Shelter director defends record

Published 9:27 am Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Star Photo/Rebekah Price The Elizabethton Carter County Animal Shelter continues its efforts despite recent criticism.

Star Photo/Rebekah Price The Elizabethton Carter County Animal Shelter continues its efforts despite recent criticism.

Despite Elizabethton/Carter County Animal Shelter Director Stacy Heiden’s significant strides, about which many commended her at the last week’s ECCAS Advisory Board meeting, one woman took to social media to call Heiden an “animal killer” and accuse her of euthanizing too many animals.
In a post on Facebook, Jackie Stafford, who lives near Rogersville and rescues German shepherds, said the shelter in Elizabethton had taken “a truck load” of about 50 animals to Robinson’s Animal Hospital to be put down, and then later took 19 animals there for the same reason. She said that fewer dogs would need to be euthanized if Heiden knew how to rescue or network to find the animals homes.
Heiden says the accusations are based on a misunderstanding stemming from the fact that animals previously were put to sleep at the shelter and now, due to the absence of an on-site euthanasia technician, animals are transported to Robinson’s, where they may be spayed, neutered, treated for illness and injury or euthanized.
Heiden believes that when people see animals going in or out of the animal hospital, they assume that they are all being euthanized.
In an open-admission shelter that receives a high number of pets, some of the animals will be euthanized, most because the animal is aggressive or ill, or at its owner’s request, Heiden said.
The shelter does not have the funding to treat every sick animal, but it does find as many foster homes as possible to help quarantine them until they can be adopted into permanent homes.
The shelter vaccinates all pets upon arrival and treats them for fleas, ear mites and worms to prevent illness, Heiden said. Dogs are vaccinated against distemper, Adeno virus, para-influenza, and Parvo virus. Cats are vaccinated against Rhinotracheitis, Calicivirus and Panleukopenia.
The shelter also finds foster homes for healthy animals because it is consistently full. In August alone, the shelter received 123 cats and kittens and 50 dogs and puppies.
During this time, the shelter was fighting an outbreak of upper respiratory infection among the cats. With limited space and sponsors, some can be quarantined and undergo treatment, while others cannot. The shelter cannot afford the risk of contaminating the whole pet population with illness.
Earlier in August, the Washington County Shelter had a similar upper respiratory outbreak and had to euthanize every cat, totalling 276 cats.
The reaction of some in Washington County was to take their pets or strays to the Carter County Shelter, increasing their numbers even more.
“We’re here to support everybody,” Heiden said, but explained that having pets come in from other counties puts a strain on their limited space. Overcrowding is conducive to illness, Heiden said, because sick animals cannot be kenneled with healthy ones. Although they suggest that people take their pets to the counties in which they reside, she said they do not turn any away.
“If they’re here, we want them to stay healthy,” she said.
By acting quickly and diligently with their own outbreak, they saved the lives of many felines, but not all of them. In this month, 40 cats and 18 dogs were put to sleep. No puppies were euthanized, but some kittens were, due to illness and having an underdeveloped immune system to fight it.
Comparatively, for the year 2014, 98 dogs and 786 cats were euthanized. That is an average of eight dogs and 65 cats per month.
Stafford said she was upset because she feels they shelter does not try to find the animals homes, adding she knows there is no such thing as a no-kill shelter. In an interview with the Elizabethton Star, Stafford said she knew she went about voicing her complaint the wrong way by posting it to Facebook. She did no attend last week’s animal shelter advisory board meeting.
Recently, to try to increase adoption rates, the shelter has decreased adoption costs and made microchipping optional for $10, which owners can come back and do later if they wish at any time after they adopt.
Heiden said that some dogs cannot be kenneled together because they do not get along with each other, so that creates a space issue also. She asserted that they do everything they can to keep the numbers of animals put to sleep at a minimum, and she has already increased the number of sponsorships and fosters as well s improving networking with other organizations.
She found a Rottweiler rescue in New York for one dog, Bruce, that had been at the shelter for a while. She calls rescues and fosters all over the area to try to avoid putting animals to sleep that have been at the shelter for a long time. They have one dog that has been with them since June, she said.
It is disheartening for the shelter staff to not be able to find foster or permanent homes for these animals, so Heiden and her staff, along with East Tennessee Spay and Neuter and Appalachian Feral Cat Allies are working on plans to improve education, community support, pet adoption sponsorships and availability of low cost spay and neuter to the community. Many such organizations are operational already, but function independently. There is talk of forming a sort of coalition to unify and improve effectiveness of their shared goal: meeting the needs of community pets and the needs of their owners in order to better provide for their pets.
Advisory Board Chairman Mike Barnett said that when Heiden was hired as the new director, one of her strong suits was her ability to work within the community to draw support and to implement initiatives to further the education of citizens and the housing of homeless pets.
“Humane education is something I am really excited to get started, with going into classrooms and churches and giving presentations to organizations,” Heiden said.

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