In 2017, the Dyersburg-Dyer County Humane Society was killing as many as 90% of the animals it took in.
When I heard those numbers and that date, I had to ask Diana, the president of Paws To Care, to tell me again. That was only a few years ago—the year my daughter graduated from high school.
Today, thanks to a group of remarkable women, Dyersburg-Dyer County Humane Society would qualify as a ‘no-kill’ shelter.
How did these women who knew little about each other except that the situation at the shelter was unacceptable, bring that change? None of them were employed by the shelter at the time, had millions to throw at the situation, or had ever run a rescue organization. What they did have, though, was passion and determination and most importantly the willingness to work together and with the shelter.
And lucky for them, the shelter was receptive to their help, which I believe was the key. I wrote last week about a shelter we visited in Jackson, MS, where leadership will not work with local rescues to achieve no-kill status. Sadly entrenched in its ways, that shelter continues to kill over 8000 animals a year, 80% of the animals they take in despite being surrounded by multiple rescues, and no doubt people who would like to see the situation changed.
At Dyersburg, though, Diana, with the help of this amazing group of women formed Paws to Care with the intent of changing the shelter situation through rescue and spay/neuter programs.
While in western, Tennessee, Nancy and I met with the amazing women of Paws to Care for a yummy lunch to talk before they took us over to the shelter to meet the dogs (one of the three sit down meals we had during our entire nine-day tour!).
Rene is the spay & neuter queen, whose positive energy is infectious. She contacted me during our last TN tour and invited me to see what was happening in Dyersburg.
Diana is the committed and articulate president of Paws to Care. Her leadership has led to the organization becoming a network partner with Best Friends.
Kelly (without an ‘e’) handles fosters and transports, an enormous job but thankfully she is upbeat, persistent, and has an enormous heart that we saw in action. While we were visiting the shelter, Kelly noticed a new dog who was clearly struggling with the shelter atmosphere. She pulled right then and carried her out of the shelter. When we asked if she had a foster for her, she said, “I’ll find one or I’ll foster her myself.”
Kelley (with an ‘e’) is the medical coordinator. Kelley has vast experience and history here, having worked at the shelter in 1995. She is quiet and knowledgeable and wise. Nancy and I already felt as if we knew her from her eloquent and enlightened comments on Facebook about a few of our other visits. Kelley’s life is devoted to saving animals. She also volunteers with Animal Rescue Corp, an organization based in Tennessee that handles large-scale emergency rescues (hoarding cases and natural disasters) all over the country.
The shelter is a converted Wrestling Center, so its cavernous metal roof amplifies the sound of the 50ish dogs it holds.
Paws to Care moves about twenty dogs out each week through their foster homes and rescue partners. This keeps the shelter numbers under control.
The shelter does not have any outdoor play areas so the only way animals see the sun on any given day is via volunteers who normally manage to get them out once or twice a day. In addition to Paws to Care volunteers, while we visited there were two college students from nearby UT Martin who were there walking the dogs. Teenagers who need community service hours also volunteer with the animals.
Knowing it was the key to getting their local animal population under control, Paws to Care began with a mission to spay and neuter; before they can go home, animals adopted locally are first sent to a local vet for their surgery. Adopters pick up their new pet at the vet’s office.
Paws to Care works with a local vet to secure discounted spay and neuter surgeries for families in their community. Since June of 2018, they have helped to spay or neuter 410 animals.
One of their goals this year is to begin a Trap-Neuter-Release program for feral cats. Rene is heading this initiative and they are currently fundraising to purchase traps and pay for the spay/neuter surgeries. If you’d like to help you can donate a trap through their wishlist on Trucatch (it has a better price than Amazon as they give rescues a discount).
Meeting the women of Paws to Care and seeing the shelter was inspiring. It’s a model for other communities. One thing I heard from all of them over and over again is how important partnerships are.
Working together shelters, rescues, and communities can bring real change. Too many times in animal rescue, like other causes that stir up passions, people can get in their own way. The focus must be on the animals; we cannot let our personal differences or personalities keep us from fixing this fixable problem.
And Paws to Care is a beautiful example. I’m sure it wasn’t always smooth sailing, but these women who had been strangers and likely have plenty of differences never let any of that stop them from saving animals.
I meant to ask Diana where the name Paws To Care came from, but maybe I don’t need to. Maybe it’s evident. When we ‘pause’ our own issues to care about the animals, it empowers us to do great things.
Great things like turning a shelter around in only a few years and saving over four-thousand animals in the process.
Rene told me about two nearby dog pounds who desperately need help, and those were two other stops we made the same day. More about those visits coming soon.
Until every cage is empty,
Who Will Let the Dogs Out (we call it Waldo for short) is an initiative of Operation Paws for Homes. If you’d like to contribute to our work, we encourage you to click on the how to help link above and give directly to a shelter. You can also donate to our work via OPH’s donation page by designating Who Will Let the Dogs Out in your comments.
My upcoming book, One Hundred Dogs & Counting: One Woman, Ten Thousand Miles, and a Journey Into the Heart of Shelters and Rescues (Pegasus Books, July 7, 2020) tells the story of not only our foster experience but shelters and rescues we have visited and how Who Will Let the Dogs Out began. It is available for preorder now and a portion of proceeds of every book sold will go to help unwanted animals in the south.