So Many Shelters, So Many Dogs

September 19, 2019

So many shelters, so many dogs.

I knew at the start of this trip it would be a lot and that keeping all the dogs, directors, and shelters straight might be a challenge. Having Nancy with me helps. I badger her with questions interrupting her work (she spends HOURS editing pictures not just for me and this trip, but to send to directors to use in their efforts to get dogs adopted).

“Which shelter was the one with that cool blue dog with the Catahoula spots?”

“Do you remember what the director said about whether they give Bordetella vaccines?”

“Was there a school bus parked in the yard behind the shelter?” (I actually asked that question more than once, vehicles seem to factor largely in rural southern shelter spaces.)

Nancy doesn’t always have the answers, but sometimes she does or sometimes her pictures provide the clues.

Maybe it was easy to mix up the shelters, as we visited two of four shelters/rescues that are literally within a few miles of each other in a county southeast of Nashville. Clearly, there are many people who care about animals in Bedford County, TN, but from an outsider perspective, I wondered if they were duplicating efforts and whether working together and pooling their resources might be a smarter solution, at least for the dogs. There wasn’t much time to examine that idea as there were dogs to meet and stories to hear.

We started at Shelbyville City Animal Control, arriving late because of unexpected (on our part) traffic. On their small front porch, we met Jessica, the volunteer rescue coordinator and Rhonda, an Animal Control officer who is basically running the place because their long-time director of thirty-five years is out for health reasons.


I’d met Jessica on my last trip when she handed off a sweetheart of a Doberman we were transporting north for OPH. She impressed me then and now. The woman is a persistent and passionate force determined to save every dog she can in Shelbyville, TN with the help of her rescue partner Kathy who is her networker, transporter, and foster. Together they are saving dogs that would likely otherwise perish at the shelter and leading the Shelbyville Shelter Soldiers.


Jessica introduced us to her husband, Ashley, who was carefully walking Lola, a sweet, shy brindle hound-looking dog who had managed to tear off her fourth (yes, fourth) cast from her broken leg.

Kathy and Jessica have paid to have each cast put on (again), but this last time the vet felt so badly about how much money they were spending and decided to try crate rest and restricted movement. Because the shelter does not have money for medical emergencies like Lola’s, Jessica and Kathy pay for things out of pocket. As they did for the litter of great Pyrenees puppies Jessica fostered who broke with coccidia and then parvo. Five of those puppies didn’t survive. As a puppy foster, I know that heartbreak too well. (If you’d like to help these Shelter Soldiers with their bills that are now several thousand dollars, you can paypal a donation to them at

We listened to horrific stories of dogs hit by cars and animals shot by not just neighbors who don’t want a dog wandering through their yards, but the owners themselves who don’t want to pay the $30 owner surrender fee to turn it into Shelbyville. “They’d rather shoot the dog, than ask for help,” Jessica told me.

I’m learning that not all Animal Control facilities are open intake, Shelbyville and Bedford County Animal Control, the shelter we would visit next don’t have to take every animal brought to their doorstep. In Shelbyville, though, many people know that if they want to get rid of their dog, they can contact Jessica directly and she will help them. That’s the thing about dog-hearted people like Jessica and Kathy, they can’t not help.

Rhonda and Jessica are hopeful that things at Shelbyville can improve. They only recently were given money to vaccinate for distemper, but they don’t have funds for heartworm testing or preventatives. They do fairly well with getting dogs spayed and neutered thanks to Middle Tennessee Spay and Neuter, but it requires transporting dogs to the facility and like everything it costs money. Rhonda makes sure animals are spayed and neutered before they go out the door locally and if the animal is too young, they give them a voucher for the procedure and require a deposit that is returned to the adopter once the dog is sterilized.

The city has approved a new addition to the shelter which will enable them to move all the dogs indoors and have heating and airconditioning. We first visited dogs inside where there were a few kennels.

Most of the dogs were housed in outdoor chainlink kennels clustered together behind the building completely exposed to the elements except for a metal roof. A few of the kennels had cement floors, but most were gravel.

It was humid and nearly one hundred degrees. Some of the clever dogs found ways to cool off.


One of their longest residents was Conner. I took a shine to him because of his unique looks – he doesn’t photograph well, but he has large pointy ears that fall over, a furry blue and white coat, and a skinny nose reminiscent of a collie.

He loves water and was soaking wet, so when he jumped at us with his happy greeting, he gave us an inadvertent shower. Sweet, sweet boy. I can only imagine how hot this summer has been for him with that long, heavy coat with so little shade or break from the heat.

Most of the dogs in Shelbyville Shelter get out through rescue, and Rhonda says she especially wants to get the puppies north rather than adopt them out locally. She believes they have a better chance there.

Shelbyville can hold about 60 dogs at the most (they also take in cats) and have a staff of two fulltime and one half-time employee. Last year they took in 608 dogs.

As always, I asked for their thoughts on why the problem of unwanted dogs persists in this area. Jessica said it’s a mentality. “They’re basically barking lawn ornaments.” Rhonda agreed and they both said the pervasive ‘pit-bull’ population exists because many people see the dogs as status symbols and the bigger and meaner-looking the better.

Near the end of our time with them, the deputy chief of police arrived and we talked with him about the dog situation in the south. He offered an interesting perspective I hadn’t considered. He said that the history of dogs here was that people owned large pieces of land and the dogs roamed freely, but as development came to Shelbyville, those spaces shrank in favor of neighborhoods and businesses, yet having grown up without restricting their dogs, many people continued to allow them to roam free and that became a problem. More run-ins with people, more contact with other (unsterilized) dogs which led to more animal control calls, more dogs seized, and more unwanted puppies.

I’ve heard that same reasoning in the north about why we have occasional issues with wild animals, but I’d never heard it posed in regards to dogs.

Shelbyville is close to achieving no-kill status (if you consider only destroying dogs for unaddressable behavioral or medical to be no-kill) but they aren’t there yet. Rhonda, Jessica, and the Shelter Soldiers are doing all they can and it sounds like the city has decided to invest in their success, so fingers crossed we’ll hear a different story next year.

I’d hoped to tell you about Bedford County Animal Control, only a few minutes away from Shelbyville City Animal Control in this post, but I’ve gone on far too long, so I’ll save it for the next post. And hopefully, I’ll get it nailed down before we make two more visits today! We are in Alabama and the heat has abated slightly – only ninety-four degrees instead of near one hundred.

Thanks for following our journey. If you can share this blog and our Facebook posts, we would truly appreciate it. People need to know about Shelbyville and Bedford and all these rural southern shelters and rescues where good people are giving all they have to save as many animals as they can and yet it isn’t enough. They need change and change will only happen once people are aware of the problem. You can help us tell them.



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