CROSSVILLE — The Cumberland County Animal Shelter sits on the outskirts of town in what is rumored to be the location of the old city dump. The facility was never designed to be a shelter. A few years ago the Humane Society installed some fencing that is used as cages, but the facility is not suitable for its mission. Transport crates are scattered about outside in haphazard fashion, since there is no place to store them. Things are constantly breaking and have to be MacGyvered to be functional. The dilapidated facility plays host for all of the lost, unwanted and abandoned animals of Cumberland County.
About 90 percent of the animals they take in come from animal control, although an increasing number of pets are dropped off by their owners. The shelter just started an owner surrender program to help keep the animals safe, fed and off of the street when their owner can no longer care for them. There is a $10 fee associated with the surrender program, which does not even begin to cover the cost of care, but it gives the animals a haven with food, water and shelter until they can be adopted, or as a last resort euthanized. The shelter typically goes through an estimated 2,000 pounds of food per month.
The shelter takes in about 3,000 animals per year, many of which are brought in sick, injured or wounded. Animals with collars have a stray hold of five days, meaning that the shelter cannot take any action for five business days. This policy does not allow treatment for injuries or sickness, but it gives owners time to locate their pet before the animals are put up for adoption or put down. Animals without collars are only held for three days before the shelter assumes control of their fate.
At one point the euthanasia rate in the Cumberland County Animal Shelter was over 70 percent. Director Andrea Gaskins, an animal lover herself, simply did not have the means to manage the overwhelming number of animals being brought to the shelter. "It was heartbreaking," she said. That's when Jennifer Farley, executive director of All About Rescue and Fixin' Inc., got involved.
AARF is a small group of unpaid volunteers that has partnered with the shelter. The volunteers have a passion for animals, often times fostering them in their own homes until they can find forever homes. Their goal is to rescue all animals, to treat all illnesses that can be treated and to maintain a “no kill” record. AARF is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization. They rely on public generosity for funding.
About 18 months ago the members of AARF decided to focus the majority of their efforts in Cumberland County because the euthanasia rate was so high. Since AARF has become involved the euthanasia rate for canines has dropped from 68 percent down to 17 percent, and adoption rates are up to 81 percent. That means 81 percent of the dogs they take in are adopted within 30 days. In the past those animals would have been killed.
Cats remain a huge problem for the effort, though. People tend to think cats can fend for themselves in the wild, so they are more prone to be abandoned. Once these animals are brought in they are rarely adopted. Those that are not adopted are given lethal injection and incinerated. Feline euthanasia rates are down from 88 percent in 2009 to 55 percent since AARF has been assisting the shelter. However, AARF will not be satisfied until that number is zero across the board. “It’s unacceptable. Homes are out there for these animals, we just need to find them,” said Farley.
Through her efforts Farley has amassed a large network of thousands of contacts that help her team find homes for animals. Social networking sites like Facebook have helped tremendously with getting the word out. On July 21 the PETCO Foundation donated $45,000 to AARF for the purchase of a transport vehicle to assist in relocating animals from the full shelters in the Upper Cumberland to empty shelters in northern states. In less than a month's time over 300 dogs have been relocated to rescue operations in Illinois, Ohio, New Jersey, New York, Vermont, Connecticut, and Rhode Island.
“The support has just been amazing” said Farley. "They come out of the woodwork. They say, yes, we want this dog, this dog, this dog. And then we get their specifications."
Each state has specific guidelines that must be followed. AARF also follows USDA guidelines when transporting animals. The dogs must be able to stand up, turn around and lay down comfortably; if they cannot do that, then they go into a larger crate. "We don't want to be irresponsible transporters," said Farley.
AARF has strict guidelines that receiving rescue operations must meet. Every rescue operation is researched and vetted before transport. The rescues must be licensed with their perspective state and must be in good standing. Requirements also include that the operation must be a well known and reputable rescue, they must spay or neuter the animals before releasing them for adoption, they must have a veterinary reference, and someone has to vouch for the good work that they do.
In addition, most states prohibit the transfer of animals that have not been vaccinated, so transport relies on vaccines. Cumberland County Animal Shelter receives no funding for veterinary treatments. AARF pays for every vet service the animals receive at the shelter, to include every vaccination, Frontline for fleas and deworming (99 percent of the dogs brought to the shelter are infested with worms). Local veterinarians do everything they can to help with the effort, but it is important to note these businesses cannot run on benevolence alone, they have bills like everyone else.
As for Farley and her staff of volunteers, “We get paid in puppy kisses. And kitty bites. And it’s worth it,” she said.
AARF is asking for Cumberland County residents' assistance in reducing the problem by being responsible pet owners. If you lose your pet there is a good chance it has found its way to the shelter. The volunteers ask that you put a collar and tag on your dog, so that if it gets loose they can find you. When Farley has time she peruses LSN to see if anyone in Crossville is looking for a lost pet that has been brought to the shelter. Pictures and bios of adoptable pets from the shelter are available on AARF's website, however, this list does not include animals that fall under the "stray hold" category. It is an owner's responsibility to call the shelter if their pet goes missing.
The most important step an owner can take to control the animal population is to have their pet spayed or neutered. The cost to house an animal at the shelter can be exponentially greater than what it costs to spay or neuter a pet. Sterilization is a simple process that can save a lot of unnecessary suffering, and the cost is typically less than what you would pay to take care of an unwanted litter. Wags and Whiskers is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization based in Crossville that offers financial assistance for those who cannot afford to have their pet sterilized. They are also able to refer those who can afford the surgery to a local veterinarian or spay/neuter clinic.
AARF’s success has brought with it new challenges as more animals are being placed in their charge. As of Aug. 16, the shelter had 49 dogs and too many cats to count in it's care. The week prior AARF transported 56 dogs north. Capacity at the shelter is 64 dogs. In the shelter's current state it is impossible to contain diseases like parvo and pests like fleas, which are rampant this year. There is no place to quarantine diseased or infested animals. When there is an outbreak of disease the cost of treatment goes up, expending resources and, in turn, leaving the director of the shelter with no choice but to put some of the animals down. Ideally, the shelter would be moved to a better suited facility and the current shelter could be used as a quarantine zone; but funding for such a facility is extremely unlikely, and without funding that idea will remain a pipe dream.
Current needs include donations of crates, a storage building, volunteers and donations. Volunteers are needed to drive the AARF van to take dogs to other rescue groups. AARF also needs funds for the transporters to pay for gas. Concerned citizens can also sponsor a dog by making sure it has veterinary care, making it more appealing to potential rescues.
The shelter is, at present, housing two heart worm positive dogs they are trying to save. Heartworm disease is not contagious, the only way to contract it is through the bite of an infected mosquito. Treatment is expensive, but without it the disease is fatal. Treatment for heartworms runs about $100 per 10 pounds, so typically a 60-pound dog would cost $600 to care for. "And that’s unfortunately what we have right now," said Farley, "so we’re looking for $1,200 to raise to treat those two dogs. Now, on top of that, we have a dog with the mange that has spent the last three days at the vet, and we have a dog with a shattered pelvis who has to remain in a quite confined place away from other dogs to keep him from getting riled up for at least a month so that he can heal." Their plans are to board the dog in such a facility at a cost of $10 per day until it is fully recovered.
AARF has the will and motivation to help the unfortunate animals of Cumberland County, with your assistance they can preserve life.
Contact AARF @www.aarf-tn.com/donate. The Cumberland County Animal Shelter is at 782 East Lane Road, (off Hwy. 127 South), Crossville, TN 38571. Phone 484-8525.