Showing their puppy love

Friday, February 18, 2011
Jason Williams, above, holds Taco, the smallest dog at the Lewisburg Animal Shelter.

A record was set in Marshall County this week, due to the efforts of a group of dedicated volunteers.

As of Monday, no dogs had been euthanized at the Animal Shelter for 11 weeks. By Wednesday afternoon it was clear that none would have to be euthanized this week either.

This is solely due a dedicated group who call themselves Lewisburg Animal Shelter Adoptions (LASA), and Wednesday afternoon comments like "Crying, I'm so happy!" and "I can now breathe again" on their Facebook page show how much they care.

Since LASA started helping the Shelter find homes for the dogs, adoption numbers have soared.

"It shows that this community does not want a kill shelter," said Tisha Poling, one of the members of the LASA board, along with Janet Harris, Kimberly Reeves, Kendall Sanders, and Ken Todd.

In 2009, for instance, 55 dogs were adopted and 668 euthanized, whereas in 2010, adopted dogs outnumbered the ones that were put to sleep by 326 to 306. Now, no dogs have been euthanized since Nov. 30. There were 42 adoptions in November, 42 in December, and 32 in January.

"It's been a wild ride," Poling said. "I never thought it would turn into a full-time job! The city and the county have been as supportive as they can be." The new Sheriff, Norman Dalton, has been great, says Poling. The sheriff's department was the recipient of cages and carriers from Petsmart Charities recently, when the "puppy mill" was broken up. Dalton gave many of the cages to the Animal Shelter, where volunteers intend use them in an isolation area for puppies and other dogs that can't be put with the general population.

Right now, the sole occupant of a cage in the area between the front office and the pens is Taco, a Chihuahua mix who was picked up at the Summit Apartments, according to Animal Control Officer Jason Williams. Taco's too small to be in a pen out back, said Williams. Also in the area where isolation accommodation will be installed are bags of dog food, all donated by Wal-Mart, and bags of assorted bedding from NHC that is no longer fit for use in a nursing home, but perfectly fine for keeping dogs off the cold floor.

LASA is quick to credit many people in the community who have helped, and continue to help, and praise the Animal Control Officers as "completely cooperative" and willing to go "above and beyond" because they really care about the dogs.

Williams' boss is County Mayor Joe Boyd Liggett, while his fellow ACO, Willard Cates, answers to the city manager, and to Police Chief Chuck Forbis. In practice, they work together most of the time, and are busy all day long, caring for the dogs in the shelter, picking up dogs in the city and the county, and meeting people at the shelter. These can be owners coming to claim their own dogs that strayed, people looking to adopt a dog, and, sadly, owners giving up dogs because they cannot afford to take care of them any more.

LASA's Facebook page - with almost 1,800 friends - is constantly updated with pictures of dogs available for adoption. Fliers are e-mailed and distributed to businesses all around the county by the tireless Teri Cox and her helpers. The Internet has revolutionized the way dogs find new homes, and LASA works with rescue organizations all over the country. Dogs from Tennessee are regularly taken to northeast states for adoption.

LASA is on its way to becoming a registered non-profit organization, thanks to help from Bob Binkley and Michael Sullivan, and this paves the way to pursuing bigger grants. Poling divides LASA's goals into short term and long term ones. Short term, of course, they want to get as many dogs adopted as possible. Long term, they would like Marshall County to have a real "no-kill" shelter.

"We can be a county that others want to emulate," Poling said. "It all boils down to community involvement and hard work."