Commission asks Brittain to work with city to pursue alternate animal shelter operator
The tides appear to be shifting for the Morristown/Hamblen County Animal Shelter following Thursday night’s county commission meeting.
Commissioners voted unanimously requested County Mayor Bill Brittain to work with the city to begin a transition plan “in anticipation” to contract with the Animal Care Center of Hamblen County to provide service to the shelter, essentially a plan that would remove the Hamblen County Humane Society from operating the shelter.
During committee meetings last week, a proposal was made by the ACCHC, a splinter group of disgruntled MHHS members, to take over the shelter. That action was tabled but resurfaced Thursday during a contentious public comments period.
Commissioner Tim Goins motioned to open the agenda so they could consider approving the change to ACCHC. But without having worked out particulars of the deal, the motion was defeated.
Commissioner Tim Dennison then made a motion to ask Brittain to negotiate with the city.
The motion move was the result of a maelstrom of issues surrounding the shelter, which led to standing room only at the commission’s monthly meeting Thursday.
Dennison’s motion, which passed unanimously, will have Brittain work with the city and report back on Aug. 11 to the Public Service Committee.
The Animal Shelter, and the Hamblen County Humane Society Board, have been beset by controversies for months including funds discovered missing, the loss of its 501c3 status, which has been reinstated, complaints surrounding animal control officers, major staffing changes and conditions at the shelter.
Wally Long, who has served on the MHHS Board for several years and currently serves as its treasurer, spoke to commissioners prior to Dennison’s move.
“For the past almost five months now, this board, under the leadership of Christine Coley, has spent much time and energy correcting unfortunate occurrences over the past few years,” Long said. “We have successfully reinstated our 501c3 status retroactively, which was lost as a result of an error in a Federal ID number on tax forms filed by our former CPA.
“We’ve settled the outstanding workman’s comp case and we’ve enlisted the services of two professional accounting firms. One for our annual audit and one for our day-to-day book keeping. The employee theft that occurred in 2011 was dealt with immediately and to our knowledge remains in the hands of the state for prosecution.
“The board of directors certainly agrees that these situations should never have occurred. We can not change the past but the current board is resolving these issues so they don’t happen again and return focus to the animals. Please honor the criteria that was set forth and agreed to months ago. Allow this next fiscal year to prove that we will right the ship and continue to get our house in order. And be patient as we work hard to correct identified mistakes and then working together we can take pride in future accomplishments.”
Allison Dixon Giles spoke to commissioners Thursday night about an incident last week in which her mother was bitten by a dog.
The dog was picked up by animal control officers, and a few days following the bite Giles’ mother was contacted by the Health Department saying the dog was gone.
“The shelter released the dog, they did not have record of who the dog’s owner was, where the dog resides or if the dog had a rabies vaccination,” Giles said. “She was told by the Health Department that it looked like she was going to have to go through the rabies exposure treatment.”
Giles said she and her mother each spoke with the shelter manager and was given a last name and a street.
“And they advised us to knock on doors,” Giles said. “The moral to the story—there should have been a paper trail. How did this dog get released? There was no explanation as to how it got released, what the fees were that should have been paid to the shelter. There was no record that they received any monies.
“Also, the dog was released after five days; it should have been there for 10 to be under quarantine. I’m actually a former Animal Shelter employee, as a teenager I worked there. It’s not rocket science. I’m concerned that this could have been a child. That we couldn’t have found the dog and then my mother would incur the expense of the shots.”
Another issue which was raised this past week surrounded the Animal Shelter’s partnership with Petsense.
Petsense, which worked with the shelter when the store opened in Morristown, has also cancelled their partnership with the shelter due to “many occasions that felines have needed medical attention or medicines and it has taken numerous calls to get a response out of the humane society.
“When we have a sick feline, depending on the illness, it poses a health risk to the other felines in our care, as well as those pets that visit our store. It is because of the lack of stewardship and responsibility that we have halted adoptions from the humane society. It is for the health and well being of the other felines in our store, whether adoption felines or personal pets that enter our store,” a letter from the store’s manager stated.
If the city and county decide to partner with the new group, they have said they would need help getting the shelter set-up because the Humane Society owns much of the equipment used in the city owned building.
The proposal asks for a one time capital expenditure of around $105,000 to replace equipment owned by the Humane Society, if a deal cannot be worked out.
The ACCHC said their contract, should they receive it, would stipulate that everything they purchase would belong to the Animal Shelter.
-By Aletheia Davidson, Tribune Staff Writer