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January 31, 2020

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.

LOGO WHO DOG5-OPHblue2Donate via our Amazon wishlist or Facebook fundraiser so that we can deliver much-needed food and supplies to the shelters and pounds we visit.

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,


Nancy Slattery, Edith Wharton, and Cara AchterbergPhotographer 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.


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Karen Hambrock
4 Years Ago

I live in Tennessee and would like to know where this county pound is so I could send blankets. There is also a group called comfort for critters that has volunteers making blankets for shelters all across the US. You may want to check them out. But if I new where these places are near me I would gladly help.

Cara Sue Achterberg
4 Years Ago

Karen – can you email me and I will get you a list of pounds!

Elizabeth France
4 Years Ago

Do you have a preference between FB and Amazon donations?

Cara Sue Achterberg
4 Years Ago

The FB fundraiser closed yesterday so Amazon is fine. We will be using the money from the fundraiser to purchase items for the shelters anyway. Thank you for anything you can do!

Kim Hawks
4 Years Ago


You mentioned Lake County in today’s WWLTDO. It’s where I teach and where many of our dogs came from.

Randy Boyd ran for governor in the last election. His family is The Boyd Foundation—good people who love dogs. The foundation provided a dog park in Lake County. Who in LC walks their dogs? Dogs are rarely spayed/neutered, although our grant covers LC, too. Dogs are on chains or run the streets.

The Dresden Pound is in Weakley County, where Gleason is located. Gleason also received funding for a dog park. As I said earlier, the Boyds love dogs, but they are as out of touch as most Tennesseans. Imagine the number of spays and neuters $25,000.00 could have provided in Lake County. In Gleason. In all the other West Tennessee counties where the foundation built dog parks. I’ve written to Randy Boyd to thank him for the dog parks and to remind him that people who use dog parks are usually responsible enough to spay/neuter. That’s not the case in the counties where the dog parks have been built. Maybe the cart was put before the horse! I’m hopeful that his foundation will look into helping more animals by providing spay/neuter assistance, too.

Anyway, I just thought it was sad that we’re killing animals in the same communities where we’re building dog parks, and no one else seems to think that’s a strange thing.

Thanks for everything you do. Tennessee’s dogs and those who care about them appreciate you and what you’re doing.

Sent from my iPhone


Cara Sue Achterberg
4 Years Ago

Thanks Kim! Too bad they can’t use that money to build a shelter in Lake County! Or as you said fund a spay/neuter initiative. It’s great to know there is a family down there investing in the future of pets, though. Maybe I will look him up.

We will be down in your neck of the woods March 2-3. Please let me know if there’s anything we can do to help you or if you know of a pound/rescue/shelter we really should try to visit. I’d like to visit the Dresden Pound. Thanks for all that you are doing.

4 Years Ago

I was just about to comment that lake counties dogs only real hope are you and Rose Ellison even though she’s stepped back from rescue. It’s a sad sad situation. When Ridgely did have an aco dogs were literally housed in a windowless shed(well it had one window that you couldn’t see in or out of) and was maybe 10×10 and in the back of the city dump. Tiptonville had a small facility with kennels that Rose raised money to put walks up around to protect against the wind and rain but I don’t think it’s being used anymore.

Cara Sue Achterberg
4 Years Ago

Do you have contact info for Rose Ellison? You could email it to us or I can try to find her on Facebook. We will be visiting seven of the pounds in the area while on our trip next week. Hopefully, we can raise some awareness and maybe some resources. We’ll be meeting with several rescue groups in the area, including a new one that we’ll be visiting pounds with which was started by an amazing woman who lives in the area. She is putting together a smart non-profit rescue that will pull from pounds and has great rescue connections to move dogs out of state. We are going to do all we can to support them.

4 Years Ago

Cara, I wish I had seen this before your trip! We would’ve loved to have you visit again, although I know there are so many in the area who still need to meet you. We can definitely put you in touch with Rose.

4 Years Ago

I’ve been traveling to TN since I was 16 years old to visit family and friends living there. I am now 53 as of January. There’s a shelter I donate to via PayPal or Amazon in the Sparta area. In my small financially distressed town of 10,000 people in Michigan, we have no shelter, we contract with another shelter 13 miles away. Not the most convenient option for residents but it has been working and the volunteers at this shelter are awesome plus they work their tails off to get every cat and dog adopted. I was also a council member of my town for four years, this was an eye opener and an experience. I strived to make a positive change but I was only one vote out of six. However, what I saw that moved council and the mayor were the passionate residents going to city meetings, having their voices heard and demanding change, after all, they are the taxpayers and they should be heard and taken seriously. A newspaper writer/journalist also attends these meetings. Change won’t happen until the city and county officials are educated and pushed to make change. Perhaps these smaller shelters can merge resources with one nearby. There are options, it just takes driven and determined people to make it happen. I feel for these animals. I too have fostered, ran my own small rescue, and i am owned by 2 dogs and 4 cats currently. One of things that bothers me when I travel south is seeing animals cooped up in outdoor fenced pens on a slab of concrete sitting out yonder by his/her lonesome. Dogs are social beings, they want to connect with a child or an adult. Hunting dogs, 6 dogs cooped up in one small contained area, that breaks my heart. Maybe those hunting dogs serve one purpose to their owner in that they work for their human to bring them wildlife to put on the table or as a sport, however, lets do right by them and treat them better. People need to be educated, the mindset and old ways looked at from a different perspective. In the Detroit area, we deal with dogs on chains. That too serves no purpose other than to break down the spirit of that dog, it sits lonesome, cold, hungry sometimes it lives at an abandon home (maybe a drug home). It can’t protect, it’s on a chain, it has limited range. I could go on. I pray for changing the mindset of people in power. God bless you all.

Cara Sue Achterberg
4 Years Ago

You are absolutely right – change will come when the taxpayers demand it. That’s why we are doing all we can to raise awareness. Many people have no idea this is how their leaders are using their tax dollars. I’m convinced that most of the time it’s not that people don’t care, it’s that they don’t know. We’re trying to tell them. Thanks for doing what you can to spread the message and thanks for choosing to rescue!

Naomi Johnson
4 Years Ago

If you can swing by western NC on your trip, you might want to check out:

Foothills Humane Society (FHS) is a private non-profit, 501c3 no-kill animal welfare organization located on 11 acres nestled in the bucolic foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains of Polk County, North Carolina. We offer adoption-guarantee and serve all of Polk County, North Carolina. Polk County includes the incorporated towns of Columbus, Tryon and Saluda. When capacity permits, we also serve Landrum, Campobello and Gowensville in the northern Greenville and Spartanburg counties of South Carolina, serving an overall service area of approximately 25,000 people and approximately 1,600 animals per year through our various programs.

Foothills is supported by donations, grants, a contract with Polk County Animal Control, shelter activities, and fundraisers.
I have not been there, but it looks like the ideal situation for a shelter in the South. This might be your “what can happen when concerned, aware citizens get involved.” I’ve shared several of their animals.

Cara Sue Achterberg
4 Years Ago

There are so many examples, like this one, of how a good shelter can serve a community well in our rural south. That just underlines why there’s no excuse for the number of dogs dying and suffering in poorly supported pounds.

4 Years Ago

I hope you can come to henderson county and Decatur county tennessee there is a private shelter not municipal in henderson county that does not handle cruelty or strays only owner surrenders and lexington has an aco no shelter the dogs are kept at a vet clinic or at the aco’s house we have to do our own investigative work to find someone to help sometimes as much as 2 hrs away to take in strays from the area so help is needed other groups helping with state funded spay neuter programs have helped too but still no where to go for homeless animals.

Cara Sue Achterberg
4 Years Ago

I’ve put those counties on my list to look into and to visit on the next trip to TN. In the meantime, please feel free to email me. Not sure what we can do remotely, but if we can help, we will. Thank you for being an advocate for the animals and the people who fight for them. (