Steve Ward, supervisor at the Sullivan County Animal Shelter, takes a puppy to its cage. Photo by Ned Jilton II.
It's obvious this is not the woman's first visit to Sullivan County Animal Shelter in Blountville.
Before passing through the entrance, she shields her mouth and nose with a handkerchief. Nevertheless, after a couple minutes at the front window she is gagging. The 35 years worth of use -- including the stench of feces and urine that permeate the building -- are too much for her to take.
And she hasn't even passed through the heavy door and thick concrete walls, visited the kennel area where animals are housed.
There, the roof leaks and ceiling is falling in. A mixture of urine and water is pooled in walkways between the cages. There are four large exhaust fans but no air conditioning. On warm days the noxious air hangs heavy, draining the energy of animals, staff and patrons alike.
A local group of citizens has put a plan in motion to build a new shelter, hoping to finance it through donations from the public. They do not seek to build an independent facility, but a more modern one to compliment the Sheriff's Office's Masengill Road shelter.
Animal control officers -- who, under the group's plan, would maintain a new facility as they do the current one -- have researched a shelter in Knoxville for ideas. Blueprints have been made which include expanded space for animals and a welcoming environment for citizens.
The project's price tag is estimated at around $2 million, and Task Force Chairman Michael Puck concedes getting public donations will be difficult.
But, considering the Sullivan County Commission has a $19 million budget surplus, and the animal shelter is under the auspices of the Sheriff's Office, others are wondering who should foot the bill.
Help seems to be on the way. County Commissioner Joe Herron says crews will measure the shelter for a new roof this week, and should know what it will cost before the end of the month.
And, as for the Task Force's vision for a new shelter working in conjunction with the current one, Herron has greased the proverbial political wheels.
"I have already presented this to the Budget Committee, and I do have the blessing of the budget committee for us to put some money in the new budget (beginning July 1) towards the new animal shelter," Herron said.
But he doesn't know how much of the estimated $2 million -- which must be itemized from the Sheriff Office budget -- the county will provide.
"The thing we've got to remember is the Sheriff's Office, because of the new jail, they're asking for $2.2 million more," Herron said. "Last year their budget was around $12 million, so they're going to ask for over $14 million this year.
Herron plans to sponsor a resolution on funding a new facility, co-sponsored by commissioner Linda Brittenham. He knows six of the 24 commissioners are in favor of the resolution, and is confident the 13 needed to pass it on second reading will come through, as well.
According to construction project manager for Sullivan County, Claude Smith, the county owns several acres of land surrounding the current shelter's Massengill Road site. Herron believes building a new shelter there will make operations easier and more productive for the staff, who may have to go between the facilities several times a day.
According to Sullivan County Animal Shelter personnel:
- Bacteria and fungus are deep in the Masengill Road shelter's concrete floors and walls. As a consequence, animals get sick and must be euthanized to contain potentially contagious diseases.
- The combined adoption rate for animals is 30 percent; significantly below the national average. One reason is people avoid coming to the shelter because of the overwhelming smell.
- A new shelter will have central heat and air, 30 percent more cages to accommodate animals for a longer period of time.
- The old shelter would continue to operate, housing sick or vicious animals.
- A veterinarian clinic will also be on-site at a new facility, spaying and neutering animals before they are adopted.
- Every year the animal shelter takes in between 4,000 and 5,000 animals.