County mayor asks for help in stocking animal center

The Blount County Animal Center is set to open the second week of October and County Mayor Jerry Cunningham doesn’t want the cupboards to be bare.

The mayor on Monday announced a list of needed items for the shelter that included everything from a freezer and a dishwasher to surgical masks and ear mite killer.

“We are on a very, very limited budget. We’ve stretched, stretched and stretched. We’re opening on a wing and a prayer, and it’s time to start operating it. It’s really a marvelous facility,” he said.

The mayor said it will be a tight operating budget this fiscal year for the animal shelter he says should open no later than the second week of October. “We’ve budgeted $137,000 and that’s not near enough,” he said, alluding to utility expenses, supplies and the cost of paying salaries and benefits for two full-time employees and pay for one part-time employee. “I imagine our water bill will be costly.”

Cunningham said he would advocate charging an adoption fee to help pay operating expenses. “The foundation raised money to build it. Nobody is raising money to run it. The sensible, smart, viable thing is to license the animals when they get rabies shots,” he said. “You’ll have naysayers, but all funds would go towards the operation of the facility, not the build out. It would be $2 or $3 -- that would be my recommendation.”

The mayor praised Marty Yates, director of codes, for serving as construction manager for the job. “It’s been amazing how things have moved. It was stalled out,” he said of construction that had halted because fundraising dried up.

“It’s nobody’s fault the fundraising stalled out. It’s the economy. I think the commission was wise to appropriate that $200,000 to finish it.”

The county has invested a total of about $500,000 in the project, the mayor said.

Cunningham said he spoke with District Attorney Mike Flynn, General Sessions Judges Bill Brewer, Mike Gallegos, Robert Headrick, and Community Corrections about using non-violent offenders to help at the facility. “They would feed and bath the animals,” he said.

The mayor said animals would be transported to cooperating veterinarians to be neutered or spayed, and the vets would do the procedures at their costs. “We’re trying to get as many animals out of there alive and adopted as we can,” he said of plans to work with different adoption groups. “We’re going to save as many as we can. The thought of having to put animals down troubles everybody. The more we work to limit that, the better everyone will feel.”

Much is being done to cut costs and make the facility operational while at the same time economical, Cunningham said. The mayor said the staff will do everything to ensure the safety of the animals and the public.

“We want to be safe. We want to be humane. We’ll give the parvovirus shots, de-flea them. We want to do it the way it should be done.”

The mayor praised the Smoky Mountain Animal Care Foundation for their efforts. “The foundation has done a lot of good things. They’ve gotten us a lot of help with in-kind donations,” he said.

Lynn “Chubby” Burchfield is serving as animal control officer, and Jeanette Sadler was recently hired as office coordinator/operations manager.

Saddler is a Michigan-native who moved to Blount County three years ago. She has always worked in management positions in fields such as recruiting, the mortgage industry and in manufacturing.

“I’m looking forward to the challenge,” she said. “It’s going to be successful, there’s no question.”

Amy Cowden, executive assistant to the mayor, said the county has been learning best practices from other counties regarding animal control and care. “We want this to be a good place for animals,” she said.

“We want this faculty to be state of the art, but it could take time,” Cunningham said.

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