By Jeff Keeling
Seven months into its existence, the community’s new animal shelter is largely accomplishing the top objective for which it was built – reducing the number of euthanized animals. Washington County-Johnson City Animal Control Board (ACB) members welcomed the news as they prepared to narrow a large list of candidates for shelter director in hopes of beginning interviews within a few weeks.
“Adoptions, rescues, and return to owners – especially the return to owners – the numbers were great,” former Washington County-Johnson City Animal Shelter director Debbie Dobbs told ACB members at their monthly meeting Thursday. Dobbs officially retired recently but will continue overseeing shelter operations until her replacement is on the job.
Of the 82 animals euthanized in January, nearly all fell into categories that essentially made putting them down unavoidable, board members learned in Dobbs’ monthly animal report. That elicited positive comments from outgoing chairman Pete Peterson, Johnson City’s city manager (Washington County Commissioner Gary McAllister was elected as chairman Thursday).
“You consider animals being euthanized last month for any reason, it was 15 percent, which is pretty darn good,” Peterson said. “Then, when you go through and figure out the ones that were aggressive with people and untreatable and whatnot, it’s almost zero. Another outstanding month in terms of being able to place animals.”
It’s a far cry from the 51 percent rate for dogs and 71 percent for cats that existed when he began spearheading a fundraising effort for a new shelter several years ago, fellow board member Dr. Ralph Van Brocklin said.
Dobbs said the former shelter, a smaller, dated, out-of-the-way facility, typically returned only about half dozen pets to their owners monthly after they’d been picked up by animal control officers or dropped off by people who had found them. She attributed the remarkable rise to a couple of primary factors.
“Sixty two, that’s microchips, and that’s public media like Facebook and Tri-Cities Lost and Found,” Dobbs said. “That sign (a digital sign at the shelter’s street entrance featuring animals’ photos) where we put lost animals – that’s all of those animals finding a way back home.”
The new operation is costing more than its older counterpart, and board members discussed the fact that expenses are exceeding both revenues and budgeted amounts.
Dobbs explained that utilities costs are naturally higher in the much larger building, and added that staffing numbers are up from 16 at the old facility to 22. She responded affirmatively to Van Brocklin’s question as to whether she was, “getting overtime under control,” saying adjustments have resulted in a situation where animal control officers are the only employees who should be getting any overtime.
General donations to the shelter also are on the increase since its move, Dobbs said.
Help on personnel expenses could be on the horizon from at least a couple of sources. McAllister has been working with fellow county commissioner and Washington County Sheriff’s Department officer Greg Matherly in hopes the shelter can be a feasible day work site for female inmates from the county’s detention center.
Their work together has progressed to the point that two inmates are ready to start – in jobs not directly working with the public – once they receive a required eight-hour training. McAllister said transportation remains a challenging issue as the jail is in Jonesborough, but it’s also being worked through, and the potential for additional help is significant.
“They’ve got 120 female inmates who want something to do,” he said. Were enough help to be enlisted through those efforts, he added, it might even be cost-effective for the shelter to help offset transportation costs using operational funds.
McAllister said he’s also been discussing with Dawn of Hope Executive Director Lee Chase, another fellow county commissioner, the possibility of more Dawn of Hope clients volunteering at the shelter.
It’s all part of an ACB effort to broaden the level at which the community is engaged with the shelter and helping it to succeed, McAllister said. The board is on a path to increasing its membership, and soon will name a veterinarian as a sixth member. The county has two representatives, McAllister and commissioner Joe Grandy, as does the city with Peterson and Van Brocklin. Linda Bearfield represents the Washington County Humane Society and was elected as vice chair Thursday.
Board members plan to winnow the 72 applications for the director position – which was advertised to pay in the $40-$60,000 range – to a top 10 this week, and interview the top five of those within a few weeks.