Elizabethton/Carter County Animal Shelter overrun with dogs

Published 3:24 pm Friday, April 19, 2024

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By Buzz Trexler

Star Correspondent

Going through the open gates of the Elizabethton/Carter County Animal Shelter one cannot help but notice the warning signs: “Security Cameras in Use,” and “Smile! You’re on Camera.”

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The signs were ignored a little more than a week ago on a rainy day when someone in a car with Sullivan County tags dropped a crate filled with a litter of eight puppies, and a note:

“Hi. I am not the owner of these puppies and I’m sorry to drop them off like this, but I don’t have the ability to care for them all. I have three dogs of my own. I found them around the backroads of Johnson City. The bigger ones were slightly aggressive at first but warmed up to me after getting them some water. The rest were just initially scared. They don’t look to be in great shape. Please keep the cages. I hope my information helped.”

Shelter Director Shannon Posada said she and the staff had been busy getting animals who had been spayed or neutered back into their kennels and settled down from their surgeries when a man came in and told them a car had pulled up and dropped off the litter. It all happened right at closing time and a staff member – who Posada said was not working that day but was on site – ran out the door and covered the crate with her jacket to keep the pouring rain off the puppies.

“Washington County Animal Shelter, they’re at capacity. They’re just like everybody else,” Posada said. “So, I take it (the crate) to an available spot and do the best I can.”

One wonders if the litter-bearer is aware they appear to have violated state law.

According to Tennessee state law, a person who abandons an animal is subject to prosecution as a Class A misdemeanor, which carries jail time of not greater than 11 months, 29 days, and can be fined up to $2,500. A second conviction is a Class E felony, which carries not less than one year nor more than six years in prison and can be fined up to $3,000.

Posada said the abandoning of pets, especially dogs, has reached astronomical proportions and overwhelmed the shelter to the point that it has had to initiate emergency-only measures. A tour of the shelter on Wednesday revealed crates in the hallway, dogs in areas normally reserved for cats, kennels filled with dogs, and even dogs in the exercise area.

“We were already at capacity,” the director said when the litter of eight was dropped outside of the gate. “We’re over 70 dogs right now,” she said, explaining the shelter is equipped to handle only 35 dogs. “And that’s without putting them in crates in the hallways and dropping the guillotine doors and doubling them up.”

Posada said the shelter operates on a budget of about $500,000, financed in part by the city of Elizabethton and Carter County. In addition to city and county support, there are also shelter-originating funds, such as adoption fees and donations, that Posada points out help “relieve the burden on our taxpayers.”

The shelter now receives animals on an emergency-only basis, which is limited to animals who are sick or injured, found in the home of a deceased person, found to be aggressive and a danger to the population, or held because of other emergency response situations involving law enforcement or rescue personnel.

Wendy Mathes, who has worked at the shelter for more than two decades, said, “I think we’re going backward in time instead of forward. It seems like there was a time period there when things were getting better with the spayed and neutered, and people were getting more responsible and stuff.” Mathes said she did not understand why people do not take advantage of the many opportunities to have animals spayed or neutered. “There shouldn’t be all these,” she said, pointing to the kennels filled with dogs.

Posada, too, is at a loss for answers, except for strongly encouraging pet owners to spay and neuter their pets.

“You know if you have suggestions, if something pops into your mind, I’m all ears,” she said.

The shelter is located at 135 Sycamore Shoals Drive.