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.
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 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.