Rally protests euthanasia at animal shelter

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Nearly 70 people rallied Saturday afternoon on the east lawn of the Marshall County Courthouse to advocate better conditions at the Lewisburg Animal Shelter.

"Stop the Killing" is what the event was called by Rachel Ray of Mt. Juliet, a self-described rescue adviser for several of the organizations advocating adoption over euthanasia of stray dogs captured by the city and county animal control officers.

The event that motivated the rally organized by Ronnie Van Zant of Nashville was a week and a half earlier when 13 dogs were put to sleep before a volunteer could arrive at the shelter to rescue nine of the dogs.

Van Zant, Ray and other speakers, including Teri Cox of Marshall County, say it costs the city more to kill the dogs than make them available for adoption.

In response, City Manager Tommy Engram has said the volunteer was late. Countering that, speakers and people attending the rally said the volunteer called ahead asking that officials at the shelter wait for her arrival.

City Councilman Steve Thomas, a local pastor, "had a church meeting," so he could not attend, but spoke to what he knew of the situation that's not changed, although more people have become aware of what happened at the shelter in Lewisburg.

Engram was hired, Thomas said, "to be in charge and he made a decision."

The councilman indicated that the city manager was following preset rules of shelter operation.

"If I had to crystallize this event, it would boil down to communication," Thomas said. "The people who have an interest in dogs, and to have them adopted, did not communicate effectively about adoption."

Engram has said it's unreasonable to expect any government to negotiate under duress and Thomas spoke to the issue of pressuring City Hall through the media.

"They [the opponents of euthanasia of stray dogs] have made broad and sweeping statements to the media and have yet to provide any support for their statements, which brings me back to communication," Thomas said.

"I understand they have the well being of the animals at heart," Thomas said. "They will not find a more receptive group than the council.

"We've met with them and we've mapped out plans," the councilman said. "I don't know why there have been such attacks against the city of Lewisburg.

"I have to view their communication by going to the media as an emotional one," Thomas said. "That's not the way to communicate with the city.

"Our offer is the same. We'll listen to what you have to say. We'll make a plan and we'll follow the plan.

"I'm just trying to get the volume turned down so we can get something done for the animals."

Mayor Barbara Woods was named by people at the rally as a city leader who's made statements that drew criticism. Calls to her home and cell phone were answered by machine and messages were left requesting her side of the story. Thomas suggested Engram be contacted at City Hall on Monday.

Susan Parker of Murfreesboro was among the largely female audience. She came to the rally in Lewisburg after reading about it on-line. She has four "rescues" as her pets.

Maci Fuller, 8, daughter of Bambi Fuller and Chris Watson of Lewisburg, is a rising 3rd graders at Marshall Elementary School and her mother explained why she and her daughter attended the rally.

"I'm here to explain it to her," Bambi Fuller said of the 13 dogs that were put down when nine were spoken for. "She doesn't understand it," the mother said of her daughter.

"I think it's wrong," Tina Merrow of Lewisburg said about euthanasia. They're not giving the animals a chance."

Brenda Daws of Lewisburg said if animal control officers could "let the volunteers do what they've been trying to do for the shelter, then the county could save money."

The shelter is on city property and is owned by the city. There are two animal control officers. One is paid by the city. The other is paid by the county.

"We're not asking for a no kill shelter," Van Zant said, citing crowded conditions that he claims could be avoided if dogs' adoption was the city goal.

As the speakers' rallied their audience, one woman asked what the next step would be. Ray replied the dogs' advocates were awaiting answers from city leaders. The advocates have wanted to speak to the council during the public comment period, Ray said, but they've been restricted.

Lewisburg's council meets on the second Tuesday each month at 6 p.m. in City Hall, 131 East Church St.