Report: State has no minimum standards for animal shelters

Hank Hayes • May 19, 2008 at 12:00 AM

Kittens wait to be adopted at an animal shelter. Photo by Erica Yoon.


Quality control in Tennessee’s local animal shelters appears to be on a loose leash, according to a state comptroller’s report released Monday.

The state does not require animal shelters to follow standards of animal care, shelter design, facility procedures, staff training or data reporting, the report said.

“Historically, animal control was synonymous with rabies control...” the report’s executive summary said. “Depending on local government priorities and budgets, animal care and control programs may or may not have adequate resources to provide the services communities desire. Tennessee shelters vary in human and financial resources, staff qualifications, facility conditions, budgets and governance.”

Other states require animal shelters to abide by minimum standards such as housing, environment, disease prevention, diet and exercise, personnel training and other issues. Many of those states also require shelter registration or licensing, and in some cases state inspections, to operate. Tennessee does not, according to Jessica Gibson, legislative research analyst for the comptroller’s Office of Research.

Tennessee traditionally has treated animal control and sheltering as a local issue supported by local government funds and regulated by local ordinances. As a result, the report noted that quality and availability of animal shelters vary across the state.

Tennessee does not require nor provide general training for animal control officers. The report pointed out that untrained officers could pose a risk to public safety, as well as to animals and themselves.

The state also does not collect data from animal shelters. Because shelters do not report data and there is no agency designated to collect such information, it is unknown how many animal shelters exist in Tennessee, where they are located, the quality of their operations, or their euthanasia and adoption rates, the report said.

The Humane Society of the United States estimates the national cost of pet overpopulation to be $2 billion per year for animal control services and care for homeless animals. The report said U.S. shelters euthanize half of the 6 million to 8 million cats and dogs they take in every year. In Tennessee, 24 animal shelters euthanized 77,022 companion animals in 2006, or 65 percent of the animals taken into those shelters, but this number represents only a portion of the total, according to the report.

Tennessee does have a statewide spay/neuter law, but it is unclear how effective it is. Lack of definitions and strong incentives in the law increase the likelihood that the law is not being carried out as it was intended, the report added.

The report advised state lawmakers that they may wish to consider requiring that animal shelters follow minimum standards and consider requiring training for animal control officers and shelter personnel.

Virginia requires a minimum of 56 training hours for animal control officers in state laws and local ordinances, as well as animal identification, behavior, care, animal disease principles, pound regulations, euthanasia and public safety, the report said.

For more information go to www.comptroller.state.tn.us.

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