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.



So Many Shelters, So Many Dogs

So Many Shelters, So Many Dogs

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 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 Read more

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

Making the Impossible Possible

Making the Impossible Possible

Cheatham County Animal Control is making the impossible possible.

In fact, Cheatham’s director Kristin Reid, used that exact phrase when she explained her attitude towards her new job as director of a shelter that had such atrocious conditions before she took it over eighteen months ago that a group of local shelter directors said it should simply be closed down.

The shelter has only a $60,000 budget with which to maintain a building, run animal control calls, and handle over 1200 animals each year. Cheatham is an open-intake shelter so they have no choice but to accept every owner surrender for any reason, plus strays and seizures, basically any and all animals in trouble in Cheatham County, TN.

Kristin stepped into a situation that Read more

Lebanon Tennessee Animal Control: Doing the Best You Can with What You’ve Got

Lebanon Tennessee Animal Control: Doing the Best You Can with What You’ve Got

I’d like to tell you about a shelter Ian and I visited on our way out of Tennessee during our trip in June. It’s taken me this long to catch up with the Animal Control Officer there to get answers to my many questions. He wasn’t avoiding me, he’s just that busy.

Zach is an example of what an ACO can be—committed, proactive, and effective. In fact, he manages to get 90% or more of the dogs that land in Lebanon Animal Control out alive. Three quarters of those dogs get out through rescue and an astounding 25% are adopted locally.

This is not the norm for too many small rural counties in the south.

We stopped at Lebanon at the urging of Laura, our host while we were in Tennessee. I think she wanted me to see 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