It is Time to Step up Franklin County, Tennessee

It is Time to Step up Franklin County, Tennessee

We discovered the Franklin County Animal Control in Winchester, Tennessee just down a residential lane right next to the sewage treatment plant. It is a tiny aging building with no lobby, no indoor kennels, and just off the office, next to the front door there is still a gas chamber originally used to kill dogs.


The day we visited, the gas chamber space had been repurposed to give a nervous mama dog and her puppies a safe and quiet space. Heather, one of three animal control officers (ACO) at Franklin, explained that it might look bad but it was better than housing the mom and pups in the noisy kennels outside.

Heather also had a tiny dog with a broken leg in a bed under a desk and another little Shitzu dog with a broken pelvis in a crate next to it.

Heather finds a place for nearly every dog. Even as hard as she works to move dogs out through rescue, and shuffle and repurpose, Franklin still had to euthanize dogs for space this past May. Cats are an even bigger problem. The shelter has euthanized over one hundred this year. The pain of this reality is etched on Heather’s face as she explains that as an ACO she is also a certified euthanasia tech.

Heather is a practical woman with an easy smile and a friendly manner, despite her crisp ACO uniform. She seemed so very hopeful in a situation that, frankly, leaned hard toward hopeless.

We walked past kennels as Heather shared stories of dogs who had been abandoned by owners who were incarcerated, long gone, unable or unwilling to care for them, and two dogs who arrived that day after their owner committed suicide. One of the dogs had bloodstains on his fur. All of the dogs were housed outside either in a wide garage-like space or in wire kennels lining a gravel yard. I didn’t ask why the dogs weren’t given names, only numbers, but supposed it was because as the ACO, Heather was the one who would be responsible for euthanizing them if necessary.

We asked Heather which dog had been at Franklin County the longest and she introduced us to a small, black dog who bounced in his kennel. We pulled him out and played fetch with him in the side yard. He was young, maybe thirty pounds, and happy as can be. His number was Seventeen.

I told Heather that Seventeen seemed very adoptable to me. Adoptable or not, his best chance at getting out of Franklin alive was through rescue. Which is why Heather works so very hard to make that happen.

When she is not at the kennels or out on AC calls, she works the phone and the internet connecting with rescues, getting dogs to the vet in preparation for the transports she arranges or drives herself. She doesn’t have software to edit the dog’s pictures at work, so she does that at home after cooking dinner and taking care of her family. I don’t know what an ACO makes in Franklin County, TN, but I’m willing to bet it’s not enough to cover the hours and heartache she sacrifices, yet she does it day after day despite the primitive facility and the lack of resources.

The budget for Animal Control in Franklin County covers rabies and distemper shots, but little else. The kennels are small and sparse with a bucket of water and a food bowl and nothing else. The dogs that live outside in the wire kennels have igloo dog houses that surely become ovens in the glaring Tennessee sun. As if reading my mind, Heather explained that the county is supposed to be installing an awning over the row of kennels that gets no shade.

Because the shelter utilizes female inmates to clean the kennels, no volunteers are allowed in to visit the dogs (not that there are any offering to). So the dogs might get a few minutes in the play yard while their kennel is being cleaned, but no walks or enrichment toys to break up the monotony of their day or treats or even beds for a moment’s comfort. We met two other ACOs in the office briefly when we arrived, but they did not join our tour or interact with the dogs while we were there.

To be honest, Franklin County was the most depressing facility we’ve visited all week. I have to wonder how much more depressing it would be if Heather were not there for the dogs. I can’t imagine many of them would make it out alive. There are very few local adoptions and only a handful of people ever come looking for their lost dog. It’s as if Franklin itself has been forgotten. I would imagine very little has changed at the shelter in the last decade or two. Very little except for the presence of this remarkable woman who is doing everything she can to save these dogs that it seems no one else in Franklin County can be bothered with.

I want to help Heather, but the only thing I can do is beg OPH to pull Seventeen and watch what I write so that I don’t anger any of the powers that be. I don’t want to get her in trouble for simply allowing us to see the truth of this shelter because I know without Heather those dogs have zero chance.

But it doesn’t have to be this way.

We drove through Franklin, it didn’t seem any worse or better than dozens of towns we’ve driven through on this tour. I refuse to believe that this community wants a shelter like this. What I do believe is that this community isn’t aware that their tax dollars are paying for a shelter that is no more than a holding pen for dogs until they can be shipped out of the county or euthanized.

I can’t believe that anyone who owns a pet in Franklin County would be okay with that pet living in a place like the County’s Animal Control shelter. I’m certain if they were aware that big dogs were held in kennels that barely allowed them to turn around, were given nearly no exercise or play or treats or toys or even a soft spot to lay down, they would be angry. They would want different.

I don’t know what the shelter budget is in Franklin County, but I have to wonder if it is any more than the budget at Cheatham County ($60,000) where happy dogs are nurtured by volunteers and staff in a bright, progressive space. Surely, Franklin County can afford more than dog food and distemper shots.

The animals in Franklin County have no voice except Heather’s and she is only one person. She can’t possibly find a rescue for over a thousand animals a year, but she sure comes close. Just think what she could do with resources and volunteers and an actual shelter!

She deserves the chance to find out, and so do the dogs. It is time to step up Franklin County. These are your dogs. This is your shelter.  It doesn’t have to be this way.

If you know anyone in Franklin County, Tennessee, please share this post.

Be sure to subscribe to this blog to see upcoming posts of all our visits as we make our way down through Alabama and back to Tennessee. We can let the dogs out, but it will take all of us. Please follow, share, and comment on here, on Facebook, and on Instagram. This problem persists not because people don’t care, but because they don’t know. Help us tell them.



The Mecca of Animal Shelters

The Mecca of Animal Shelters

On Monday we finally made a pilgrimage to the mecca of animal shelters. Or at least that’s the way I thought of it.



I’ve followed Nashville Humane in the news and on social media for ages, and am always impressed with their innovative programs, how many dogs they move, and their clever, clever marketing. In the world of dog shelters, they are the Ritz Carlton. For the south especially, dogs that land there have truly hit the lottery.

With a 2.2 million dollar budget (all raised through private funding), of course they Read more

Saving Them One Dog at a Time

Saving Them One Dog at a Time

It’s very easy to disconnect down here. Easy to forget there is a world north of us where there isn’t an animal crisis at every turn.

Before we left, as we drove down, and now that we are here, I’ve been getting email messages from other shelters and rescues— ‘Come here! Animals are dying.’ ‘There is no animal control, not any shelter, sometimes they just shoot the animals.’ ‘Our shelter is crammed, we need your help!’

We want to go to all these places, but our schedule is jammed full of places equally in need of attention. I make a list of the places, ones I will find a way to come back to, but I wonder if I can help them and why it is me driving from shelter to shelter shouting into the wind. I desperately need a bigger microphone, more time, more money.

Yesterday we stopped Read more

Come South with us to Save Dogs

Come South with us to Save Dogs

We are packing up and getting ready. In the morning I’ll pick up our rented SUV and then race home and see just how much I can cram into it before Nancy and I hit the road at 10:30 for our eight-hour drive to Bristol, Virginia where we will stop for the first night of this eight-day odyssey.

Our schedule is packed. We will visit thirteen shelters and rescues in Tennessee and Alabama, and meet with a national Humane Society Rep, an author/no-kill advocate, and a group of volunteers and advocates for a brainstorming session.

In between those activities, I will write and Nancy will edit photos, but mostly we will drive. We’ll cover over 2600 miles, sleep in plenty of cheap hotels, eat on the run, and gather as many stories and images as we can in the hopes that those stories and images help bring change, that they inspire people to get involved, to ask questions, to find answers.

When you live in an area where dogs don’t routinely die at shelters, sometimes it’s hard to imagine that there are places in this country where they do.


When most every dog you know is a member of a family, has been spayed or neutered, gets first-rate veterinary care, and has plenty of food and toys and treats and exercise, it’s hard to comprehend that there are places where dogs receive none of that.

One of the most important things we will do on this trip is bring hope. Every time I’ve ventured south, I’ve met remarkable people giving everything they have to care for dogs and to save their lives.


I’m blown away by the things they do, the sacrifices they make—they seem almost superhuman to me. And I know it must take its toll. So if we can encourage them in any way—through honoring what they do in our writing and pictures, with donations we hand deliver and the ones that come after we leave as a result of our sharing their stories, we will consider it a privilege to do it. We will thank them for their heartbreaking work, for making the unthinkable decisions, and for loving the animals so many have forgotten.

As we travel we will post quick updates to Facebook and Instagram, and the real stories here on the blog. Because we have such a busy schedule, many of the stories won’t appear until after we return and there is time to write and process and share them with you. But stayed tuned because they will come.

I hope you will follow along and help us spread the word. More than the donations and hope and thank yous, this trip is about raising awareness. Because awareness is the first step towards change.

This is not happening because people don’t care; it’s happening because people don’t know.

Help us tell them.

#TogetherWeRescue #WeCanLetTheDogsOut



No-Kill is Not Rocket Science

No-Kill is Not Rocket Science

Ian and I are still processing what we saw and what we learned in Tennessee, each in our own way.

He is taking a break and feels he can’t look at the pictures for a bit. His pictures capture the emotion of the dogs caught in our human failure, and that is hard to look at. I know eventually he will be ready to edit them and to hopefully share more here on the blog. He took thousands of pictures. My big son has a very big heart, and it truly broke in Tennessee.


For me, seeing the conditions in western Tennessee made me furious. This should not be happening. We should not be leaving the responsibility for lost and surrendered animals to a handful of citizens who are quite literally standing in the gap left by a government that neglects its duties and an unaware public.

I cannot look away. So, I am doing what I do– writing and talking and making a nuisance of myself. I’m working on articles, blog posts (like this one), and even a book. I am in the midst of signing a publishing contract for 100 Dogs and Counting, a follow up to Another Good Dog: One Family and Fifty Foster Dogs that will recount more of our fostering adventures, and then take the reader south to discover where these dogs come from and what they can do about it.

I am also planning another trip in September– this time back to Tennessee, and then on to Alabama. Ian will be in school, but I will bring along another talented photographer and excellent co-pilot, Nancy Slattery.

One of the people I am excited to see on this next trip is a rescue hero of mine — Aubrie Kavanaugh. I’m excited to introduce you to her today in the following interview. Aubrie is not only an expert in the fight for a No-Kill nation, but a talented writer, a wickedly smart and funny person, and a dog-hearted woman relentlessly and methodically committed to changing the situation.


The biggest first – the question everyone asks me – Why are there so many unwanted dogs in the south? Read more

Where is the Line Between Caring and Killing?

Where is the Line Between Caring and Killing?

After plying Ian with eggs and bagels, we drove out to Trisha’s place, home of her rescue, RARE (Rural Animal Rescue Effort). Disguised as a pretty, petite, energetic normal person, Trisha is a powerhouse who rescues animals all over western Tennessee, fighting for them on every level. She will not tolerate your nonsense and has no qualms with calling a spade, a spade.

“I’m not really a human-person, I’m a dog-person,” she told me. Currently, she fosters thirty-five at her house (along with dozens of cats and kittens, and a few rabbits.

Driving west with Trisha in the back seat, it was hard to keep up with her busy mind as she rattled off the situations we were headed for. Our first stop was the Huntingdon dog pound in Carroll County. She explained that she hoped we’d be able to get in but hadn’t gotten confirmation of that from the dog catchers she’d contacted. Dogcatcher is really what they are called. The county has two dogcatchers who make upwards of a thousand dollars a month. She checked her phone again. No response. “They don’t give a shit,” she said.

This was clear when we arrived. Read more