In the debate on animal control, there are two sides to the argument. The two animal shelters currently being planned for Blount County reflect the opposing philosophies.
One is a no-kill, limited-access facility while the other is a kill, all-access facility.
Nothing tugs at heart strings like animals who have been abandoned and/or hurt. But conversations with the general public in Blount County usually draws a big question mark as to what exactly is going on in the county in regard to controlling and caring for unwanted, abused and stray animals.
Do we have a “pound?” What happens now when an animal is picked up? What is the difference in these two groups and why can’t everyone just get along?
The questions are good ones, although the answers aren’t so easy.
Blount County got out of the animal control business not quite two years ago when commission decided the county was paying too much for Maryville to take care of their animals. At the suggestion of Steve Phipps, head of the Blount County Humane Society and leader of the no-kill, limited access movement, County Mayor Jerry Cunningham worked out an agreement with Loudon County to take stray animals from Blount on a temporary basis. That was 18 months ago.
The county also hired an animal control officer to pick up the animals and take them to Loudon County’s facility. The county commission then requested proposals from volunteer organizations on building a new animal facility.
The Smoky Mountain Animal Care Foundation, whose point persons are Rick Yeager and Chris Protzman, submitted the proposal that was accepted by the county. They are working with the Blount County government to build an animal care facility on property behind the Boys and Girls Club on Currie Avenue and Eagleton. Construction on the all-access shelter is ongoing. The price tag is $1.6 million, of which a little more than $1 million has been raised in cash or in-kind gifts to date.
The Blount County Humane Society did not submit a proposal when the county requested them. However, they are planning to build a shelter and are seeking 15 acres in Rockford to build the limited access facility. While funds are being raised and architectural renderings created, no property has been donated or purchased and construction has not begun. Currently, founder Steve Phipps is busy preparing to open a new thrift store on East Broadway Avenue to help underwrite costs for the limited access facility.
Smoky Mountain Animal Care Foundation
While the Humane Society didn’t make a proposal, they advocated for a no-kill shelter. Smoky Mountain Animal Care Foundation made a proposal and presented preliminary plans. The commission agreed to the Smoky Mountain Animal Care Foundation concept and voted to release $350,000 in bond money as a loan to help build kennels for the facility. SMACF then began privately raising funds to build an adoption center and educational facility to enhance the county’s kennel portion of the shelter.
Yeager said the cost for the facility is estimated at $1.6 million, and they need to raise approximately another half million. “The county set aside $350,000. We’ve got $450,000, and our gift-in-kind donations are in the neighborhood of $400,000,” Yeager said. “We still have another $500,000 to $600,000 to raise.”
Yeager said what the foundation is missing is a major benefactor, much like Young-Williams got from those families in Knoxville. “We haven’t gotten that major donor yet,” Yeager said. “That being said, we have gotten a lot of in-kind donations that add up to some huge cash savings. For example, we got with Michael Brady who us donating the engineering for the project.”
Because of the situation with Loudon County, the project still has to have an “A” and “B” timeline. “We need to split this into two phases concentrating mainly on getting the building up and in the dry and the main kennel portion up and operation,” he said.
“We’re on a real tight timeframe with Loudon County. We’re not in a situation where we can raise money for four years. We’ve got to get relief for Loudon County so we are concentrating on Phase I,” Yeager said.
Architect Bill Steverson said all the footings are poured for the animal care facility, and the foundation walls are up. “We’re doing underground slab plumbing and utilities and we’re trying to pour the slab this week. Then we’ll start erecting the outside walls, then setting the roof trusses, and you’ll start seeing something coming out of the ground,” he said.
The facility will have classrooms, surgery units for spaying and neutering, a kennel, office and an adoption area that is similar to retail, Steverson said.
Yeager said the foundation eventually hopes to get all the municipalities in the county to support the facility. “The animal center advisory board is dedicated to having representation from different municipalities. Rockford set aside $10,000 a year out of the budget and Carl Koela representing them on the advisory board. We would hope Maryville and Alcoa would join, and they would have representation,” he said.
Yeager said there would be representatives from each city so everybody, all the municipalities, are equal represented. The board was developed to develop policies and practices for running the shelter and animal control once it is up and running, he said.
“That is our goal right now, to find a way for Maryville and Alcoa to get involved. We realize Maryville has an existing shelter. We want to make sure we explain to them our intentions to have them involved,” he said. “We may be able to save them little bit on their animal control budget.”
The facility will be owned by Blount County, Yeager said. “Maryville and Alcoa have trained personnel and budgets. We want to bring something to the table for them,” he said. “There’s so much more to this facility than just being a shelter. That’s why we call it a center.”
Yeager said they want to reduce the number of homeless pets so they don’t have to be euthanized in 72 hours. “We’re putting programs like mobile spay and neuter and also transports animals to places up north to extend hold times,” he said.
Ultimately, Yeager would like to see no euthanized animals at all. “When you build a house, you have a foundation. This facility is the foundation. As we institute programs in this facility like transporting animals to other shelters and aggressively promote adoption programs then we can eventually get to the no-kill top of the pyramid,” he said.
“Our hopes are as we take in more animals and institute procedures for aggressive spay/neuter policies and adoptions, we reduce the number of unwanted animals and that increases hold times and decreases the number of animals euthanized and eventually get to the point you don’t have to do that anymore,” Yeager said. “That’s been our plan from Day 1 and always is going be our plan. That’s what Smoky Mountain has been. This is not a facility that’s just a pound. It’s going to be something the citizens of Blount County can be proud of.”
Yeager said the biggest struggle the foundation has is the general public just hears “kill- no-kill” and they don’t take time to call or go to the website and see what the foundation is actually about. “We’re not an organization that wants to build a facility to kill animals. We have a very distinct plan in place to get to a point where we do not have to euthanize animals,” he said. “In all reality, even a no-kill shelter can euthanize up to 20 percent of animals and still be considered ‘no-kill.’ We use all access and limited in-take, and this facility is open to every dog and cat in Blount County.”
Yeager said people must realize there are almost 4,000 homeless animals in Blount County each year. “We take in everything - aggressive animals, owner surrenders. We don’t have the option to say, ‘We’re not taking it into this facility.’ A no-kill shelter has that option.”
Yeager said the foundation does support no-kill shelters throughout Blount County. “Any no-kill shelter that can pull animals from our shelter increases our hold time. We’ve been supportive. We’d like to have four or five no-kill shelters. It’s a win-win situation for everybody,” he said.
Blount County Humane Society
Steve Phipps was busy one recent Saturday morning working with volunteers to finish out what will become a new thrift store to support the Blount County Humane Society’s efforts to build a no-kill shelter.
Phipps said the group plans to open four or five thrift stores throughout the area to help fund building the no-kill animal shelter they want for the community. Thrift stores are a good way of making money for non-profits, he said.
Phipps said this facility has 7,000 square feet of space and is rented from a member in the group who bought the building, and it was just the right space. “I’ve looked for four years. Anything with this square footage is too high. We’re really getting blessed with this,” he said.
The store will be called All Creatures Thrift Store and is an outreach program of the Blount County Humane Society. “We started working on this last February. We got it and started getting it ready. It needed lots of work, but we are willing to put forth the effort,” he said. The first All Creatures Thrift Store is scheduled to open in late November.
The plans for the no-kill shelter are still in the drawing stage. The Humane Society is looking for a donor for property, preferably about 15 acres, to build the facility, said Phipps. “We want to locate in Rockford. There’s still land in bigger quantities there,” he said. “Our goal as the Humane Society is to make Blount County a no-kill community following the pattern of Ithica, N.Y., Charlottesville, Va., or Reno.”
Phipps said all three communities used to have shelters with kill-rates in the 80 percent range and now have save rates in the 80 to 90 percent range. Phipps said the website www.nokilladvocacycenter.org had information about the what these towns did to become no-kill communities.
Phipps said the organization has also created an animal cruelty investigation team that now has eight investigators. Chandra Davis from West Tennessee has helped train the officers.
While Smoky Mountain Animal Care Foundation has county funding, Phipps said his organization didn’t want that help. “We do not want county funding. We want to be a private group,” he said.
The two organizations differ in their approach to dealing with stray animals, Phipps said, adding that the Blount County Humane Society’s stance is to not kill animals at their shelter. The society is striving to build a “Safe Shelter” where the no kill philosophy will be followed. A message on their website takes aim at the Smoky Mountain Animal Care Foundation for helping organize the fundraising for the all-access municipal shelter:
“No Kill means that you put the life of the animal above the human convenience known as ‘Animal Control.’ The Blount County Government is in the process of building a Shelter (Pound) where 70-80% of the dogs and cats will be killed to provide Animal Control.
“The organization recruited by the County Government to raise 100% of the funds for this municipal kill shelter is the Smoky Mountain Animal Care Foundation. Please don’t support this Kill Philosophy. Only support shelter efforts that are committed to the No Kill Philosophy.”
Dr. Todd White is a veterinarian, local businessman and past chair of the Blount County Humane Society. As an architect, he also has created preliminary drawings of the facility.
The no-kill facility will have spay/neuter rooms, adoptive services space, pet care education rooms and conference rooms that would give the center places to hold conferences and meetings. There also will be retail sales of pet related products, large facilities for bigger animals and a barn.
White didn’t have a total cost available for the structure but said it would most likely run between $175 to $190 a square foot.
White, who now owns Ciao Deli in Maryville, explained his passion for the Blount County Humane Society.
“I’m a veterinarian and practiced veterinarian medicine many year. I also was a chair of the board of directors for the Blount County Humane Society. I believe in who the people are as well as what the cause is,” he said.
Advocates of the no-kill shelter say the way to control the stray animal population is by aggressive adoptions and spaying and neutering programs.
n To learn more about the Blount County Humane Society, on the web visit Blountcountyhumanesociety.org or come to the weekly meetings at the Blount County Library at 5:30 p.m. Thursday.
n To learn more about the Smoky Mountain Animal Care Foundation, visit http://www.smokymountainanimalcare.org.