Because of continuing public confusion over county animal control policy, The Blount Countian interviewed county administrator John Bullard, who has overall responsibility for animal control policy and operations, for definitive answers on basic questions. In answers given below, “animals” basically applies to dogs and cats, with rare exceptions. It does not apply to wildlife or farm animals. Routine calls on animal control matters should go to the 911 non-emergency number 625-4913.
This article addresses the routine operations of the Blount County Animal Adoption Center and the Blount County animal control officer. A separate county commission policy and protocol, not covered here, governs the handling of dog bites and dangerous dog situations. Calls to report dog bites should go to the sheriff’s office at 625-4127 or to 911.
Is the Animal Adoption Center the same as the Animal Shelter?
Yes, BUT… The name Animal Adoption Center reflects a change in emphasis on the animal shelter’s basic mission. It adds to, but does not replace, the animal shelter’s primary mission to control stray animals. The Animal Adoption Center ideal is to be a no-kill facility. “That’s what we’d like to be,” Bullard said, “but we’re really a limited-kill facility. The emphasis is on trying to adopt out as many animals as possible, without having to euthanize any of them, but sometimes it’s necessary.”
Does the Animal Adoption Center/animal control officer pick up stray animals reported by the public as a matter of policy?
Yes. “The county is required by state law to pick up stray animals,” Bullard said, “and that’s why we have the animal shelter to house them. It’s required by state law as a part of rabies control. It still provides the same basic functions as when it was called the Animal Shelter.”
What is the policy of the Animal Adoption Center on accepting stray and unwanted animals from the public at the Center on a “drop-off” basis?
The Animal Adoption Center policy is to accept animals brought in and surrendered by the public, according to the following stipulations:
• STRAYS– Accepted. No charge. “If the animal is truly a stray, and we can confirm it, the Center accepts it and there is no charge,” Bullard said.
• OWNED animals – Accepted. There is a charge of $10 per animal, up to $50 for five animals, as long as the shelter is not filled to capacity; more than five animals may be accepted, depending on shelter capacity, and if accepted, there is no charge above the $50 cap. (If your pet female dog/cat has puppies/kittens, they’re not strays. You own them. If you’ve fed a stray – maybe not just once, but for a little while – it’s yours. You own it.)
• IF THE CENTER IS AT CAPACITY, no further owned animals will be accepted until the population is reduced below capacity by adoption. If a stray is presented for surrender to the Center, even when it is at capacity, every effort will be made to find a place for it.
What is the policy in responding to calls to pick up nuisance animals that are causing problems like excessive barking, turning over trash containers, killing chickens, defecating in neighbors’ yards, running in packs, etc.
• STRAYS and suspected strays – The animal control officer must pick up stray animals as a rabies control measure. He will investigate a suspected stray to determine if it is owned and thus not subject to pickup. A stray can be picked up for rabies prevention, incidentally solving the nuisance problem at the same time.
• OWNED animals – The animal control officer will not respond to calls to solve a nuisance problem involving known owned animals. He is forbidden by law from picking up owned animals. So there’s no point in reporting a nuisance incident involving your neighbor’s dog. Blount County does not have a county-wide confinement law. Animals are permitted to roam free in areas other than inside municipalities that have a confinement ordinance. Thus, free-roaming animals are not against the law in most of the county. Citizens in those areas are on their own to deal with animal nuisance problems with the animal’s owner.
• SPECIFIC ANIMAL vs. unknown animal – Animal control will respond and investigate if a caller can describe a specific animal causing a problem and doesn’t know if it is a stray or owned. Once a determination is made that the animal is not owned, it can be picked up.
• DOG PACKS – Animal control will respond to a report of stray or “wild” dogs running in a pack, as opposed to a number of neighborhood owned dogs running in a pack, although a trip to the location could be required in the latter instance to determine if the dogs are owned or strays. A pack of stray dogs constitutes a definite rabies control and public safety problem and efforts will be made to trap as many of the dogs as possible in baited cages.
Three kinds of caveats
• A number of calls to animal control are simply not in its jurisdiction. Examples: removing snakes from crawl spaces or ‘possums from attics (pest control); rounding up livestock that have escaped their fences; removing large dead animals from roads, rights of way, even private property.
• “The volume of calls for response by the animal control officer is tremendous,” Bullard said. “Without prioritizing what calls to handle within the time available, it would be completely overwhelming for one officer, and that’s what we have – one officer,” he said. “So, the most important calls get handled first, the calls of average importance get handled next, and the others get handled last.”
The effort has been made to state the county’s animal control policy and practice in black and white terms. It should be obvious from the wording that there are shades of gray requiring judgement calls in the real world. Keep that in mind when dealing with animal control problems involving beloved pets and stressful situations, not to mention routine matters that sometimes suffer from simple misunderstanding or really bad timing.