Advocates’ approaches vary ahead of new animal shelter opening


Humane Society believes it can oversee ‘holistic’ approach, increase adoptions

By Jeff Keeling

Even amidst dramatic change for the better, complications can easily arise. Such is the current situation for the Washington County-Johnson City Animal Control Board (ACB) as it ponders a Humane Society of Washington County request to operate the local animal shelter when it moves to a new, 18,000-square-foot building next spring.

Tori Sparks, 12 and her cousin Jacob Royston, 9, with a pooch at the animal shelter. (Photo by Jeff Keeling)

Tori Sparks, 12 and her cousin Jacob Royston, 9, with a pooch at the animal shelter. (Photo by Jeff Keeling)

Humane Society President Lucinda Grandy said the society’s request Oct. 8 came after the ACB in September asked the society – which has significantly upped its role in local animal adoption over the past half-year – that it consider a formal role in the adoption process at the new shelter.

Grandy said Monday that as members considered the proposal, they concluded that if a formal arrangement were to work effectively, it would be with the Humane Society contracting with the ACB to become the shelter’s operator. That would leave it overseeing both animal control and adoptions in what she called a “holistic” approach, modeled on similar arrangements such as one in Asheville, N.C. that has dramatically cut the number of animals euthanized there. It would also mean an end to Washington County-Johnson City Animal Control Center, Inc., running the shelter as it has for more than 25 years.

That prospect concerns Animal Control Center Director Debbie Dobbs, who has overseen operations of the center for 20 years. And it has at least one board member, Johnson City Mayor Ralph Van Brocklin, hoping some middle ground can be found through a phased approach that might eventually see the Humane Society overseeing the operations – but not right when the shelter opens.

At that Oct. 8 ACB meeting, which was called specifically to discuss Humane Society’s potential role, officers said the society wanted to hire an executive director on its own dime, and potentially other adoption-related positions if necessary. It would leave current employees, including Dobbs, in place but reporting to the new executive director who would be hired after an extensive search process, Grandy said.

Humane Society board members said the society could run the operation at the current public investment ($185,000 from the city, $164,700 from the county this fiscal year) and supplement the rest. In addition to $333,000 in government funding in fiscal 2013, the shelter earned $86,617 in charges for sales and services (penalties, adoption fees, etc.) and garnered $131,002 in donations.

Washington County-Johnson City Animal Shelter DIrector Debbie Dobbs.

Washington County-Johnson City Animal Shelter DIrector Debbie Dobbs.

Dobbs said last week she favors a partnership with the society playing a major role on the adoption side, but added that “a partnership is a lot different than a takeover.”

For her part, Grandy said the Humane Society will continue working to reduce euthanasia rates regardless of how the current situation pans out. She said its leaders, though, believe the addition of an executive director is the best way to dramatically reduce euthanasia rates. They expect their due diligence and completion of a business plan to bear out their prediction that such an approach will work and would be the best route toward a “no kill community” (which still factors in up to 5 percent euthanasia rates due to health and temperament issues).

“We’re just trying to determine the feasibility of the Humane Society doing this,” Grandy said. She said the holistic approach would bring together animal control, community volunteers, current shelter staff and the local governments to create a financial and operational model geared at successfully increasing adoptions and decreasing euthanasia.

“This may not work, and if it doesn’t, it’s okay,” she said. “We’re still going to do what we do in helping promote adoptions.”

That promotion has taken on a new look this year. Foster care has boomed, and since May, following approval for Humane Society to pull shelter animals for bi-monthly adoption events at PetSmart, more than 80 animals have been adopted through that method. Others have been fostered through the society, then adopted through Asheville-based “Brother Wolf Animal Rescue.” All of it has led to a marked decrease in euthanization this year. (Foster care applications can be accessed at Adoption information about the shelter is available at

Despite the fresh wrinkle in the equation, it seems clear that all parties are concerned above all with animal welfare.

“I’m not gonna say it’s all going to be smooth and easy,” Dobbs said Thursday. “But I think if someone looks at it as a partnership, we all have the same goals. Save lives.”

“I believe everyone wants the same thing,” Grandy said. “We just need to have the same operating procedures so we all know what we’re doing. We believe there’s a specific approach that will work best to maximize adoptions.”

The mandate (animal control) and the goal (more adoptions, fewer intakes)

The current, 4,600-square-foot shelter on Sells Avenue opened in the mid-1980s after the creation of the Animal Control Board, with its mandate to “enforce the animal control laws of the city and state.”

That means Dobbs and her staff of four full-time and 12 part-time workers must round up strays, assess penalties to ordinance-ignoring owners, and make the difficult decision, due to space limitations and other factors, of which animals to euthanize. They do so in an outdated, undersized shelter with 82 kennels – 60 of them outside. The new, climate-controlled shelter will have 148 kennels.

Euthanasia rates averaged more than 55 percent from 2003 through 2012, and the total number of animals killed annually averaged nearly 5,000 during that time

Those tough decisions are made based on three main factors: temperament, health and shelter space.

Through a variety of means, the Humane Society has helped increase adoptions and decrease the killing this year, Dobbs said.

“They have been helping through adoption events and taking animals to foster homes, which has helped our euthanasia numbers go down and helped us with space.”

Grandy said the local society is seeking innovative ways to move toward a no kill community. The group is studying the work humane societies in Asheville and Charleston, S.C. have done to reduce euthanasia.

“We believe that we can make it work, but we’re going to explore further and talk to these other operations,” she said.

Ultimately, the Animal Control Board will determine who runs the shelter. Per its bylaws, it has two city representatives, two county representatives and one member from the Humane Society. They are Van Brocklin and City Manager Pete Peterson (city), county commissioners Gary McAllister and Joe Grandy (Lucinda Grandy’s husband) and Humane Society member Jim Reel.



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