As a volunteer at the Humane Educational Society for four years, I have first-hand knowledge of the work this organization does and the conditions it has to overcome to do it.
The 118-year-old facility in which the administration, staff and volunteers work every day is at the end of its road. A new shelter space is more than warranted. The good news is that there are county funds available to build one. Land has already been purchased, site plans drawn and a three-year study completed that supports its construction. Details and a discussion over the new building’s merits were presented to the county mayor and Commission on Wednesday, Nov. 14. With a couple of exceptions the proposal seemed headed for an approval vote on Wednesday, Nov. 21. But in the 11th hour things became political.
A previous post from ex-mayor Ron Littlefield on this site tipped everyone off to what is coming. He and a few influential politicians are attempting to rehash a 10-year-old, non-workable proposal to combine HES and McKamey. It is out of date and no longer feasible. The number of animals requiring housing at HES has increased nearly four-fold since then. I appreciate what McKamey does for the city of Chattanooga proper, but Littlefield’s claim that having two shelters is a duplication of funds and duties is incorrect. There will be some duplication with any shelter, but as much as he may like McKamey to get those county funds and control, his claim is seriously flawed. Here’s why:
HES is contracted to the county for animal control. McKamey is only responsible to the city and gets funding from the city at about $9.29 per capita. Funding for HES is done by the county at approximately $6 per capita.
HES’s philosophy follows closely that of the Humane Society of the United States, which means more emphasis on adoption, education and medical care for animals resulting in lower euthanasia rates.
HES has a much larger territory to cover for animal services for Hamilton County and other communities such as Red Bank, Soddy Daisy, and Walden.
HES takes in approximately 5,000 dogs and cats per year. No other shelter in the area or combination of shelters could handle that influx without significant increases in cost and manpower.
Simply put, HES is doing so much more than other shelters can do with the funds the county has allocated and donors have contributed, but if the HES shelter is to continue to provide the services for which it is contracted and continue the mission it has followed for decades, it must have more funds to build a new facility to continue operating. Mr. Littlefield quoted HES Board President Dr. Tai Federico as saying--after McKamey was built however—that merging “Wouldn’t be a comfortable fit.” Dr. Federico was right then and even more right now.
There are other significant differences HES has from other shelters. Besides animal control services to the county and other surrounding communities, HES provides a humane avenue for animal adoptions at lower euthanasia rates. It also has an alternative placement program that has seen more than 1,200 dogs transported to the Midwest, Northeast and East Coast shelters where adoptable dogs are scarce.
Education is also a top priority at HES. It provides training not only to volunteers but to the public on spay and neuter, preventive medicine, rabies and vaccination clinics, visits with dogs to nursing homes and children’s hospitals and many more services too numerous to mention. These services are provided by more than 150 active volunteers who spend countless hours walking and training dogs, guiding would-be adopters through the kennel to find the right dog/owner match, cleaning kennels when called upon, doing yard and maintenance work, attending numerous adoption events and transporting animals to and from veterinarians and promotional venues. They along with our dedicated staff were also on hand around the clock to provide shelter and emergency care for animals transported to HES after Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Florence. Our volunteers are heavily involved and have more freedom to operate independently to take on tasks and offer their ideas for improvements.
In short, HES is not an organization that can be simply tossed together with some other shelter, and it cannot be matched, replicated or cheaply duplicated. Delays for further studies and searches for alternatives are of little value at this point. Without a new home in the near future to handle the volume of animals we receive and provide the quality services Hamilton County requires, problems will result that will quickly become insurmountable, more costly, and even hazardous to staff, volunteers, the public and the animals we shelter.
I ask that everyone contact their elected officials and influential area leaders to urge Hamilton County Commissioners to fund a new HES shelter. Hamilton County deserves better. HES deserves better.