Attention Gibson County, Tennessee: Do YOU Know What’s Happening at YOUR Dog Pound?

Attention Gibson County, Tennessee: Do YOU Know What’s Happening at YOUR Dog Pound?

It was late afternoon on a Thursday when we reached Gibson County dog pound and the kennels were filled with dogs. The pound is tucked into a corner of the fairgrounds and you really have to be looking for it to find it.


Mike, the ACO for the dog pound, explained that the pound was completely full.

“What happens if you get another dog in?” I asked, knowing that more dogs turn up on the weekends.

He shook his head. “I’ll have to make a decision.”

I asked how he decided which dogs to kill.

He blanched at my word choice and said, “Don’t say that.”

I apologized, but I do believe that’s what it would be. We euthanize suffering animals out of mercy. That wouldn’t be the case here. The dogs we were staring at were all healthy and vying for the treats Nancy was distributing as she snapped pictures.

Eventually, Mike told me that the next two to go would be the Great Pyrenees and the small black lab mix.

I asked why and he told me that the Great Pyrenees seemed like a nice dog, but no one would want him because he was turned in by his owner for biting their child. They’ve had the dog for several years, but recently added a child to their family. The dog was sleeping and the toddler stepped on him. The dog bit.

“That’s not fair,” I said.

“Ah, yup,” he said. “People should teach their kids to be around dogs. Anyway, no one will want a big dog like that who bites.”

I swallowed my real thoughts (as I found myself doing fairly often during this visit) and asked about the Black lab. Mike said he snaps at him. I stopped to see the little lab who wagged his tail and happily took my treats. He looked young, maybe not even a year old. Maybe he didn’t like men or maybe he was just terrified to find himself in the situation he was in.

The Gibson County dog pound was bigger than most of the county pounds I’ve visited in Tennessee. The dog kennels were larger too. And there was a separate covered area for the dogs on court holds or bite holds (which we didn’t get to see).

There were twenty-two dogs in the adoption kennels, including three gorgeous boxer puppies. They all looked to be a good weight and in decent health. The one pit bull we saw had a red tag on his fence, indicating his owner was planning to come get him.

The dogs are held for three days to give the owner time to come claim them and then they are made available for adoption for $50. None of the dogs are vaccinated for anything (including rabies). None are spayed or neutered or tested for heartworm.

Although the entire pound area is fenced, when I asked if the dogs were ever let out to get exercise, Mike told me he’s too old to chase after dogs.

Mike turned down our offer to give the dogs some of the toys we had with us—Kongs and tough chewer toys, plus some homemade toys from a volunteer. He insisted they would get caught in the back of the kennels when he sprayed them down and he wouldn’t be able to get them.

I stared at the set up. There was a trough running behind the back fence of the kennels. Toys could get caught on the fence when the kennels were sprayed out, but if you were inside the kennel to spray it out, it wouldn’t be difficult to pick up the toys. That’s when it dawned on me that the dogs really never left their enclosures, not even when it was being sprayed out with a high-pressure hose. (No wonder the frightened lab snapped at Mike.)

To be fair, Mike is all alone at the pound every weekday taking care of all the animals. (There is a part-time worker who comes in on weekends.) He handles all the ACO calls for more than 600 square miles of county land. What he needed were some volunteers to help. I suggested as much.

And then as if I was a magic fairy with a magic wand, a woman pulled into the entrance. She got out of her car and told us she’d come to sign up to volunteer to help with the dogs. (I’m not making this up and like you, I wondered if Mike thought this was scripted!)

Mike told her that the only volunteers allowed to help with the dogs were people assigned to come for community service hours, ones ordered here by a judge.


The woman said her second cousin was a judge and named him. Mike knew the judge and said, “Well, if he writes a paper ordering you to come work here, that’d be okay.”

The woman said she had a lot of dog experience, even showed me her finger which was missing the last inch. A dog bit it off.

After the woman left, I asked Mike how we could help. Did he need more rescue contacts? Did he have an Amazon wishlist or Facebook page we could share? Did he need supplies or maybe karunda beds to get the dogs off the cement?

He seemed surprised by my offer and had to think for a minute. He told me he doesn’t do the internet, so no Amazon wishlist. What he needed was some fencing repaired on the exterior fence and a few hinges to hang a door on the lone empty kennel. He also needed money for the vet. The county only pays for a brief physical evaluation (for a dog hit by a car, for instance) and for euthanasia. Oh, and he needed a new camera. His broke so he couldn’t take pictures of the dogs.

A few pictures of lost dogs are posted on a page for Gibson County Animal Shelter by Mike’s wife and a few others. It’s clearly stated in the header that the page is not affiliated with any administrative office of Gibson county. In fact, Mike was careful as he talked with me, not wanting to upset the county administration.

As I’ve thought about what to write in this post, it’s been tempting to vilify Mike. Why doesn’t he let the dogs out to play? Or at least move them out of the kennels to a crate while he’s cleaning? Okay, he’s older and doesn’t move around like he used to, so why not recruit volunteers? Why doesn’t he try harder to get them adopted or at the least give them distemper vaccines and rabies vaccines and network with rescues to pull the dogs? As pretty as those puppies were, I’d be terrified to pull them myself worried they had or would develop parvo.

It’s easy to pop in for an hour and judge all of this, but for Mike, this is his livelihood. He doesn’t make animal control policy, he carries it out. He told me that he’d like to increase the cost of adoptions and require the dogs to be spayed/neutered before being adopted, but it’s not up to him. He’s even started a petition to request it.

I think Mike does care about dogs. He couldn’t have worked at Gibson County Pound for almost ten years if he didn’t. My guess is that he’s seen the worst of the worst—in people, and probably in dogs. He does still have his complete digits, but likely he’s been bitten and possibly attacked by a dog he was instructed to impound. He has to look out for himself, his family, his future.

The condition of the dogs and the number of dogs dying at Gibson County pound is not on Mike. It is on Gibson County. Pretty much every one of the twenty-two dogs we met at Gibson was highly adoptable—two beautiful chocolate labs, several hounds, that great Pyrenees…see for yourself:

We handed out treats and visited with all the dogs. That vicious Great Pyrenees gently lifted treats out of my hand like a granny. I accepted many of the proffered kissed through the fence.

There is NO reason every one of these dogs couldn’t either be adopted or moved out through rescue. There is NO reason why these dogs shouldn’t be given exercise, toys, and small comforts like a blanket or treats while they are in the pound. None of those things would cost the county much. In fact, I’d wager there are plenty of people who would donate what’s needed, if only they could.

I’m still stumped as to how to help Gibson County pound’s dog and Mike. I plan to send him a small digital camera with the donated funds we’ve received. My only thought is to ask for your help. If you know someone who lives and votes in Gibson County, Tennessee, or maybe anywhere in Tennessee, please forward this post along with a message:

These are your tax dollars at work. Is this how you want your county to care for its lost dogs? If it isn’t, it’s time to speak up. It costs less to vaccinate and send dogs out through rescue than it does to have them destroyed by a vet. Funding spay/neuter would reduce the number of unwanted animals that end up at the shelter, and ultimately save tax dollars also.

If Mike had more help—an active group of volunteers to help with care of the dogs, the funds to vaccinate on intake and to spay/neuter on outtake, rescue connections, and locals to donate supplies like blankets and toys, life could change for so many—including Mike.

LOGO WHO DOG5-OPHblue2Until every cage is empty,


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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 some of our shelter visits 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.



29 thoughts on “Attention Gibson County, Tennessee: Do YOU Know What’s Happening at YOUR Dog Pound?

  1. What happened to the Pyrenees? This is really fucking unbearable. (I know that’s what you needed to hear…) No Pyrenees will bite a child unless the child hurts it. It’s not their nature, not their breeding, not their purpose in life. OK, I gotta’ go take a hike now. 🙁 🙁 🙁

        1. I’m so glad he’s got a camera! Please do let me know if there are other items we can send. I know Mike mentioned some hinges he needs for a gate, but I’m pretty clueless with hardware. If you get me dimensions or an Amazon link, we can get those down there ASAP.

  2. I know you are trying to be diplomatic, but you give him too much credit. Anyone who genuinely cares about animals would lose sleep over the death and would not behave this way. It is up to all public employees like Mike to stop perpetuating the status quo and working hard to bring about change. The days of the “dog catcher” are gone; the public expects better use of their money. He may not know how to do better, but it is up to him to crawl out from under the rock and see the light. What a tragic betrayal of the public trust.

    1. I’ve known Mike for years and he’s a good man. When I lived in Gibson County we worked together along with many other rescue volunteers to get as many dogs saved as possible. Do not insult this man as you no idea what you are talking about. He has worked hard to save as many dogs as possible. He’s one man with a big heart. If you know so much then why don’t you do something to help.

      1. Cara is trying to figure out ways to help. I’m pretty sure she understands his situation. Part of her mission (she can explain it better) is to involve more people in helping guys like Mike and shelters like this one. You might want to read more of Cara’s posts and see the size of the picture in which she sits. <3

        1. I think she should spend a few weeks in Gibson Working with this man to see what it’s really like. Being in rescue in the south is the hardest job you’ll ever have and the only job that will put you in debt and break your heart. It’s easy to point fingers and criticize but it’s hard as hell to get out in the trenches and do it. I’m proud to have had the chance to work with this man and to call him a friend. If Cara wants to help she needs to take action instead of tearing a good man down.

    2. It’s easier said than done, especially when he has no control. He is one of the best around and most wouldn’t go out of their way to work with rescues like he does. He has helped saved alot of animals but doesn’t ask for credit. It’s easy to say he could do things different when it’s not your job or lively hood. If you see a problem then contact the county.

  3. No, there is no excuse for places such as the Gibson County Dog Pound to function in this fashion. Unfortunately, there are far too many places like this in the US, particularly in the South. It is heartbreaking and unconscionable, and so many are run by directors and ACOs like Mike (or Debra at MARL and Bonnie in NC); we can make excuses for him that these places are underfunded and understaffed. Being the only full time employee at the “shelter” certainly makes finding time to do so much extra work very difficult, but if he encouraged volunteers they could, of course, help with coordinating with rescues, taking pictures, and exercising the dogs. More than likely, he does not want people “nosing around his business.” That is the case of a shelter near me that has a director who would rather kill dogs than find homes for them. She has been reported to the county commissioners and the NC Commissioner of Agriculture numerous times and the shelter has been fined, but she still remains in charge. Do these people have an “in” with the local and state officials?

    One thing that really surprised me is the fact that they do not give rabies shots on intake at Gibson. Rabies is a 100% fatal diseases transmitted by the saliva of an infected animal. Had someone been bitten by one of the dogs at Gibson (an un-vaccinated dog), he/she would have had to undergo the series of painful and expensive rabies shots to prevent him/her from getting the disease, and the dog would have been euthanized and its head sent off to a lab to see if it was positive. It is state law in TN that all dogs and cats receive rabies shots–I would assume that includes those in shelters as well, and since stray dogs have no records, the shelter would be responsible for vaccinating the animal. In most states, it is mandatory that dogs entering a shelter be given rabies vaccines to protect the citizens. [A slight digression–one of the foster dogs that I have now came from a fairly nice shelter in NC. She had been there for 4 months, and I was appalled that she had all of her other shots but NOT rabies, which they gave her when I picked her up. This was totally careless and unacceptable on their part, but it is totally unbelievable that it is not done at all at Gibson.]

    Uncaring and inhumane directors need to be fired. There are many caring and knowledgeable people around who want to change situations like Gibson. The more the public learns about what goes on in these so-called shelters–and, of course, why there are so many unwanted pets in the shelters in the first place–the sooner the problem will get under control. Keep up what you are doing, Cara. To paraphrase–You will get the word out!!!

    1. It’s the county that makes the decisions about rabies shots etc. it’s a small rural county with a very limited budget. You people infuriate me, it’s easy to criticize and say what should be done. Stop talking and do something to help.

  4. Just to let everyone know a few things in regards to this article. This shelter does network to local rescues. Pictures are posted of dogs currently there either for reclaim by owner or adoption. There are treats and blankets donated by locals and they are distributed to the furbabies. The euthanasia rate has dropped considerably since I took over and I strive everyday to improve those numbers. This article was supposed to be to help the shelter, not slam it. Just so everyone knows that since I have arrived The County has built on and each year make improvements, and for that I am thankful. The reason for no volunteers is not because we don’t want them, it is a liability insurance issue. I wish everything had not been half told in this article. I wish to apologize to our County Officials, I was informed prior to talking with this group that their intentions were to help us by maybe helping fix a few things around there and stuff like that, I was mislead. There was important issues in the conversations that were left out of this article.

  5. Mike – I work very hard to be fair and accurate when I write blog posts. I want to hear every side and I realize that I can’t possibly get a full picture with one visit. Please explain which parts of this post I got incorrect so that I can address that. This post is long overdue, but I’ve spent the past week agonizing over every word so that I could share what we saw and what we heard without judgment.

    In the meantime, I reached out to local rescues to ask them to step in and offer support to Gibson county to help with the full situation in the hopes that would give you breathing room so you were not under stress to make a painful decision.

    My hope was to gather support to make the situation better at the shelter so that you have the resources you need to save every dog that can be saved. I do believe this community wants to support your work and does not want adoptable dogs to die. I know that your job is incredibly difficult – you must balance the needs of leaderships, animals, the community, and your own family. The wear and tear that must place on a heart is unimaginable. It is always our hope to support positive change for everyone involved. If my words are hurtful and not helpful, I apologize. We all want the same thing– to save every adoptable dog.

    1. What local rescues did you cara reach out to? I know of plenty that this shelter works with daily locally and out of state to find these babies homes. There are alot of people in this community that do care and do help. There are always restrictions and however you view those restrictions doesn’t mean you can judge or blast a person for your personal blog.

      1. I reached out to Nashville Humane Association, Halfway Home Rescue, and shared the Great Pyr with people who network to save those special dogs. I never ‘blast’ anyone on my blog. I spent time with Mike at the shelter and asked a lot of questions. This post reflects his answers to my questions.

        I’ve visited over fifty shelters now and our goal is to raise awareness and resources for the shelter to help more dogs. I think Mike is doing what he can in light of the resources he’s been given, but he deserves more resources and more help. If writing that is ‘blasting’ him, I apologize. I know I can’t begin to understand the situation if I don’t travel to the shelters, so that is what I do.

        We need to be honest about the situations in our shelters. If we aren’t, nothing will ever change even as people like Mike work themselves into the ground. Shelter work is very hard, believe me I understand that, but the current situation in our country in which shelters are overcrowded and people like Mike are forced into impossible situations is not acceptable. None of us should accept that. They need help and people need to understand the scope of the situation. There are solutions that have worked all over this country, they need to find their way to the places still struggling.

        1. You spent “time” with the ACO, Mike? You spent “TIME” at the shelter there in Gibson County, TN? How MUCH time was that? 30 minutes? An hour? In your visits to all shelters, have you at any of them stayed a day or 2 and WORKED in the shelter. I don’t mean in rescue, I mean, have you WORKED IN A KILL SHELTER RAN BY COUNTY OR CITY OFFICIALS?? Until you have spent some TIME… and by time I don’t mean a visit… TRUE TIME, blood, sweat and tears in a Kill SHELTER, you truly have no idea and I’m saying that as someone who has been in animal rescue for 25 years, spayed more than 130 this year alone with my own money and currently work IN A KILL SHELTER. I was blinded just as you about 8 years ago and thought it was all just so simple, too… like you and many others who want to help but spend more time pointing fingers than actually helping, which is quite disheartening. It’s so easy, to say, just do this, tell this, share that… IT’s NOT. I’m sure your intentions were well intended but possibly better suited For someone to have shared your real intentions of this blog, this adventure of visiting southern shelters, rather than lead them to believe you were coming to visit to HELP, not further your writing, your slander ( unknowingly, maybe? ) and advertise your upcoming book. As a Christian… which I would suspect you are, if you once held a title of “director of Christian Education & Youth Ministry”, I would think you would want to set a better example, yourself. Personally, as a Christian, I may not always “like” every decision made, but I pride myself in doing my very best to lift others up, encourage those around me to come together as a team and help with whatever they can, not create a blog and make Potential inaccuracies in a blog of statements, creating further division in more people coming together as a TEAM.. … because as far as many are concerned, unless the conversation was recorded “for quality assurance purposes” as it is said, words are easily misconstrued or edited to sound differently than they were spoken. I pray that after this blog, and the responses, and with true intent to help all animals, I would ask that you sincerely alongside all of us, fall to your knees and pray for God’s intervention and also for forgiveness that whether direct or indirectly, this blog is misguided, in my opinion, as well as derogatory on many levels and down right disrespectful to the county, the mayor, the citizens, and especially the ACO, in my opinion. But what do I know??? Here is what I do know… God is the only true perfection, HE IS THE WAY, THE TRUTH. I sincerely ask that you search you heart from this post and a few others I have read over course of couple months. Prayers for you and all of God’s animals, prayers for the hearts of so many who speak before they PRAY and process!

  6. What can I say other than it is so sad that so many end up shelter to no fault of there own.
    I foster dogs
    Thank you

  7. I happen to know for a fact that they gas them and cremate them. My husband has worked near the shelter for many years and all the employees can smell them when the dogs are cremated. I couldn’t believe it when he told me that! He said it has been going on for years. His wife lied on Facebook one time when I responded to a post and said exactly what I’m saying now.

    1. Cheryl, I never lied to you. Did I tell you they are not euthanized, no I didn’t, I told you that unfortunately euthanization has to done, that is a fact of not just this Shelter but other Shelter’s across the United States. Did I tell you how they are euthanized, yes I did. Did I tell you they were gassed, no I did not, this Shelter doesn’t have a “gas chamber”, a veterinarian comes in an Euthanizes with an injection, which is what I told you. Do they cremate the dogs, yes they are disposed of in an incinerator. Would you rather the babies be stacked by the fence to decay for weeks (to me that is more pitiful than the incinerator)? Did I tell you every dog that comes in is euthanized, no I did not. I told you that Mike does everything in his power to avoid euthanization, including working with local rescues and we network the available for adoption on Facebook, that is not a lie. If you, like others would like to see an end to Euthanization, why don’t you work with Mike, the Shelter and rescues…the following can be done:

      1) Turn off your computer and go to the Shelter and adopt. There are many there that are strays, owner surrenders, etc. that need a good home.
      2) If you can’t adopt, donate the adoption fee and vetting and then someone else will be able to adopt on your behalf.
      3) If you can’t do either of the above, there are numerous Rescue groups that are at full capacity (same as the shelter), call them and volunteer to be a temporary foster. Rescue’s can only do what they have the manpower to accomplish. More Fosters mean more Rescues.

      The above goes for you and everyone who wants to take the time to sit behind a computer and slam our wonderful County, our Full Shelter/Pound, and our ACO who is trying to do his best to make a difference, one step at a time.

    2. Oh Heavenly Father, I cry out your name to cease the “Jacobs” of this earthly world and their flames of untruths that they spill, without knowing, truly knowing the truth. Forgive them Father, for they know not what they do.
      No animals are “GASSED” in Gibson County, thank the Lord! We are not led by Nazis, LOL. Any animal that must be put down, is humanely euthanized by a licensed professional, who hates to do it as much as we hate knowing it’s done!!

  8. I don’t blame Mike for the limited resources he has. But it is silly for people to be mad that Cara is bringing the problems of the shelter to light . How can we expect the good people of Gibson County to seek improvements if they don’t know what’s happening? Instead of being angry at Cara and demand that she “do something” to help, be grateful that she was willing to devote her time to bring attention to a dog pound that could and should be better supported. Cara is doing what she can considering she doesn’t even live there. Knowledge is power. If you didn’t know, now you do. So now it’s up to Gibson County residents to speak to their legislators. There are other small budget shelters in Tennessee that do things better. It can be done. Mike can’t do it alone.

    1. Cara was informed of many changes and improvements made by the County Officials just chose not to include that in this blog. There are plans for upcoming improvements but didnt bother to check that either.

      1. I am excited that there are plans for upcoming improvements, but I’ve been back over my notes in search of any mention of them. The only changes Mike noted were his request to have the dogs spayed and neutered and the need for some fence/gate repairs both of which I mentioned. The only other change he talked about was his desire to raise the adoption fees to cover those surgeries (which I didn’t mention because I didn’t want people to have any reason not to adopt from the shelter). If there are others, please share them here or have Mike give me a call, I’d be happy to amend my post so that it includes upcoming changes and improvements made by the county officials.

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