By Sarah Colson
Last Friday, County Commissioner Gary McAllister visited the new Washington County-Johnson City Animal Shelter at 3411 N. Roan St. in Johnson City. He witnessed a couple “fall in love” with a dog right then and there and decide to adopt. At the old shelter, he said, that may not have happened.
“They said the other shelter was a tough place to go at times,” McAllister said. “This new one is a much better atmosphere.”
Since the shelter opened in June, 275 animals have been adopted on site.
But maintaining that adoption-friendly atmosphere in a shelter large enough to house 328 animals has posed challenges. That’s why the Animal Control Board (ACB) met Monday at the shelter to begin considering solutions to insufficient staffing at the new shelter, which is much larger than the previous one.
One possible course of action, which has already been given the green light at the state level, is to expand the board to nine members from its current five.
Proposed additions to the board included a veterinarian, a volunteer coordinator, a fund raising coordinator and a member responsible for advertising, marketing and data input.
Any position created would assist Debbie Dobbs, director of the Animal Control Board.
Board members voiced concerns about whether or not those positions would also be full or partial voting board members, how the selection process would work, and how to get people to donate that much time and work.
“Are we sure we’re going to get volunteers with this area of interest when they recognize that there’s no paid staff to implement what it is that they’re working on?” City Manager Pete Peterson said. “It’s one thing to serve on the board and be involved in that activity and it’s a whole different animal, no pun intended, when you’re also … raising funds… and all those types of things.”
McAllister answered, “Any civic organization has the same question. You go and ask someone if they want to come in and sit on this board. Until we ask them, we won’t know.”
McAllister said the idea of the community stepping up to help run the shelter is what led to his proposed plan to expand the board.
“We’re going to need the community’s help to run the shelter,” he stold News & Neighbor.
By the end of the meeting, the board decided McAllister would start by seeking a person to fill one of the proposed new board positions. After a time, the board will discuss the issues that position posed before going on to expand the board further. They decided to start by searching for what they labeled the “foundation:” a veterinarian.
That veterinarian will be tasked with developing a program for disease control, sanitation, vaccination and disease outbreak, a job that was clearly needed after discussions Monday about the shelter’s journey toward its ultimate goal, becoming a no-kill shelter. A lack of funding isn’t the only thing hindering that goal: A bad upper respiratory virus recently broke out among the cats at the shelter.
Because of that virus, Dobbs said euthanasia numbers have been high. There were 276 cats, many of them kittens, that did not respond to antibiotic treatments. Most of the sick cats have a hard time swallowing the cheaper antibiotics. Funds are not available to purchase the more effective, injectable antibiotics. Each vial, which could help 10 cats each, cost $300 and only cats over a certain age can be injected.
Linda Bearfield, who represents the Washington County Humane Society on the board, said the numbers did not concern her so much as the public’s view of the shelter as no-kill, a status she said is not realistic at this time.
“Looking at these numbers, I would just say that we aren’t (a no-kill shelter) and that part of it is the sheer numbers and the fact that it is very hard to afford the correct antibiotics for them,” she said. “The public needs to understand that they also have an obligation to see the reality of it… I think with either less numbers or more funding, you would have more success.”
McAllister added that having more volunteers who are passionate about the success of the shelter will be key to accomplishing that no-kill status.
“The goal is a no-kill shelter, if we could ever get to that,” he said. “Just having the community involved and to just make it a place the community is proud of is another goal. That’s one thing you see when you go there right now is a lot of community pride. It’s just a great place and I appreciate all the community support so far.”
The board will meet again on Sept. 14. For more information, including how to get involved, visit tailchaser.org.