Becky H. Birdwell visits with a friend at the animal shelter on Idle Hour Road. Photo by David Grace.
The Sullivan County/Bluff City/Kingsport Animal Center has a new leader, new goals and new vision for the future — including construction of a consolidated shelter centrally located in their service area.
In December the SBK Board affirmed Becky H. Birdwell as their new director of animal control services. A month into the job, she’s still acclimating herself to all aspects of day-to-day operations, from office management to cleaning kennels.
SBK Board President Tom Parham says Birdwell stood out from the other 11 qualified applicants during the six-month search, citing her communication skills and management experience.
Birdwell, who previously served as a teacher and administrator for Sylvan Learning Center, says she's always had a deep affection for children and animals, with it now time to focus on to the latter.
"I'd like to take that energy and passion and change it up a little bit, and be that voice for animals who need some love and some homes," said Birdwell.
The job is going to be a balancing act: animals are the crux of the operation, but interpersonal relationships keep it going.
As a nonprofit that’s providing essential services, the generation of both SBK volunteers and donations is at a premium, while educating the public can ensure success for years to come.
“My main goal is to be on the phone and be in the schools,” said Birdwell. “Be out in the public explaining why dren and animals, and now is the time to focus on the latter.
“I’d like to take that energy and passion and change it up a little bit, and be that voice for animals who need some love and some neutering and spaying is so important, why adoption of what’s already here is so important and not to shop at the puppy mills.
“If I can catch (local students) while they’re young and teach them at a consistent level, they’ll carry that with them as adults.”
The SBK operates two approximately 20-year-old shelters; one on Idle Hour Road in Kingsport, the other on Massengill Road in Blountville. They house approximately 400 dogs and 600 cats at any point in time, adopting out about 120 animals per month. The cost of spay and neutering is included in adoption fees.
“People have in their minds (the shelters) are high kill — they’ve got two days, they’ve got two weeks,” said Birdwell. “But there is no time limit.”
Individual and group volunteers are always welcome. In fact, they’re desperately needed.
Birdwell said they can assist in keeping the SBK website up-to-date with animals available for adoption, posting new pictures and descriptions on a daily basis. That will not only help more animals find new homes, according to Birdwell, but also reunite lost pets with their families.
But volunteers are most desperately sought for what Birdwell calls the “daily grind” at the two shelters: kennel cleaning, adoption support, washing blankets and bedding.
“We’re trying so hard to make the animals comfortable while they’re here and keep them healthy,” said Birdwell. “But we need volunteers — some serious volunteers.”
The biggest change looming on the horizon for SBK may just be a new consolidated animal shelter. Parham says preliminary designs have been worked up, adding that it would need to be centrally located to better serve all municipalities within Sullivan County.
A single facility was recommended by a Tennessee State Advisory study, saying it would improve animal care, service and cost efficiencies for the SBK.
“We have serious plans in terms of funding, grants, looking at properties, and we’ve got the person in place to pull all of this together,” Parham said.
“The science has advanced so much (over the current two shelters) as far as having proper kennels, the right kennel acoustic treatment, space for a laboratory and veterinarian services.”
Mock-up designs for the envisioned shelter call for a classroom. Parham says it could support a two-year veterinarian technician program, with preliminary talks already engaged between the SBK Board, Lincoln Memorial University, ETSU and the University of Tennessee.
“You need classroom space, and it’s critical that they have access to the animals in a laboratory,” said Parham. “When we build this we’ll build it with schools helping us plan it.”
“There is a significant need for veterinarian technicians in our area. So we want to step up and help provide that for the whole region.”
For more information on the SBK, visit their website, http://www.sbkanimalcenter.org/. SBK was established in 2011, when Kingsport, Sullivan County and Bluff City agreed to merge their respective animal shelters into one operation.
“In the last couple years we’ve focused on pulling together our staff and organization, focused on our finances and training people,” Parham said. “Now we have all the pieces in place to move forward in terms of adoptions, staff, animal care and volunteers. We’re in the starting blocks.”