What began with a discussion over dinner 12 months ago took a major step toward reality on Tuesday, Jan. 8, in a groundbreaking for the Blount County Animal Care Facility in Eagleton.
The new facility behind the Boys and Girls Club of Blount County on Currie Avenue hopes to take the concept of traditional “kennels” and “shelters” to a new level with state-of-the-art, customer- and animal-friendly kennels for dogs and cats, a homey adoption area and pristine surgical suites for performing routine procedures such as spaying and neutering.
Smoky Mountain Animal Care Foundation president Chris Protzman said the effort to organize the foundation and pursue raising funds for the facility began when he and several others shared a meal to talk about coming up with an answer to the stray animal population in Blount County.
“This all started a year ago at dinner at Aubrey’s. Don’t ever underestimate the power of want and of passion. We’re over half way there,” he said of the effort to raise $1.2 million. More than half the goal has been reached, Protzman said. “It has been a work in progress that has taken, spiritually, decades but, in earnest, the last year. This is one of those occasions when things happen. It really is something we can be proud of.”
Protzman thanked the elected officials of Blount County for their work and for the help of volunteers who committed to the effort.
County Mayor Jerry Cunningham said he had faith the county would find a way to work though this problem. “But it’s been a thorny one. It’s a very emotional issue. It’s a situation we didn’t create but they (the commissioners) stood up and addressed it with the help of a lot of other people on a volunteer basis,” he said.
Cunningham thanked Loudon County and its mayor Doyle Arp for agreeing earlier this year to contract to take Blount County’s stray animals. “We would be in a terrible mess without you good folks,” Cunningham said. “This is such a positive step forward. It’s going to be a one of a kind facility.”
Doyle Arp said Loudon County had a similar situation years ago with its stray animal population. “We understand where you are and where you are going,” he said. “Blount County helped us in the past, and we’re just trying to pay back the favor. If you ever need anything else, let us know.”
A group of elected officials and volunteers who helped get the project to this point were asked to take the shovels for the ceremonial groundbreaking. Rick Yeager, SMACF board member, was happy to see action.
“This has been a long time coming,” he said. “It’s a great day for Blount County.”
Several area residents came to the event to show their support. “I think it’s very important. As a dog lover, I want animals treated humanely,” Joe Gallagher said.
Don Story of Maryville said he was at the ground breaking in honor of his dogs Billy, Dixie and Lacy Jane, “three of the best friends I ever had,” he said of his dogs.
“It’s very important and necessary, and I’m looking forward to it,” he said.
Blount County Circuit Court Judge Meares said the new facility was long overdue. “It’s something Blount County residents can pull together for. It’s great to see it’s getting done,” Meares aid.
Blount County Commissioner Wendy Pitts Reeves praised those involved. “It’s an example of what is possible when you let people follow their passions and do what they want to do,” she said.
Blount County Commissioner Steve Samples said it was a great day for more reasons than the weather. “It’s a great day; a beautiful day to see dirt turning on this,” he said.