A movement that has certainly gained footing in this community began when a homeless puppy named Olivia faced being euthanized in a shelter.
Steve Phipps, president and founder of the Blount County Humane Society, recalls that pivotal moment in his organization’s history a few years ago. The puppy was being housed at the Maryville Animal Shelter and its days were up. Animals were put down at that time if a home wasn’t found in three days.
“We decided as a group to save this puppy,” Phipps said. “So we went and rescued her and got the wheels turning. Then, Diane (McEachern) said, ‘What if we did this all the time?’”
That’s when BCHS and the Maryville Animal Shelter teamed up to improve the save rate at the facility. Phipps said back then, it had a 60 percent kill rate. The two groups knew that by teaming up they could make that better. Animals from the cities of Alcoa, Maryville and Rockford are brought to this shelter.
What a difference
Fast forward to 2014 and what has been achieved. BCHS managed to save 100 percent of the animals that ended up at the shelter, thanks to the partnership at the shelter, which allows the BCHS team to come every day, photograph the animals and post them on the BCHS website.
The animals are also given 20 days at the shelter instead of three, to find a home. If at the end of that 20-day period, the animal is still waiting, BCHS picks the cat or dog up and places them with a foster family until a permanent home is found. There is no other shelter in the U.S. with that success rate, Phipps said he has learned. There is one in Texas that achieved 99 percent save rate.
“We have done wonderful things together,” Phipps said of the shelter and city of Maryville. “We couldn’t have done it without them and they couldn’t have done it without us.”
There were four animals that were put down last year at the shelter, but they were either too sick, injured or too aggressive and couldn’t be saved.
McEachern has been volunteering with BCHS since 2008, but the work really became intensive in 2011 when they started the shelter program.
McEachern or others on the shelter pet project team do make daily visits to the shelter. If an animal has come in that is sick or injured, the shelter allows BCHS volunteers to take him or her to a veterinarian for care.
Photos generate results
Once McEachern and the others post the pictures on Facebook, the phone calls start coming in. People wanting to adopt the animals call around the clock.
On this particular day, McEachern had left her paying job to now return 15 such calls.
“The fact we now have 20 days for the animals in the shelter is great,” she said. “That gives us more time to market these pets. We market, market, market them.”
But if all that work still results in no permanent home, BCHS has a group of about 40 foster families that agree to take in and care for the animals until a home can be located.
There is an application process to become a ‘foster angel’ and home visits are made to determine things like the size of the dog the foster can care for, etc.
“We have people lined up to adopt them or foster them,” Phipps said. “We don’t just have one foster who’s ready. We have two or three lined up just in case. We have the Plan B philosophy in the no-kill movement. You’ve got to always have a Plan B if you are going to save all of these animals.”
BCHS is basically guaranteeing that if an animal isn’t adopted from the Maryville Animal Shelter, the nonprofit will take them. Adoption rates have gone up, Phipps said.
McEachern said since 2011, BCHS has removed and saved close to 2,000 animals from the shelter. The facility averages between 500 and 600 intakes per year, she said.
“The biggest thing is marketing,” she explained. “You want great pictures to share so people can see them. And we try to provide as much information about the animal as we can.”
When they first started going into the shelter, they didn’t save the feral cats; they do now. BCHS has a barn cat program that provides feral cats to residents who have barns and need pest control.
The cats are spayed or neutered before being adopted out. The cats then stay in their kennel at the barn for two weeks before they are allowed out, to increase their chances of staying.
People and time are the two greatest resources in this no-kill movement, Phipps said. He said his organization has the people committed to make this happen, and the fosters that give the animals more time to become adopted.
Big plans for the future
But here in 2015, this animal group would like to build an adoption center.
“One of the miraculous things about this story is we have done all of this with a dedicated group of fosters for our dogs. We have 1,000 square feet next door to our thrift store where we house our cats. We have done all of that with a group of dedicated people and a very small space.”
Other communities are looking to BCHS as an example to follow. Phipps just recently went to Cleveland to talk with animal activists there. An adoption center would also be a home base where outsiders could come in and see them in action.
While a 100 percent save rate has been achieved by BCHS and the shelter, the county as a whole isn’t no-kill. There is also a county animal shelter trying to do its part.
“No kill is really going mainstream right now,” Phipps said. “It started out as a small movement and now everybody is talking about it.”
The work moves forward. With a successful 2014 under their belts, Phipps said they want to thank the cities of Maryville, Alcoa and Rockford, which use the Maryville shelter. He is also appreciative of the support from this community.
The BCHS website has close to 21,000 followers on its Facebook page. Many share the adopted animal listings to get the word out beyond our county. It’s a strategy that is working.
“Our first crown that we have achieved with the City of Maryville is a no-kill community,” Phipps said. “We want to put Blount County on the map as one of the most humane communities in the world. We are well on our way to doing that.”