They don't fight like cats and dogs, perhaps, but animal advocates and county officials agree they've found little common ground in the months since a special task force was formed to study Wilson County's animal control efforts.
The formation of the county's animal advisory committee came in April after the Humane Association of Wilson County informed officials it would no longer destroy healthy, adoptable pets, at the same time encouraging the county to develop a long-range animal control program of its own.
Since then, however, both sides have agreed that little has been accomplished, even as hundreds of stray or unwanted pets languish in shelters, awaiting either adoption or death.
Animal rights activists and county officials seem to blame the other for the impasse with animal advocates charging county officials with doing far too little to address animal control. County officials countered by claiming animal advocates often present possible solutions in a way that seem hard to swallow for those accustomed to the constant compromise of county government – by threatening with ultimatums.
Ultimately, however, all agree something needs to be done.
"Wilson County is way behind the times," HAWC President Sara Felmlee said. "We are so far behind. Just look at some of the other counties surrounding us, even the smaller counties. They offer pro-active programs. They offer rabies control and Wilson County doesn't do that."
"I can agree," said District 1 County Commissioner Wendell Marlowe, who also serves as chairman of the animal control advisory board. "I have stated in public that animal control philosophy in Wilson County needs to improve, but I am not the driving force that determines that. Personally, I feel like we need to have a better program."
Advisory board's mission
Felmlee also serves on the animal control advisory board with Marlowe, but believes the committee was "set up to fail."
"It's a joke," Felmlee said. "The animal control advisory board was set up to fail. Wendell Marlowe, the chairman of the committee, is totally against any progress, so how are we going to get anywhere when even the chairman doesn't support it?"
Marlowe strongly rejected that characterization. He said he, in fact, believes in the efforts of the animal control advisory board, supports the effort to improve animal control policy and is willing to work with HAWC and other officials to resolve the issues and implement a plan of action.
"But it's going to be an uphill battle," Marlowe said. "They are stifling improvements. For the Humane Association to send out letters and other propaganda to the commissioners just aggravates the daylights out of them. They are perceived as a threat by some people in county government."
Marlowe said some county officials took HAWC's announcement that it would no longer destroy healthy animals as something of an ultimatum.
"The commissioners will just bow up their backs and say 'Show me,'" Marlowe remarked. "It needs to be a cooperative effort."
Need for cooperation
The need for cooperation was a sentiment echoed by virtually everyone contacted for this story by The Lebanon Democrat earlier this week.
"We need to resolve these issues," said Wilson County Solid Waste Director Bill Arnold, who serves on the animal control advisory board and oversees the county's animal control program. "Continuing communication is No. 1. Wilson County is fortunate to have four agencies – the City of Lebanon, the City of Mt. Juliet, Wilson County and the Humane Association – to address this, but all four must be part of the solution and not part of the problem.
"We all have a place," Arnold added. "We need to work together. The Humane Association people can't demand, they can't force, they can't tell us what to do. That's just human nature."
"It is a problem," said Wilson County Mayor Robert Dedman, who chairs the Urban Type Public Facilities Board. "We formed this committee to look into it, and really, nothing has ever come of it. They listened and no action has been taken. Something doesn't mix well there.
"I think they want to solve the issues," Dedman continued. "I can see both sides of it and it is a communication breakdown. I don't know how to solve the problem. They both do a good job, but we need to communicate. We need to get together and iron out the guidelines and make suggestions about which way to go."
Meeting immediate needs
Felmlee, Marlowe, Arnold and Dedman agreed three main issues need immediate attention. At a recent meeting of the Urban Type Public Facilities Board, those needs were spelled out, the county mayor said.
"They (Humane Association representatives) had three main concerns," Dedman explained. "They were concerned that the county does not pick up stray cats, there is nobody on duty at the facility, that there is just the answering machine and that the facility is not open during convenient times."
Marlowe agreed with animal advocates on two points but cautioned changes won't happen "all at once."
"The facility needs to be open to the public and there needs to be additional services," Marlowe said. "I do believe that, but it can't be something that is done all at once. I prefer a group effort between the Wilson County Commission and HAWC. That's one of the things that I've really pushed for years."
Marlowe also agreed with Felmlee that the location of the animal control facility at the county landfill is unacceptable.
"I don't like where the facility is built," Marlowe said. "The location needs to be more accessible to the public. It was built there because we (Wilson County) own the property and that's not really a very good reason to build it there."
Marlowe added the issue may also be one of not being under the auspices of the appropriate county committee.
"The animal control program may be under the wrong committee," Marlowe said. "We're dealing with laws here, so maybe it needs to be under a committee which deals with law enforcement. Maybe we should put it under the law enforcement committee, or put it under a committee of its own, but frankly, I don't think either will take place soon."
Marlowe said a feeling exists among many commissioners that the current methods of dealing with animal control are adequate and no improvements are needed.
"It's not a quick fix," he said. "The majority of the county commissioners feel like what we have in place is what we need, and that perception is not going to change."
Humane association and animal control expectations
HAWC Executive Director Sheri McCamish attended the most recent meeting of the Urban Type Public Facilities Board as Felmlee's designee. She said HAWC expects to provide certain services to the community, but emphasized animal control isn't one of them.
"The Humane Association just wanted to make them aware that there are basic services needed by the citizens of Wilson County," McCamish said.
Included in those basic services are rabies control, picking up stray dogs and cats and other related activities, McCamish explained. The role of the humane association is to provide supplemental services such as adoptions, free ID tags for pets, and helping get pets spayed and neutered, she said. All of those services are designed to prevent the unwanted animal population from getting out of control.
After one year in operation as the county's animal control facility, Arnold said the solid waste department has met its obligations regarding animal control.
"I am charged with the responsibility by the Urban Type Facilities Board to handle complaints from citizens about nuisance dogs," Arnold said. "It was set up that way by the County Commission … We are not designated to do anything other than what we are presently doing. I am doing exactly what I have been told to do."
Staff Writer Corinne Galeano can be reached at 444-3952 ext. 15, or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.