Animal Shelter responds to cases of neglect

Published 9:39 am Wednesday, January 27, 2016

The woman who improperly removed a dog from its home last week following numerous reports of neglect, was apparently not the first to visit the home.
Authorized personnel from the Elizabethton/Carter County Animal Shelter had conducted several welfare checks, according to shelter Director Stacey Heiden, before the woman, a shelter and Carter County Humane Society volunteer, decided to remove the dog, leaving behind a note with her contact information.
“The note I left for the owners stated my name and explained that I was taking the dog to the vet,” said Lela Hughis, the volunteer who was checking on the dog. “I was there for quite a while and knocked several times. She (the dog) was shaking and shaking and shaking with no food and water. I know they don’t have to have food continually, but they do have to have water. There was nobody home and no footprints in the snow to the dog house. I know they had left in the morning because there were footprints out the door, but left no water, no food and no straw in the dog house with only a little blanket.”
According to Heiden and Hughis, the Humane Society, Carter County Sheriff’s Office and ECCAS had received numerous complaints.
When CCSO Sgt. David Caldwell arrived, he found both food and water in the dog’s house outside and explained to the woman that though she was a volunteer with the Humane Society and ECCAS, she was not authorized to remove the dog.
Heiden said that reports from the welfare checks found that the dog’s outdoor environment met state requirements.
“That address has been on the shelter’s radar for some time now,” said Heiden. “We’ve been out there 4-5 times, and while it may not be the personal choice of care and attention any of us would like to see, the dog’s requirements by TN law standards have been met and there is nothing else we can legally do at current.”
Tennessee laws regarding animal abuse and cruelty are not strict enough, said Heiden, adding laws do not sufficiently support animal welfare in this state. She said there are heartbreaking situations in which the conditions are legal, but they leave knowing the animal is not going to make it and have limited powers to act.
“There are definitely laws on the books for animal cruelty, but there’s a lot of grey area,” explained Heiden. “We need to close some of those loopholes to help us do our job better.”
Shelter staff are the only animal welfare organization in Carter County authorized to remove pets from a situation of abuse, Heiden said. The Carter County Humane Society helps to conduct welfare checks but does not remove the animals from these situations, she said.
“This is not something for the public to deal with themselves, and that is why we are here,” said Heiden. “If you don’t think it’s being handled, please be patient; it’s on our radar. We watch those addresses, and no it may not the perfect situation for the animals, but if conditions are legal, there is nothing else we can do.”
This was the case with the dog removed from its home on Okolona Road last week. Shelter staff had been to the home and found that the provisions for the dog met legal criteria.
“Our hands are tied,” said Heiden. “They’ve got everything that’s required by law.”
Heiden said they were not aware that Hughis had gone to the home and removed the dog, but said she is a highly valued volunteer who has since learned that she was not authorized to remove the dog.
Heiden believes she misunderstood what the law said she was able to do.
“Lela thought she was helping and had its best interest at heart,” said Heiden. “It was not malicious, and not against the owner. She just wanted to make sure it was being cared for. They got calls, and she thought she was within her right to do that.”
“I did think I was doing the right thing,” said Hughis, citing TN statute 39-14-207(b), if an animal is “injured, diseased, suffering from the elements, or malnourished, and is found at large by any agent of any humane society chartered by the state, the agent may cause adequate veterinary treatment or shelter or nourishment to be furnished to the animal.”
“My main and only concern was to get the dog to the vet,” she said, adding she offered to buy the dog straw, which the owner refused.
She said she misunderstood the statute and will, in the future, be sure to contact Animal Control or the CCSO if it is after hours.
Hughis said she has gone on numerous welfare visits and that they usually go well because owners learn about resources that exist to help them.
If people see cruelty or a welfare issue, Heiden said by all means to call it in and leave a message with the address, issue and conditions. More details are better, she said.
The most the shelter staff can do in situations where the conditions may not be ideal, but meet legal requirements is to help people get the resources needed to provide for their pets.
“If a dog doesn’t have shelter or needs food, we help them get food, shelter, neutering or spaying through organizations that we work with like East Tennessee Spay and Neuter,” said Heiden. “We address problems that pet owners are having first with resources, because most people don’t know what’s available.”
In a Facebook post on January 23, Heiden wrote that the shelter gets many calls about the welfare of pets housed outdoors and explained the proper housing for an outdoor dog.
“Appropriate doghouses are well insulated and just large enough so your dog can stand up, turn around and comfortably lie down,” she wrote. “Please make sure your dogs have adequate sized houses, extra food, and an unfrozen water supply. Fill the house with straw or cedar chip bedding. Add a plastic sheeting flap over the door to keep the weather out and the heat in.”
Though a dog house meeting these requirements is sufficient, Heiden said it is preferable to bring pets indoors.
“We ask everyone to please bring your pets inside, both cats and dogs. They are part of your family and when not properly cared for in temperatures like these, the outcome is often fatal. Do right by your best friends and bring them in!” Heiden wrote.
She mentioned the doghouse program through ECCAS which provides doghouses to those in need. People donate them when their pets outgrow them, or no longer need them, or even when they see affordably priced dog houses at yard sales.
“When we’re on cases and get these calls and see a dog would benefit from a dog house, we drop one off to them. That sometimes makes all the difference in the health and welfare of that animal, and the owners appreciate it,” said Heiden.
Donations may be delivered to the shelter at 253 Sycamore Shoals Dr. or shelter staff can pick them up.
“The shelter thanks the public for all the donations we have received,” said Heiden. “We have a great community of animal lovers, and it shows.”

Subscribe to our free email newsletter

Get the latest news sent to your inbox