It was the partnership that made it happen," Adams said.

Darnell said the foundation was going about reaching their goal in the proper manner. "They’re absolutely doing the right things," she said.

Protzman said this shelter would not be a no-kill facility because it would have the ability to contract with area governments to take animals from animal control officers. "This is truly in the strictest sense very much like Young-Williams, which is a kill shelter," he said. "We’ll take every animal that comes in and also serve animal control officers in Blount County and process accordingly."

Blount County Mayor Jerry Cunningham said he was surprised the county wasn’t invited to the press conference, considering the foundation wants to partner with the county to build and operate the facility. "It’s the first news conference where they’re talking about partnering, and they didn’t invite us," he said. "It’s strange to be called a partner and not be invited to a news conference."

Cunningham said the plan is something that the county’s animal control committee should consider. "I think it could be explored, but the only way I’d be interested would be if the county was in control of the ship. That would be my recommendation to the committee," he said.

Cunningham said that most county leaders have told him the only way to go into this kind of partnership would be if the private entity is part of an advisory committee. "That’s my feeling on it. You can’t take county money and turn it over to private people to run the show."

Steve Phipps with the Blount County Humane Society was contacted regarding the foundation, but had no comment.

Other members of the foundation include: Julie K. Nelson, vice president, Emily Straquadine, secretary/treasurer and Dr. Michele Halstead, DVM.

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