Yesterday I called an ACO (Animal Control Officer) at a county pound in Tennessee. I was inquiring as to whether we might be able to visit on our next trip in March. I’d left a message and figured I had about a 50/50 chance of him calling me back.
You see, when a writer leaves a message about visiting a pound where dogs are routinely killed, ACO’s can be a bit shy about speaking with me. I get that—most of the ACO’s I’ve met do everything they can to avoid killing dogs but ‘everything they can’ is not much when they have an unsupportive leadership system, zero budget, sub-par facilities, little or no veterinary access, a constant stream of homeless dogs, and a mandate to destroy any dog that is still there past its five-day legal stray hold.
So, when I received a call back in less than an hour, I was glad for it, if surprised. The ACO I spoke with said he would love for us to visit and would be happy to show us his dogs.
His was a shelter like many in rural Tennessee counties—a dog pound in the true sense of the word. Just four outdoor runs where dogs are held ONLY for their five-day stray hold. There is no website or Facebook trying to reunite owners with their lost dogs or find adoptive homes for the ones abandoned.
I asked him for more information about the shelter and was told that last year the pound took in 78 dogs and euthanized 78 dogs. I tried not to give away my shock and sadness at this news. It’s not my place to judge a situation I know nothing about in a place I’ve never been.
What he told me next, though, did bring tears to my eyes. This year since he’s been in charge, they’ve taken in 26 dogs and he’s found homes for 8 of them, reunited 4 with their owners, and had to euthanize 6 for aggression. The others, I imagine are either currently in the four runs or were moved out by rescue.
He went on to say that a local woman has begun helping him secure dog food donations and is planning a meeting in the next month to talk to the community about building a real shelter to replace the four outdoor runs.
The ACO told me that he doesn’t want to kill dogs even though the board (I imagine this is the county board of supervisors) will chew him out (he used a more colorful phrase) if he doesn’t kill the dogs after their five-day stray hold. Likely, they don’t want to pay for dog food or medical attention for the dogs. I didn’t ask about vaccines or dewormers or flea/tick or heartworm preventatives, because I knew the answer.
Now that he’s secured donated dog food from a local business, though, he is waiting for the chance to tell the board that keeping the dogs alive while he tries to find a better outcome won’t cost the county a penny. He’s also acquired blankets and a dryer (he still needs to find a washing machine) so that he can give the dogs clean bedding to lie on.
I can’t wait to meet this hero in person. This story is the reason we created Who Will Let the Dogs Out.
This tiny pound in a little county in Tennessee is a forgotten place. It doesn’t register on the radar of the big national dog-saving organizations. There is no rescue or adoption coordinator, no volunteer program, no one beyond a single ACO. There is no website or Facebook page (although the same woman that helped him find the dog food donor is working on it). No adoption events or fundraisers. There are no reports or pictures of those 78 dogs that died there senselessly last year.
These seemingly forgotten places are where too many dogs suffer and die. Shining a light on them is a big part of our mission.
Last night, when I opened Facebook I saw a post about another tiny pound in a rural county in Tennessee. Pictured were five dogs currently filling the Dresden pound living in outside kennels exposed to the elements on this cold January day. If they are not claimed or a rescue doesn’t step in, they will die soon too.
This should not be happening people. Why do we allow it?
I have another phone call to make today to another ACO at another rural pound. I don’t know what I’ll discover but I hope it’s a better situation.
The horrifying part of this is that these counties are lucky. They aren’t Lake County, Tennessee where there is no shelter, no ACO, not even a veterinarian to help the homeless animals. In a place like that, where do we begin?
I don’t know, but sitting here shaking my head won’t help. It’s time to do something.
Nancy and I are headed to Tennessee on March 1 to do what we can to share these stories and support the people who are fighting for these dogs. Here are a few ways you can help:
Subscribe to this blog (button on the right) and like/follow us on Facebook and Instagram. And then SHARE, comment, and support us in our travels so that we can have a bigger impact and hopefully reach the ears of the people who can do something for the dogs in Lake County and Dresden and all the tiny rural forgotten pounds.
If you want to support what we do more visually, you can purchase shirts and other items through our teespring campaign (now through Valentine’s Day).
If you live in or near Western Tennessee or Northern Mississippi and know of a shelter, rescue, or pound that would benefit from a visit and more exposure, please connect us. We are still putting together our March trip and want to have the biggest impact that we can.
Until Every Cage is Empty,
Photographer Nancy Slattery and I travel to shelters, rescues, and pounds in the south to help raise awareness and resources for the animals (and people) who desperately need it. We share the stories and images of animals that have largely been forgotten by this nation of dog-lovers. Who Will Let the Dogs Out is an initiative of Operation Paws for Homes.