In Robertson County, Tennessee, just outside Nashville, there are actually three municipal shelters. In addition to the Robertson shelter that I wrote about in the previous post, we also stopped at a tiny shelter ten minutes away— Greenbrier Animal Control.
This small shelter has ten kennels and was currently housing 12 dogs. Shelbie is the only ACO and employee for the small shelter. She works seven days a week 365 days a year. The only days she’s had off since she began work there three years ago were this past winter when she had Covid.
Shelbie does everything at the tiny, age-worn shelter – the cleaning and the caring, and running the animal control calls, and pretty much anything that needs done. Several of the outdoor kennels do not have covered roofs. The roofs are at the shelter, but Shelbie is only one person (and a tiny one at that), so she can’t get them put on by herself. She could use a hand with the roofs, and with lots of things, but the only ones she and the dogs have are her own.
The city animal control budget covers food, supplies, and a few other things, like Shelbie’s uniforms, but it doesn’t cover vaccines, deworming, or spay/neuter. Shelbie knows that anything she adopts out locally is likely to send puppies back her way. She depends on CASA Transport to help get animals out, so the shelter doesn’t become overcrowded.
Shelbie took the job because she loves animals and because she’s always been an advocate for not killing shelter animals. One of the dogs, Denali, has been at the shelter almost as long as she has. “He’s special and he needs a special kind of home,” she told me.
She loves her job, but would really love for the city to hire someone to help on the weekends so that she could have more time for herself (and her FIVE children ages 4-10).
We set up a few peanut butter boards and left Shelbie with lots of food, treats, bones, and collars, but joked with her that we wished we had a person in the truck we could leave with her. Every time we make these trips we meet remarkable people like Shelbie. I’m sure she isn’t getting rich on this job and I’d guess she sees some pretty awful situations. It is not just back breaking work, it’s heartbreaking.
There are so many people, just like Shelbie, who are quietly saving lives through their own dedication and sacrifice. They inspire me to keep pushing for change, for any way to make the situation better.
I don’t understand why Robertson County, which serves 72,000 residents, has not only the county shelter, but two city shelters (we were not able to visit Springfield animal control). Greenbriar is in the county and it took us about ten minutes to get from one to the other. To me, clearly an outsider (but one who has visited over 100 shelters in 12 states), it makes more sense to combine the three shelters in the new building that Robertson County is building.
Surely, by combining budgets and staff, they could have one excellent facility with plenty of help, and likely save money in the bargain. Plus, then Shelbie wouldn’t be working seven days a week and handling animals all by herself (not that she isn’t more than capable of doing so as she’s done it for three years now). That’s just my observation, unlikely to be embraced.
Until we start looking for common sense solutions like regional public shelters, the lives of too many animals will depend on the decency and the willingness of people like Shelbie to sacrifice so much to do the work very few will.
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Until each one has a home,
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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.
Watch our Emmy-nominated, award-winning short documentary about rescue in western Tennessee here.
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