On our last day of our shelter tour this fall, we made two stops in Kentucky. The first was in Franklin, where we visited The Fix Foundation and the Simpson County Animal Shelter. A remarkable woman runs both and her vision and smart policies are truly ‘fixing’ things.
Ruth started the Fix Foundation after relocating to the area from Las Vegas. She’d never been involved in animal rescue before coming to Franklin, but when she discovered the state of the shelter and the number of animals dying, she had to step in. At the time, the county shelter was killing 98% of the animals they took in.
Having no background, Ruth educated herself by touring shelters and spay/neuter facilities all over the country (while traveling with her husband, who is in the music business). She visited Best Friends Animal Sanctuary and while there, explained her situation in Simpson County. “They said, you live in Kentucky; you’ll never adopt your way out of the situation. You have to build a low-cost spay/neuter clinic.”
She went home to do just that. In 2005, she created The Fix Foundation and began raising money to build a clinic. She started by selling birdhouses and other small-ticket items but quickly realized it would take a lot more.
Again, doing her homework, she learned the process, and most importantly, the right verbiage to apply for spay/neuter grants and landed a 50K grant from PetSmart. That was a great start, but still not enough, so Ruth took out a business loan (a scary proposition because she was figuring it out as she went and responsibility for the loan ultimately came back to her). Once the ball started rolling, the county leadership donated the land adjacent to the shelter for the clinic.
Fast forward 16 years and the clinic now spays and neuters three thousand animals every year. They offer their surgeries (and shot clinics) at low cost to the community and local rescues, plus fix all the shelter animals who land next door at the Simpson County Animal Shelter. During the pandemic, The Fix Foundation never missed a beat, continuing to spay and neuter knowing that the surgeries were essential even if the country did not.
All along, Ruth was also involved in the leadership of the Friends of Simpson County Shelter next door to the Fix Foundation. The Friends run the shelter and the county pays for it—this seems to be a great model for county sheltering. Currently, they do not euthanize any adoptable or treatable animals. A little more than half of their dogs leave via rescue, but the rest are adopted locally or returned to owners. The building is older, but they seem to make the most of it. The dogs are housed indoors, and the outside pens are utilized to give the dogs a little more space and some fresh air while their kennels are being cleaned.
Simply Cats is the Fix Foundation’s cat adoption program. They are able to adopt out all of their cats and bring in many from local rescues. Ruth was quick to tell me that Simply Cats is NOT a rescue, they are a cat adoption program. Their cats are placed in cat habitats at eight Petcos in Simpson and the surrounding counties, plus several in Tennessee. It was such a breath of fresh air to hear that Simply Cats has no trouble moving cats. Their animals are all spayed/neutered, vaccinated, dewormed, microchipped, and treated for fleas, plus their nails trimmed and ears cleaned before they are adopted out.
The Fix Foundation has outgrown its space and is just beginning an expansion project. They’ve taken out a business loan for the construction. Once again, Ruth is taking a risk knowing expanding will enable them to treat more animals and give their staff more room for their work.
So much of what the Fix Foundation does is simply smart management. They have a ‘stay at home mom’ program for repeat puppy and kitten dumpers. When a family continues to bring in puppies or kittens, they agree to take the kittens or puppies, but only on the condition that they also spay the moms. They continue to apply for and receive grants to help with spay and neuter.
Simpson County shelter and the surrounding county are not any different from a lot of the county shelters and pounds we have visited. They are battling a similar culture, have an older shelter, and a small budget. Yet, they are saving every dog—and more importantly—they are fixing every animal they adopt out or send through rescue. They are proof that it can be done with good leadership, smart policies, and access to affordable veterinary care.
And maybe the key to the success is the cooperation of the county, which smartly allowed a group of people with the knowledge, ability, and passion to care for the animals to take over their shelter. In many instances, Animal Control falls under the Police Department umbrella and the hierarchy that entails. It is viewed with a control lens rather than a care lens. The emphasis is on protecting the public (from loose, unwanted dogs, and also the ultimate end of those dogs) rather than protecting the animals and ensuring them a safe outcome.
Trusting outside groups to handle the animal sheltering for a county is not necessarily simple, but it is possible. Too often you run into the ‘we’ve never done it that way before’ mentality, plus a dark history and deeply entrenched relationships (aka ‘the good ole boy network’). I’m pretty certain that it’s much cheaper (for taxpayers) to run a shelter this way than to follow the traditional Animal Control dog pound system.
The success in Simpson County is thanks not just to a remarkable, determined, brilliant woman whose tireless heart has saved tens of thousands of lives, but to a smart local government that had the good sense to listen to her.
For more information, visit: https://thefixfoundation.com/.
Until each one has a home,
The mission of Who Will Let the Dogs Out (we call it Waldo for short) is to raise awareness and resources for homeless dogs and the heroes who fight for them.
You can learn more about what is happening in our southern shelters and rescues in the book, One Hundred Dogs & Counting: One Woman, Ten Thousand Miles, and a Journey Into the Heart of Shelters and Rescues (Pegasus Books, 2020). It’s the story of a challenging foster dog who inspired me to travel south to find out where all the dogs were coming from. It tells the story of how Who Will Let the Dogs Out began. Find it anywhere books are sold. A portion of the proceeds of every book sold go to help unwanted animals in the south.
Amber’s Halfway Home is a short documentary film we produced in partnership with Farnival Films. It follows the work of a remarkable woman and one day of rescue in western Tennessee. Selected for fifteen film festivals (to date), it’s won eight awards (including Best Short Doc, Best Soundtrack, Best of Fest, and Audience Choice), and was nominated for an Emmy! It is a beautiful, heartbreaking, inspiring story we hope will compel viewers to work for change. Please watch it and share it far and wide.