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Making paw-gress

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Shelter sees drastic drop in euthanasia, rise in adoptions

By Beth Braden

LaFOLLETTE—It’s just after 2 p.m. on Tuesday and hounds are baying in the back office at the LaFollette Veterinary Services. The 4-month-old walker hound pups — Bubbles and Champagne — arrived at the Adrion W. Baird Animal Center a couple weeks ago. That’s when non-profit animal rescue group Friends of Campbell County Animals and local animal rescue coordinator Patricia Simpson stepped in.

Simpson, along with other volunteers, goes to the shelter almost every day to take photos of the animals. Simpson then sends those photos to other animal rescuers in northern states such as Ohio, New York and Michigan. The northern rescuers can then agree to take the dog because they have somebody who can adopt it.

For Bubbles and Champagne, they’ll make their new home in blustery Michigan.

Simpson, along with Dana Ogg and Danny Pemberton, brought both walkers and an 8-month-old husky mix named Scooby to see Veterinarian Bill Sanders.

The dogs are vaccinated and certified to be healthy for travel and transport. They are tested for heartworms. Puppies older than 4 months old must also be evaluated for their temperament. All those steps must be taken before an animal can cross state lines. It’s akin to immigration — the dogs need their visas to live outside Tennessee.

They might be southern pups, but as of Tuesday, they’re Yankee dogs in the making.

Following the appointment, the Champaign and Bubbles are taken back to the shelter. Scooby returned to Pemberton’s home where he had already been in foster for 10 days. He will leave as soon as he is either adopted locally or a northern rescue agrees to take him.

At the shelter, director Mike Aiken greets Simpson and Ogg at the door to help get the still-howling hounds back into a kennel. Simpson gives the walkers some extra food — they won’t be allowed to eat on Wednesday during transport to cut down on the chance they’ll vomit. The truck leaves early — more than two dozen dogs will journey more than 400 miles to their final destinations.

Ogg stops to pet other dogs still at the shelter. Many of them are pending rescue. She moves a smaller breed dog turned in for biting to the puppy room where it’s a little warmer.

In the cat room, Simpson takes a picture of three kittens, and their mother, a Persian mix. A cat rescuer — also in Michigan — might have room for them. Within minutes, Simpson has her answer. The rescue can take the four felines provided they are negative for feline leukemia and have had all their vaccines. Simpson loads two carriers to make another trip to see Sanders — this time with cats.

Ogg pulls a different dog, a white terrier they’ve named Baby Daddy, out of his kennel. He will become one of her fosters, along with the 6-week-old Cur-mix puppy tucked into the crook of her arm.

Aiken calls the shelter a two-arm operation. On one hand, the shelter exists to protect the community from dangerous animals. On the other? The shelter works to save as many pets as possible.

“This can be done. There’s no need for a war between the county and the people who rescue animals,” he said.

Local rescuers felt shut out during the previous shelter administration. The discontent within the community, as well as accusations that animals were being improperly euthanized, led to the shelter’s closure in April 2013. It reopened in August 2013 under Aiken’s direction. Beth Caudill also came on staff. Otis Poore remained in his position as the county’s animal control officer.

Just after Labor Day, Simpson and another rescuer, Michelle Davis, approached Aiken about the possibility of rescuing animals.

“I said I’ll work with you any way I can,” Aiken said.

That month, the euthanasia rate at the shelter was 51.37 percent. In August, 90 percent of the animals that came into the shelter were euthanized.

The euthanasia rate had been as high as 90 percent before Aiken took the reigns.

December’s euthanasia rate was a record low of only 25 percent. A rescue in Covington, Ky., agreed to take 17 cats at once. Other groups took smaller sets of cats.

“[In December] 73.57 percent of animals went back out this front door,” Aiken said. “I’m elated. This probably will not happen every month.”

December’s rate was part providence, Aiken said. There were several situations where it looked like euthanasia would be the only answer.

“Something it would seem like providentially happened to open a door,” he said.

Just as the shelter would fill, a rescue would agree to take some dogs and clear room for the next set.

“It was just like gears meshing together,” he said.

Aiken said he’s learned a lot since he took over at the shelter. In the beginning, he laid awake at night, wondering why he was chosen as the shelter director.

“I was scared that I wouldn’t last two months, but I didn’t know people at that point in time,” Aiken said.

Aiken credits his employees and the numerous volunteers for the shelter’s success.

“I’m hoping that the rescue folks will continue to do what they’ve been doing,” he said.

On Wednesday morning temperatures hovered in the teens. Simpson, along with several other volunteers, waited at the old Exxon station in Caryville to send Bubbles and Champagne north to Michigan in a nondescript white van. In all, 37dogs settled into crates for the ride north. One crate holds a Rottweiler who wags its tail. A smaller crate holds a litter of Chihuahua puppies with fluffy ears. Bubbles and Champagne are quiet, napping in another box out of sight.

Next on the rescue list is a white German shepherd who was brought to the shelter on New Year’s Day with two gunshot wounds. The dog was treated for his injuries and will be taken to a rescue organization in Lexington, Ky.

Tomorrow, the process will begin again.

To learn more about Friends of Campbell County Animals, find them on Facebook or call the Adrion W. Baird Animal Center at 566-1892.