I do not wish to diminish in any way the excellent work of Humane Society volunteers and staff, but the organization’s ancient physical facilities are another matter entirely.
Several years ago Chattanooga suffered a steady stream of withering and well-deserved negative publicity relating to deplorable conditions at the Society’s property near downtown. Some of that bad publicity went viral and resulted in a number of harshly worded letters and emails from distressed animal rights advocates and individuals all across the country. Most angry protests came from people questioning how a civilized community could let such terrible things happen and stating that they would never visit or invest a single dollar in our fair city as a result of our callous inhumanity to innocent dogs and cats.
Believe me, as chairman of the City Council at the time, I found myself the recipient of much of the wrath venting from those outraged animal activists . (People erroneously believed that the Humane Society was a city agency.) That experience motivated the late Councilman Jack Benson and others to organize an effort to implement an ambitious plan that had been drafted during the administration of Mayor Jon Kinsey in support of a new state of the art animal services center.
What followed was a very aggressive and open public process. Committees were formed. Modern facilities in other cities were studied. Several potential local sites were considered and fundraising got underway with a driven sense of determination. Ultimately, thanks to the leadership of then Mayor Bob Corker, the city donated 10 acres of unused property with a promise of more when needed. There would be ample space for housing larger animals that might come from more rural environments. The site was and is centrally located on Access Road near Dupont and capable of conveniently serving the entire county. Out of all this activity came what is now known as The McKamey Center - named in recognition of the early and very significant commitment of local entrepreneur and animal lover Bob McKamey.
It was always intended that The Humane Educational Society would be an integral part of this new project and that special provisions would be made so that they could undertake a more active role in promoting the “Educational” part of their agenda. In the early planning stages the organization was very much involved, but for whatever reason they ultimately decided to back away and stick with their cramped and crumbling buildings on Highland Park Avenue. Facing those untenable conditions at the time and believing that HES would ultimately come on board, the Mckamey group pressed on alone and successfully opened the new center in July of 2008 - early in my second term as mayor.
The spacious and colorful new facility was extremely well received and met immediate success - garnering national acclaim and attention that quickly overshadowed the bad reputation that had preceded. The success and prominence of McKamey Center has continued to this day.
Meanwhile, over the years, the dilapidated Humane Society facilities have been patched and painted over until it finally has become apparent that the site and situation are hopeless. Now it seems that the Society wants to duplicate what has been done by McKamey and the county government is considering a $10 million gift to make it happen. This makes absolutely no sense.
Development of a second new animal care facility will simply exacerbate the inefficiencies that we already suffer as a community due to ridiculous duplication of so many other governmental services and facilities. We don’t need “two” - just a very well-funded and well-managed “one”. Also, at the risk of reopening another old wound, why should citizens of Chattanooga, East Ridge and other municipalities that are already providing animal services be forced to pay through county general revenue for yet another facility from which those city residents receive no benefit. It’s that old hot button issue of “double taxation” where the county underwrites a higher level of services for some citizens at the expense of others. In short, municipal residents pay twice while those in unincorporated areas pay once.
Finally, I could not help but note that prominent local veterinarian and HES President Tai Federico has been quoted as nixing any renewed efforts to merge local animal control efforts because, “It wouldn’t be a comfortable fit.”
The obvious question begging for an answer is: “Why not”.