By LYDIA BERGLAR
Monda Wooten spent many years rescuing animals before she began the Dade County Pet Project. In recent years, as the county began working toward an animal shelter, she decided that it was a significant time to address the issue of unwanted animals. Therefore, she started the Dade County Pet Project in early 2022.
“I’m at a point in my life where I’ve been very blessed and I want to make a difference in my community,” she said.
“Our county is so far behind on animal control, and the solution isn’t simply building an animal shelter. It doesn’t matter how big you build a shelter, you can always fill it up with strays, so the key is to spay and neuter. If we can keep those unwanted litters from being born, we can definitely keep them out of the shelter. Many people have the mindset that the animal shelter is a dumping place when it should be a transition place.”
While progress on the animal shelter has been slow, Wooten is confident that the end is in sight. “We have the plans, we have the money to build the shelter (funded by city and county SPLOST), and we have the location. It will be behind the transfer station,” she said.
Wooten is thankful for the support of county and city officials who are integral to the process. “Mayor Alex Case and County Executive Ted Rumley are on board, and they are really the spokes in the wheel that we can’t roll without. I’ve been thankful to work with them and other officials to make progress, and the Pet Project is more than grateful and eager to work hand-in-hand with the future shelter.”
To ensure a well-planned and well-executed shelter, Wooten enlisted the help of a friend who has 22 years of experience running an animal shelter. “Their euthanasia rate was about 90%, but now it’s down to 10%.” Wooten said.
“She understands the fine line you walk between animal rescuers and taxpayers, and she has agreed to consult for free. When we build it, we have to staff it and budget for upkeep, and we want to plan thoroughly for that.”
While energetic about the work they do, the Pet Project volunteers understand that the problem will never go away completely. “It’s like tackling the drug problem,” Wooten said. “Realistically, we’ll never conquer the whole problem, but if we don’t fight it on a daily basis, it will conquer us.”
She continued, “It’s a community problem, and it deserves a community response. The Sheriff’s department, 911, and city hall are all
loaded down with calls about animal problems. It’s not just a nuisance; it can become an issue of safety.”
One lady in Rising Fawn contacted Wooten about a colony of nearly 70 cats by her house, reporting that when walking out her door, the cats jump on her. “There are also diseases and dogs fighting,” Wooten added. “Right now, we’re working on getting the cat colonies under control.”
The Pet Project currently makes four to six trips per month to various low cost spay/neuter clinics. “We make appointments to take as many animals as we can at one time to places in Athens, TN, Cleveland, TN, Chattanooga, TN, and several other locations. We can take up to 25 cats and dogs at one time in the transport van.”
Wooten registered the project as a 501c3 charity, and she purchased a van to transport animals. She noted that it is more expensive for some vet offices to spay/neuter, but through the Pet Project, the procedures only cost $50. Pet owners are responsible for paying the fee, but the project pays for the transportation of the animals.
To help fund their work, the project hosted a showing of the documentary “Free Puppies” at the high school. (See the Oct. 19 issue of the Sentinel.) “We raised over $9,000 at that event, and I still have people giving donations,” Wooten noted. “I had some wonderful sponsors, including our city. We’re a 501c3, so people can count donations to us off on their taxes.”
In addition to city and county officials, Wooten is thankful for the support of the community. “We can only do what we do because of the support of the people. It takes all of us doing our part to spay and neuter.”
Several other volunteers work with Wooten, including Dorenda Ledbetter who has been fostering small dogs and taking them to be spayed/neutered for many years. Ledbetter noted that every county surrounding Dade has a shelter, and the shelters typically spay/neuter or work with groups to get animals spayed/neutered.
“When Monda said she wanted to start the project, I said I’d be glad to help in any way I can,” says Ledbetter. “Since it’s started, we’ve been able to take care of a lot more animals. We’re all set for another trip of 25 animals in a couple weeks.”
Another volunteer who runs the project’s social media says, “I’ve been rescuing animals for several years, but it’s been a never-ending problem. I learned all I could about the local animal control and animal shelter situation. I talked about it publicly on Facebook, and that’s how Monda found me.”
Like Wooten, this volunteer learned through research that a shelter isn’t a solution to the problem, but just one way to help address the symptoms. “Spaying and neutering is something I can definitely get behind,” she says. “We want to help the community, help the animals, and educate people.”
In addition to addressing cat colonies, the Pet Project is also focusing on pit bulls for the month of November. According to Wooten, “The reason we want to focus on pit bulls is because they’re the hardest to find homes for. They’re often abused and trained to fight, which affects their offspring. We’re calling it ‘Patrol the Pitts,’ and for the month of November, if you have a pit bull or mix, we will pay for them to be fixed. You just have to pay for a rabies shot.”
You can find the project on Facebook and Instagram. To make an appointment or a donation, to get involved, or for more information, call Dorenda Ledbetter at (256) 597-3195, or Monda Wooten at (423) 596-9977.