Volunteers help keep Blount County Animal Shelter adoption rate high

Animal Shelter volunteer Donna Edwards gives Lebo a little love.

Photo by Jolanda Jansma

Animal Shelter volunteer Donna Edwards gives Lebo a little love.

There are plenty of four-legged friends at the Blount County Animal Shelter. What the shelter needs to save those with four legs are more people with two.

“I always say, if you want to volunteer at the animal shelter, I can find a place for you,” Mary Humphrey said. “If you’ve got the heart to do it, I’ll find you place.”

Humphrey is the volunteer coordinator at the shelter, the first phase of which opened in November, 2009. The second/third phases should be operational by November of this year.

While animals are being adopted or transported out of the facility at a high rate, volunteers are needed now more than ever. “I depend on volunteers for a lot. They walk our animals. As we grow, we need more,” operations manager Lynn Burchfield said. “I can use all the volunteers I can get.”

Humphrey said the shelter has three full-time employees and one part-time employee.

The operations manager is Lynn Burchfield. Zach Bosse is kennel manager, and Jeff Campbell is the animal control officer. Chris Davis is a part-time employee who works with the cats.

Humphrey said there are about 100 volunteers in the database and about 30 to 40 are active volunteers. “They not only do work at the shelter, but they also do off-site adoption events,” she said.

Humphrey said the shelter needs more people to help throughout the week and on weekends. “A lot of times, the problem you have with a volunteer base is that it is volunteers. Other things happen in life, and people don’t show up,” she said.

Humphrey praised the non-paid workers. “We have awesome volunteers who work themselves to death. You would be amazed at what some of these folks do,” she said. “We do have really awesome, hardworking folks and when people see these folks working this hard and not getting paid for it, they ask what their motivation is. It is their deep love for animals and a desire to make our community a better place.”

Humphrey said she would like to have 50 volunteers coming in two-hours every week, “When you have volunteers working seven days a week, there are lots of hours to cover,” she said.

Facility hours are Tuesdays through Fridays from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. and Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. for adoptions only - no intakes. Sunday and Monday are closed to the public, but volunteers are needed from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Mondays and from 8 to 10 a.m. on Sundays.

“Not only do you need a lot of volunteers, but we need people who have the time to volunteer on a regular basis,” she said. “We have a lot of good-hearted people who would like to be there, but they can’t make a solid commitment. It makes it hard because some days you don’t know if you’re going to have two volunteers or 10.”

Emily Straquadine is secretary/treasurer of Smoky Mountain Animal Care Foundation and has been volunteering with the group since January of 2007 and at the shelter since it opened.

“We would not be saving the number of lives as we are without volunteer help,” she said. “It is truly essential.”

Straquadine said this summer the shelter had more teens turning out to volunteer with school out, even on Saturday mornings. “Mornings are the most important time,” she said. “We have to get everyone out and fed and everything cleaned.”

Board member Lisa Thomas said volunteers help make the facility run more efficiently and this translates into more animals finding new homes.

“You can see the magnitude of what goes on when you come to the shelter,” she said.

“We have just been an incredible shelter in terms of our statistics for last year. Look at statistics in surrounding counties, and they’re euthanizing 55 to 80 percent of their dogs. We’re at an absolute minimum on euthanizing our dogs. Usually it is just aggressive or critically ill dogs. I would say 80 percent of dogs found new homes and only 10 percent were euthanized and the other 10 percent died (of natural causes).”

Thomas said volunteers and the small staff work hard to get the animals to a better place. “It is a lot of work, and it is worth every bit of it. When you have such a small staff and such a large undertaking, you’ve got to have volunteers step up who care about maintaining the phenomenal statistics for re-homing animals,” she said.

Volunteer Kim Stokes had some time and decided to volunteer two days a week. “It gets me out of the house and gives me exercise. I’ve already walked three miles. This keeps you active, and the big dogs are so appreciative to just get outside to walk,” she said.

Volunteer Brittany Bell said one of her friends told her about the Blount County Animal Shelter, and she knew she wanted to help. Bell plans on becoming a vet tech and thought the experience would be good. “I love it,” she said. “I love dogs.”

Lisa White said she has been volunteering at the shelter since the end of April. “I lost my boxer a year ago in August, and I was really depressed and looking for something to do,” she said. “A friend mentioned volunteering, and I decided to do that. It has been so helpful to me. I walk the dogs and go to adoption events - whatever they need me to do.”

Tia Cooper-Ridout said she has been volunteering for a couple of years. After work, she said she enjoys spending time with the animals, who simply want love and attention. “It is so rewarding. I foster, and I come here and walk the dogs and help socialize them,” she said. “I also help on transports getting the animals ready.”

Donna Edwards volunteers at the shelter and has worked with Smoky Mountain Animal Care Foundation since it was formed in 2007. Edwards said it is gratifying to see animals come in and then get adopted. “That’s the best thing -- seeing them walk out the door with a loving new family,” she said.

Vicky Kimball does transports to Albany, Buffalo and Syracuse, N.Y. and Minneapolis. “We’ll take 30 to 35 dogs, and they aren’t going to another shelter,” she said. “They’ve got people waiting for them.”

Humphrey said duties for volunteers vary from working in the office answering the phone or imputing information on adoptions in the computer to doing intake and inspecting animals being brought in for surrender.

“What I tell people is they do the same thing they do with a pet at home: feed, water, walk and bath. We do all that, but on a huge scale,” she said.

Humphrey said every kennel and cat cage is cleaned and disinfected everyday. “We have 50 dog kennels in the back and maybe another 20 to 30 dogs we accommodate in another small dog room and a place for 30 or 40 cats,” she said. “You can imagine disinfecting and cleaning when you’re cleaning all the dishes, too. There is a lot of cleaning that goes on.”

Humphrey said all the bedding the cats have is cleaned and washed every day. The litter is changed everyday. All the dog kennels are cleaned everyday, she said.

“You’re socializing, feeding and watering and walking the dogs. We’re sweeping floors, mopping floors. We have people coming in working on light fixtures, finishing up different aspects of construction. There is also maintenance to do on the building. We’ve got the front desk to work where we have people calling in,” she said.

All information from adoptions is on computer files, so there is computer work to do as well.

When people bring animals in to surrender, they have to be checked over, weighed, checked for fleas and ticks and check their shot records.

“We do have some vets who come to volunteer time and help us with those animals that need more help and need a professional,” said Humphrey.

Humphrey said to get the word out about the animals, there is a shelter website. “So someone is taking pictures of the pets and putting those images and descriptions on the website,” she said. “There is a lot of behind-the-scenes work. It is pretty interesting work.”

Humphrey asks the shelter volunteers to commit to six hours a month. “We run things in two-hour shifts,” she said. “Some come in for two hours, some come for six hours. It depends on individual schedules.”

Chris Protzman, president of the Smoky Mountain Animal Care Foundation, said on average the adoption rates on dogs vary between the high 70 to mid 80 percent range. “The vast majority of animals coming in that are healthy are adopted. The ones that come in sick and overaggressive, if we can’t rehabilitate them, those are the ones who don’t make it out,” he said.

Protzman said some months, 85 to 90 percent of the dogs are adopted.

“We want to get our cats to that rate or higher. Now we’re in the mid-50 to 60 percent range,” he said. “We get volumes of cats, so that is a real need. If people want a cat, they should go to the shelter. They’re great cats - domesticated felines who are playful and healthy.”

Protzman said the volunteers make the difference in finding the animals homes. “It is because of the volunteers, because of the facility, because we have a great network of Facebook coordinators who send pictures immediately to our network with other rescues and fostering networks,” he said. “They work hand-in-hand with local welfare agencies and transport programs. It is the combination of those four things that drives our high adoption rates.”

Straquadine said Protzman once tried to calculate how much the volunteers contributed based on a $10 per hour salary. “It was astronomical. It was ridiculous the amount. Considering the fact we can run a facility that size, do all the stuff we do with three full-time and one part-time paid employee is amazing,” she said. “The volunteers are the lifeblood of the organization.”

Protzman said funding is needed for three major needs: vaccinations and medicines, the transportation program to take animals to other states and the creation of an ongoing educational program to take out into the community.

Protzman said the facility is now called the Blount County Animal Shelter, but will take on a more encompassing name when the surgical center and the adoption center is completely finished. It will then be known as the Blount County Animal Center.

“We’re putting the finishing touches on the outside with landscaping and hardscaping with benches and a memorial brick walk. Inside, we’ve got some touch up painting to do, and pictures to hang along with some signs honoring our sponsors and volunteers and just finishing punch list items,” he said. “All that is a work in progress. For all practical purposes, they are operating out of the adoption center. The surgical center isn’t functioning until we can get state-certified. We are working toward that now and hope to have it shortly.”

Protzman said that overall, the shelter is doing a fantastic job with very, very limited staff with limited resources. “This is a community-accessible shelter that relies on citizens, and the citizens are responding,” Protzman said. “That is a reflection of Blount County.”

For more information about how to volunteer, call the shelter or email tramthom@bellsouth.net or animalshelter@blounttn.org, visit www.blounttn.org/animal or call 865-980-6244.

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Comments » 1

3rdShifter writes:

People get the idea that a municipal shelter is a "killing warehouse". This proves that when volunteers and the community support their local municipal shelter, it doesn't have to be a "killing warehouse". It can be a successful place that gives abandoned animals a second chance at finding that forever home.
I hope the Blount County Animal Center continues to receive support from volunteers and the community. It would also be helpful if animal owners would take advantage of low-cost spay-n-neuter services that we are lucky to have in our area. This would greatly reduce the number of litter of puppies and kittens that are left at the center.