An Angel in the Tennessee Dog Pounds

March 30, 2020

As we walked through several municipal pounds in Tennessee, I kept thinking, “Thank God for Amber.”


She and her husband Brandon and their rescue Halfway Home are the only hope for too many animals whose lives could so easily be snuffed out, unknown and uncounted.

As far as I can tell, ‘animal control’ in Tennessee is a patchwork of public shelters, private rescues, and too many municipal pounds.

The pounds are leftover from an era when that was the only option for most lost or unwanted animals in this country. Animals were impounded – held until their owners came to claim them or, rarely, someone adopted one. Once the legally prescribed hold time had passed, the animals were killed in all kinds of ways, some humane and many not.


Many areas progressed and built real shelters, developed adoption programs, and partnered with rescues. The best cities and counties fully funded a progressive shelter that worked to find a positive outcome for every treatable and adoptable dog.

Sadly, in the south, those places can be frighteningly rare. In the rural places, the ones barely marked on a map, sparsely populated, with a limited tax base, those places still rely on dog pounds. Some are called animal shelters, but that’s not what they are, and the locals know it so they call them pounds.

The pounds are generally a few kennels located on county or city land – the maintenance area, the sewage treatment plant, the police station, and too commonly, the dump. They are often simply a set of outdoor kennels on a concrete slab (or dirt). The better ones have some kind of roof and a dog house or hollowed-out barrel.

The dogs that are unlucky enough to land in a southern dog pound have pretty low odds. My dog Fanny came from one such dog pound in western Tennessee. We found her there, emaciated and covered in poop. She’d been placed in an outdoor kennel in the brutal heat and been held their who knows how long since there was no one to talk to at the pound.

A phone call secured her release to a local rescue and from there she came north with us. She is a shy dog still, terrified of men or sudden movements. I don’t know how much of that is her and how much of that is from her time in the dog pound.

My experience with the pounds of western Tennessee is why I’m so grateful for the work Amber is doing and will do. We plan to support her and Halfway Home Animal Rescue in every way we can, knowing how great the need is there.

I met Amber a year ago when she worked at Karin’ 4 Kritters. I say ‘worked’ but basically she and her family volunteered full-time taking care of the animals. Situations changed, though, and now Amber has started Halfway Home Animal Rescue. For now, it operates from her house, yard, and garage, but soon enough they hope to have a real shelter building.

Amber, her husband Brandon, and a handful of volunteers (plus her board which includes a veterinarian and a lawyer) are dedicated to saving animals and even as they await their official 501c3 status they are rescuing over 20 animals a week, sending them north to rescue or finding them adoptive homes. They are a bright spot in a desperate area where the influx of animals in need never seems to abate despite the local rescues and a concerted effort to spay/neuter as many animals as possible. The cost of those surgeries and the availability can many times hamper local residents’ ability or incentive.

We visited some of the animals currently fostered with Amber and Brandon. They all seemed happy and healthy and had comfy set ups with plenty of room.

We had a little extra time to visit with them because just before we were scheduled to arrive, Amber was called out to pick up a mama dog and puppies.

Rescuing animals is in Amber’s blood. Her grandmother also runs a rescue about two hours away, so Amber grew up saving animals. She understands the importance of vaccinating animals on intake to prevent distemper and parvo. She deworms and gives heartworm preventatives to keep the animals healthy while they await rescue or their new homes. She provides blankets, toys, and treats, plus exercise in a fenced area and plenty of love.

We headed out to visit some of the pounds, but had to make one detour to the Tractor Supply parking lot to meet a woman who wanted to surrender puppies. She couldn’t find homes for them or afford to keep them. Amber took the puppies, but also convinced the woman to allow Halfway Home to spay her mama dog.

We spent the morning with Amber and Brandon visiting several area pounds where we met a few more local rescue heroes, Cindy and Tara, both of whom volunteer countless hours and their immense hearts to save dogs in western Tennessee.

We also met an ACO, Kenny, who truly loves the dogs in his care. In fact, after he let one of the dogs out to play with us, I was amazed to see him whistle for the dog and watch it run right back in its kennel. Now that’s something I’ve never seen at a shelter, let alone a dog pound.

It was an inspiring way to end our trip. It gave me hope not just for the dogs of western Tennessee, but for the south. People like Amber, Brandon, Cindy, Tara, Kenny, the Stouts (HHAR board members we met), and the other volunteers of Halfway Home Rescue are the ones who will turn the tide. It’s their selflessness and dedication that will overcome the apathy and stinginess of local governments to bring change despite the obstacles.

But they will need plenty of support. Burn out is incredibly high in this business. Thank goodness Amber was born to do this.


If you’d like to help, you can purchase items from their Amazon wishlist, donate funds for their medical bills at Paris Veterinary Clinic (731-642-2263, 2101 E Woods St., Paris, TN 38242), or watch on our Facebook page for the donation address once Halfway Home’s nonprofit status is secured. You can also follow Halfway Home on Facebook.

That was the last of our visits from this trip, but I’ll be posting occasional updates on the blog, plus telling you about our upcoming plans that include a volunteer team trip to North Carolina’s shelters (The OPH Rescue Road Trip) and working on creating a Who Will Let the Dogs Out podcast! You can also find additional videos on Who Will Let the Dogs Out Youtube channel (warning they are in NO way professional videos!).

LOGO WHO DOG5-OPHblu2e (1)Until every cage is empty,


Please help us by subscribing (button on right side) and sharing this blog. You can also keep track of us on Facebook and Instagram.

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.

100 dogs coverMy 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 a challenging foster dog who inspired me to head south and find out where all the dogs were coming from. It includes many of our shelter visits and how Who Will Let the Dogs Out began. The book is available for preorder now and a portion of proceeds of every book sold will go to help unwanted animals in the south.


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Naomi Johnson
4 Years Ago

It’s people like Amber, Brandon, Cindy, Tara, Kenny, the Stouts who are helping to change the idea of what a shelter needs to be and how the impounded animals should be treated. Thank you for all you do to help these unwanted pets.

COVID-19 is having a strange effect on the shelters and fosters in the South. Most of the shelters are closing down right now, and there has been a huge plea to get as many dogs and cats out as possible. Fortunately, many, many people are stepping up to the plate–fosters and adopters have been coming forth in droves to save a large number of these stray and unwanted pets. Since people are being forced to stay home, this is a good time to foster (and adopt) a dog or cat. Transports and rescues are making extra trips north to clean out the shelters. What will happen to those left behind and those who would be dumped at the shelters? Well, sadly that is another story.

Cara Sue Achterberg
4 Years Ago

You named my fear. What happens if the situation worsens, transports stop or borders close? We need to be working right now to prepare for that scenario.

Martha Kennedy
4 Years Ago