With the Wilson County Commission expected to make a decision on how it will fund Wilson County Animal Control and New Leash on Life, each shows unique characteristics, but both seek a common goal.
Up for grabs is about $35,000 that’s generated annually by a decades-old domestic animal tax.
The $2 domestic animal tax was implemented in 1980 by county voters and is a major source of revenue for locally based organization New Leash on Life.
The 1980 referendum passed was for the organization’s use in “animal control,” but at the time the county didn’t operate an animal control department until 2003.
The proposed resolution will be considered in tandem with another resolution that would levy a $5 domestic animal fee due when pet owners obtain vaccinations for their animals.
Of that fee, 5 percent would go to the county clerk’s office for processing costs and the remainder would go to an operating fund for the county’s animal control department.
At its last meeting, the Wilson County Commission deferred vote on the resolutions so public forum could be held last Tuesday. The commission is expected to take up the matter again when it meets Monday at 7 p.m. at the courthouse.
“That’s a chunk of my budget,” said New Leash on Life executive director Amy Haverstick. “It equates to basically two kennel staff members. You can’t equate my clinic budget to animal control.”
Haversick said her animal control budget is about $230,000 annually and pays for seven full-time employees and one part-time worker. She said that compares to Wilson County Animal Control’s $196,000 annual budget.
“My adoption center will house anywhere between 60-100 animals, dogs and cats. Last month, we had 108 animals,” Haverstick said.
While New Leash on Life has operated as a no-kill shelter since 2008, Wilson County Animal Control euthanizes dogs when it can’t find them a home, and it doesn’t take in cats.
Wilson County Animal Control director Mary Scruggs said its current facility opened at the Wilson County Landfill in 2003 and has space for 30 large and nine small dogs. Before the facility opened, Scruggs said dogs were taken to Wilson County Humane Association, now known as New Leash on Life.
“When we started, all we could claim were dogs running at large in violation of state law,” Scruggs said. “We didn’t do any bite investigations, cruelty investigations or adoptions. All of them would be euthanized at that time.”
Scruggs said she currently has a staff of three people, including herself.
“[More funding] would mean more people and more help,” Scruggs said. “We would start there. We are getting compassion fatigue. What that means is, when we euthanize, there are three of us. We don’t get a break from it. If there were more people, we could trade off once they are trained.”
But the loss of funding Haverstick said is something New Leash on Life can’t afford.
“If I lose two kennel staff, we can’t function,” Haverstick said. “Commissioner [Wendell] Marlowe said [last week] we will survive. He doesn’t run my business. Just because you have a budget doesn’t mean you can fund that budget when you’re a nonprofit.”
Scruggs said she vowed to change Wilson County Animal Control’s reputation. She said she started working to adopt the dogs they took in and believes she’s made a difference since she started in January 2011.
“When they hired me, they were looking for a director who had experience in euthanasia,” Scruggs said. “First of all, they didn’t answer the phone. I didn’t want the answering machine to answer the phone.
“We called all the nonprofit animal shelters we could to get their support and get as many out of here as we could. Everyone hated Wilson County Animal Control, and I’ve been fighting to make people see that we’re not the same animal control.
“I want to make a difference. I came from the Humane Society. I want to save some of them. There are some you can’t save. We do testing. We adopted a cat to see if the dogs get along with the cat. I’m not going to let a dog, if he’s food aggressive or something like that, be adopted to a family with a child. We test them with everything.”
Scruggs said many times Wilson County Animal Control has a difficult time adopting many of the dogs it receives.
“We get the ugly dogs,” Scruggs said. “I don’t mean ugly. They are beautiful inside. They just have to learn to let it out.”
But Haverstick said New Leash on Life has its share of adoption challenges, as well.
“We do take dogs that are heartworm positive or dogs that are more than six years old. We take in dogs that don’t want them anymore,” Haverstick said. “Wilson County Animal Control doesn’t take in owner surrenders.”
But Scruggs said Wilson County Animal Control keeps busy with calls of all types. She said it can wear on the three-person staff without volunteers. She said no one knows they exist.
“We get calls on horses, cows, sheep and a lot of goats,” Scruggs said. “We do investigate cruelty calls. We have no place to house them and no equipment, but we go out on the calls and do the best we can.”
Wilson County Animal Control worker Paula Heird said, “It’s a never-ending battle. We are on call 24-7. If someone calls in the middle of the night and said they were bit by a dog, we’ve got to go.
“We spend all the quality time we can with these dogs. When we have to euthanize these dogs it takes a toll on you. We do it all. Anything an animal control does, we do it.”
Haverstick said New Leash on Life goes on its fair share of calls, too.
“We go out on a lot of calls,” Haverstick said. “I never know what kind of calls will come in. There are things that animal control may not be able to help. Watertown had a cat problem. We took in all those cats. Who’s going to do that?”
Haverstick said the commission should continue to fund New Leash on Life using funds from the animal tax. She said Wilson County Animal Control also deserves more funding, but it should be funded from the county’s general fund.
“The commission should be proud of funding them with what they need,” Haverstick said. “It shouldn’t be from a tax. They should fund it from the county’s budget. It’s a county problem, not a pet owner problem. I think we can always use more, but this is an act passed by the people, not by the commission, and it should be left alone.
“No one has ever contacted me about all this. I think those commissioners who have questions should ask them. I would love to invite all the commissioners to come down here and check us out. They should go and check out Animal Control, too. I think it would open their eyes.”
Scruggs is certain whatever the commission decides, Wilson County Animal Control needs help.
“We are proactive here,” she said. “When we get a call, we don’t say we’re going to take their dog immediately. We try to work with them. If people need a dog house, we try to get them a dog house. If people need food or something like that – if they are poor – we try to get them some help. We take our own time on Saturdays to take them to see if we can get them adopted.
“Our motto is educate, not confiscate.
“Sometimes we have to put people off, and we don’t want to do that.
“They get mad at us, but we don’t have enough people.”