The Mecca of Animal Shelters

September 18, 2019

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 have a beautiful building and talented staff, but they also use their resources, knowledge, and example to help dogs all over Tennessee and beyond.

In the weeks before I came down there, I saw two stories of Nashville Humane that are a perfect example of the work they do and how they do it. The first headline that caught my eye several weeks ago was that Nashville Humane had airlifted 90 dogs from Puerto Rico ahead of hurricane season because it was more cost-effective to bring dogs in now instead of waiting for a disaster to hit. Smart, effective dog rescuing that goes beyond their community.

The second headline was truly a stroke of genius. The AC in their 15 year old building went up and could not be fixed for at least a day. I may be a ‘northerner’ but I don’t think I’m amiss in saying that this part of the country has some oppressive heat. Rather than let the dogs suffer, NHA quickly sent out a plea for fosters to take the dogs overnight. They were inundated with not only their current fosters (over 400 hundred) but new applicants ready to foster. They stream-lined their application process and got every single animal out of the hot building. Not only did the animals get a night out (we call it a pupover at our rescue), but NHA gained new fosters that they can call upon in the future. I don’t know this, but I’m willing to bet a few adoptions happened as a result of it. Taking lemons and making serious lemonade is what that is.

When we arrived at the large, airy, bright building that smelled of scented candles (a current fundraiser), it was a Monday following one of their biggest events of the year. The building was closed to the public but much of the staff was there doing deep cleaning, and preparing to receive a transport to refill their kennels which had been nearly emptied by adoptions from their big weekend. Laura, the smart, articulate, committed director was there to meet us, despite the fact that she had worked both days over the weekend and should have had the day off. She made Nancy and I feel welcome from the moment we met her, radiating a warmth and confidence that is contagious.

Laura gave us a tour of the building and it didn’t disappoint. Nancy and I were in awe and tried not to gasp too loudly at their resources, enormous staff, veterinary suite with two fulltime vets (and seven assistants/techs), beautiful spaces, and the intentionality that went into everything. Volunteers were busy visiting with dogs, helping to train them with clickers and treats; four feet on the floor or a nice sit was rewarded with a click and a treat.

The heated floors, calming therapy music piped from Through A Dog’s Ear and Through a Cat’s Ear, rotating enrichment toys and activities every day, and bright, airy spaces are all designed to keep animals calm and happy during their almost always brief stay at NHA.

NHA handles about four thousand animals annually, moving so many animals not simply because of their location in Nashville and clever events (like Mutts 4 Trucks later this month), but by striving for open adoptions that are more of a conversation than an interrogation. More and more rescues and shelters are removing barriers to adoptions and it is wonderful to see an organization like NHA leading the way. Their return rate is just 7%, a hair below the national return rate of 8%.

Laura leads a top-notch staff whose originality and energy was evident, even on a day when they are not open to the public. Laura led us through the facility, introducing us to staff and dogs, and out to the ‘backyard’ where NHA partnered with Rescue Rebuild to redesign their outdoor space making the steep hill behind the building a usable and inviting space. In fact, Zach from Rescue Rebuild happened to be there while we were there and we had the chance to talk to him about this amazing program.

[Just a sidebar here because I’d never heard of Rescue Rebuild but I am their newest fan and have talked them up to nearly every shelter we’ve visited since.] Rescue Rebuild is basically a Habitat for Humanity for shelters. They work with volunteers and communities and have helped shelters in 48 states and 3 countries to makeover shelters, redesigning and repairing their spaces, creating outdoor playspaces, cattios, even agility equipment. Their program to help homeless shelters and domestic violence shelters create spaces to allow guests to bring their pets with them (often the reason a domestic violence victim won’t leave their home or a homeless person refuse to seek shelter) is inspiring and so, so needed. (and by the way, anyone can volunteer with them!)

NHA has an impact not just in Nashville, but beyond. Laura envisions their mobile clinic will one day take spay and neuter to some of the counties in Tennessee that have limited or no access to low-cost options and other veterinary care. (We didn’t get to see the actual mobile clinic because it was out for repairs.) NHA pulls dogs from struggling counties all over Tennessee with regular transports. I shared a few stories of what I’ve seen on these tours in Western Tennessee and Laura was ready to help, even emailing me the next day to ask for contacts there.

Yes, I’m doing a bit of fangirling here, but if you’d seen the places I’ve seen and then came to NHA and met Laura, you would too. Laura and NHA are poised to change the situation in Tennessee and beyond. They have that kind of power and potential.

Our first two shelter visits have been a great way to start our week. Cheatham County Animal Control and Nashville Humane Association are two vastly different places that both prove in their own way that we can fix this problem. It is within our reach.

We are super grateful to have you follow us on Facebook, Instagram, and on this blog and would be beyond grateful if you would share our posts far and wide. It is time to stop killing animals regardless of what state they live in. We are better than that and we can do better. Today I saw just how much better.




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Paul Handover
4 Years Ago

That’s incredible, better than incredible. I will share the post over at my place but probably not until we are back from Utah.

Cara Sue Achterberg
4 Years Ago

Thanks Paul!!

Dianne Burch
4 Years Ago

Very inspiring! Thank you for such great detail and photos.