Roy Exum: McKamey Saves Dogs And Cats

Monday, February 25, 2013 - by Roy Exum
Roy Exum
Roy Exum

There was a heart-breaking story in Sunday’s Nashville Tennessean that revealed the Metro Animal Care and Control Center in our state’s capital euthanized 78 percent of the animals that were impounded last year, putting down over 8,000 of mostly dogs and cats. Animal activists are furious – as you may suspect – and an online petition bearing over 3,500 signatures reads, “There is much to be proud of in our city but the city’s animal control practices do not ‘reflect our compassion or aspirations as a city.’”

The bigger fact is such gnawing figures don’t represent the aspirations of animal lovers across the state, or anywhere else in our nation, but I’ve just learned a little bit about what happens at Chattanooga’s McKamey Animal Center. As one of the new board members, I am thrilled with what is now taking place for animals in our city.

The first thing you need to now is many animals that are taken to shelters are unadoptable. Whether they are too sick to have a chance, have been innocent victims of human abuse that has left the animals emotionally scarred, or have other mitigating health problems is what McKamey’s Animal Control officers see every day. The toughest job in any animal shelter is putting an animal down.

Down deep in the Nashville article it was pleasing to see adoptions are up in Nashville for dogs and cats that meet the criteria – 75 percent of animals that are deemed “adoptable” find new homes and the other 25 percent is still waiting for the right person to come along. So while we gasp at the huge “kill rate” at Nashville’s Metro complex, the first thing to remember is the numbers can sometimes become distorted. The last thing that anybody wants to see is a failure, yet sometimes it is inevitable.

Face it, when dogs and cats arrive at the McKamey Center, they are hardly soft and cuddly. But Chattanooga has a sensational staff and to tour the highly-acclaimed center on Access Road will calm any fears that rumor or gossip might have put in your head. For the record, McKamey’s euthanasia rate is well below the national average, according to director Karen Walsh, and when you see veterinary interns from Auburn, Georgia and other universities on a waiting list to learn at McKamey, it lends further evidence things are being done the right way.

I was astounded by the number of pit bulldogs that are ready for adoption. Veterinarians and animal control officers alike will tell you the breed has been unduly smeared by the media and it is true that some of the aggressive animals have scars from fighting, but there are some pit bulls that will do nothing more than try to lick you to death. “We are very careful to make sure any animal that we offer for adoption is healthy and is not a threat to anyone,” said the director.

Another thing you may don’t realize is that Northern cities, where spaying and neutering have been in place for years, now have a shortage of adoptable animals and the Pet Smart Foundation, as well as others, takes animals to other states were the adoptions are much more likely. This is a great program and is working well.

“Right now we don’t have any kittens,” Karen explained, “but these things come in cycles. We have a wide assortments of dogs and cats for adoption and we stay busy … people come by every day and fall in love,” she laughed.

Asked about the kill rate, Walsh didn’t flinch. “In certain cases it is the most humane thing you can do,” she said, “but the reason we are here is so animals can live. We have a program right now where we are trapping feral cats, neutering or spaying them, and then returning them to their habitat in the wild.

“That sounds crazy but that’s the life they know and that where they’ll fare best,” she said. “To euthanize that animal would be wrong … we just want to stop the baby cycle because everybody agrees that is the best way to handle the problem.”

At the McKamey Center animals are now euthanized by injection. “They go to sleep and never wake up,” she said, “and now we cremate the remains rather than go to the landfill and bury the animal. We are very proud of our success rate – let’s talk about that because that is what drives our entire organization.

“We have a state-of-the-art facility and I’ll invite anybody to come out here and see whatever they want. And while they are here, maybe they’ll see a dog or cat that would enrich their life! Just so happens we have large and small, short and tall!”

The McKamey Center is eager to have more public involvement and, recently, when McCalie School had exams, the center took a load of dogs and cats to “comfort” the students through their classroom trials. “We have a busy spring calendar of events planned and, late this spring, we are going to have a trail run where the runners will be able to actually run with their dog,” the director added.

While the news out of Nashville yesterday was disturbing – over 8,000 dogs and cats – Chattanooga’s McKamey Center is looking for ways to save more animals than ever before. Karen Walsh and her staff all agree they make a difference but that the success comes only when they watch an adoption take place.

“That’s the animal’s favorite part, too.”

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