Cheatham County Animal Control is making the impossible possible.
In fact, Cheatham’s director Kristin Reid, used that exact phrase when she explained her attitude towards her new job as director of a shelter that had such atrocious conditions before she took it over eighteen months ago that a group of local shelter directors said it should simply be closed down.
The shelter has only a $60,000 budget with which to maintain a building, run animal control calls, and handle over 1200 animals each year. Cheatham is an open-intake shelter so they have no choice but to accept every owner surrender for any reason, plus strays and seizures, basically any and all animals in trouble in Cheatham County, TN.
Kristin stepped into a situation that required she rebuild many damaged relationships, not the least of which was with the community. She had to decide what to with the enormous amount of debris covering the immense property that included unused decaying equipment and kennels, buildings and holding areas with dirt floors which are impossible to sanitize, a plethora of vehicles (even a forklift!), and heaven knows what else. Below are pictures inside one of the unused building that previously housed dogs.
She began by cleaning up the property and establishing protocols for animal care and cleaning, but what she really did was change attitudes. Cheatham no longer euthanizes dogs for any reason other than medical or behavioral.
Kristin is eloquent, open-minded, and confident. She gravitates to common-sense solutions over what’s been done before. She has been creative in winning back the public’s heart and their presence. While we were there volunteers were in and out of the building walking dogs on the new walking paths that have been cut into the 80+ acre property.
The trails are not just for volunteers. Instead of focusing on what they don’t have, Kristin has instead capitalized on their assets – lots of land in a beautiful place—they’ve not only cut trails, but have partnered with the community to build benches and inviting outdoor spaces. There are painted rocks with positive messages all along the trails for visitor to discover, or they can paint their own. Students from a local high school are creating storyboards to place along the path as a way to encourage families to bring their children to walk the trails of the shelter and meet the dogs. It’s like a really cool free park that comes with dogs!
“The price of admission is walking one of our wonderful shelter dogs,” Kristin explains.
The volunteer program is thriving, with over four hundred in their Facebook group and about forty volunteers who show up regularly. The volunteers not only walk the dogs, but they are also trained to work with the dogs on manners like sitting calmly before going through doors or in/out of their kennels. The building isn’t enormous, but Cheatham has a smart system for moving dogs safely in and out of the building and in and out of the playyard.
While we were there, a Merck representative arrived with lunch to teach the staff about vaccines – why and how to give them. Kristin is big on education and there was lots of information on the staff board about all kinds of things like how to tell a male kitten from a female (something I’ve learned recently isn’t always so easy to do) and how to judge the age of a dog by its teeth (I took a picture of that chart, so I could learn, posting it here so you can too).
Cheatham has utilized the program and training from Dogs Playing for Life and their dogs have regular playgroups, in addition to the 2-3 walks with volunteers each day. Inside the kennels, piano music played softly. Each dog had a bed and blanket, plus toys and Benebones. It was quieter in the kennels than in many shelters, the dogs seemed more relaxed.
On that meager budget, Kristin finds a way to meet medical needs, including emergencies, even tests each dog for heartworm and then gives them preventatives while they stay at Cheatham. As she said, “There’s no reason to test them if you aren’t going to give preventatives.” Her attitude about pretty much everything is that if you’re not going to do it right, why do it at all?
At this point, Cheatham sends more dogs out through rescue than adopts locally, but I have a feeling those numbers may begin to even out and perhaps go the other direction with Kristin at the helm at Cheatham.
She has big plans for continuing to partner with the community and bring them on board. Cheatham is so lucky to have her—one thing I’ve learned over and over again on these visits is that the success of a shelter, no matter their budget or community, comes down to leadership. The director sets the tone. At Cheatham, every staff member we encountered was professional, polite, positive and welcoming. There was a mutual respect evident between not just director and staff, but volunteers too.
Managing a shelter and saving every dog possible on just $60K only happens with good leadership. Having an ‘I will find a way’ attitude goes a long way to making the impossible possible.
If you’d like to help Cheatham continue to do the impossible, you can donate items from their Amazon wishlist. Please do not send money as monetary donations go into the county government’s budget and not necessarily to Animal Control.