By LYDIA BERGLAR
While the new elections building is top priority for Dade County and the City of Trenton, the government entities are simultaneously attempting to move forward with the animal shelter construction. Both projects have been held up by rain in recent months.
There are many unknowns about the financing and operation of the shelter, but progress has also been made since the Sentinel last covered the project in the January 4 issue.
The Sentinel spoke with the three officials spearheading the project: Monda Wooten (Trenton street commissioner), Alex Case (Trenton mayor), and Ted Rumley (Dade County executive). The Sentinel emailed Terry Powell (Trenton parks and animal control commissioner) but did not receive a reply.
For some background context, the City of Trenton has had a limited amount of animal control established within city limits for a number of years, but in execution, animal control has been minimal. Powell reports the number of animal complaint calls at each city meeting, but there is little information about what happens after these calls are made.
The existing city shelter occasionally houses animals that have been captured by the city. Its functions will be incorporated into the new shelter. Wooten reported that the public cannot go to the city shelter.
Approximately $61,000 from the 2015 SPLOST have been allocated to construct the new shelter, but annual expenses and salaries will be worked into the city and county budgets beginning in fiscal year 2025 and continuing in perpetuity.
The officials noted that the exact split between city and county has not yet been decided. Operational costs and salaries for the shelter are also currently unknown.
Rumley further explained, “It was a contingent SPLOST project, as long as enough money came in. The contingent projects are things that we could do without, but they’re good to have, just like the sports complex. We don’t have to have it, but it’s good for our community.”
Wooten noted that citizens voted for the shelter, saying, “Some people are for it and some people are against it, but the people spoke when they voted.”
Rumley reported that the county is acting as the contractor and they are doing as much work in house as possible. Rumley and Case both anticipate the shelter will be ready to be occupied by summer 2024.
Rumley reported that the county will maintain ownership of the property and building. Wooten explained, “Right now, the plan is basically for the city to operate the shelter since what animal control we do have is provided by the city, but it will be a county-wide shelter.”
The county and city will need to select two employees for the shelter: a full-time director and a part-time veterinarian.
Wooten reported that she has been in conversation with potential candidates, but the process is not yet complete. Regarding the vet, she explained, “You have to have a vet involved. Euthanasia requires a license, they have to oversee certain drug administration, and we’ll do rabies clinics.”
Regarding the director, Wooten explained, “We’re hoping our director will work with groups of volunteers and rescuers, and possibly the schools to help educate the community. Our director will play a vital role in setting policies and procedures. The good thing is we aren’t reinventing the wheel. There are some real successful shelters that have mastered this.”
Wooten noted her own lack of knowledge, saying, “I have a rescuer’s heart and I don’t know how to run a shelter. We have certain laws we have to abide by, and I don’t know all of the rules and regulations. That’s why we need a director.”
Euthanasia is one significant issue that the director must create policies around. While the goal is to keep the kill rate as low as possible through adoption and sending animals to other shelters and adoption agencies, euthanasia will likely be necessary.
Wooten explained, “If a shelter calls itself no-kill, it’s run completely by private money. The way they keep their euthanasia numbers down is by only accepting the cream of the crop that they’re sure they can move through adoption or having other rescues pull those animals. When they take an animal in, it sees a vet or vet tech before it’s admitted. They give puppies parvo tests before they take them in. They only euthanize when one slips through the cracks, like having a behavioral issue. They normally have the money to try rehabilitation before euthanizing.”
In contrast, the Dade County shelter is funded by the taxpayers. Referring to the shelter’s budget, Wooten explained, “I don’t care how deep your bucket is, if you punch enough holes in it, you’ll go dry. We hope to keep our euthanasia numbers down, but if somebody drops off a seriously injured or very sick animal, even the way that I feel about animals, it may need to be put down. We have to decide where to focus our efforts and resources.”
Wooten presented an even-minded view of the subject, noting that while she loves all animals and chooses to use her personal resources on rescue efforts, she can’t expect every taxpayer to feel that way. She added that animal rescuers do what they do because they are passionate about it, but the burden of unwanted animals should not fall on other taxpayers.
She views safety as a government issue, while the continued welfare of animals is up to individuals. She said, “The county and the city have to focus on safety. It’s unsafe for feral cats to be running around; it’s unsafe for stray dogs to be loose looking for food. I’ve been taking feral cats to get fixed and then released. I’ve also been testing them, and at least three quarters of them have diseases.”
However, “When it comes to the continued welfare of these animals, that relies on rescuers and volunteers – the people who choose to do that.”
The shelter’s goal is to utilize volunteer help. Wooten explained, “With a good animal shelter, you will get more rescuers and volunteers involved. You wouldn’t believe how many people are volunteering their time in Chattanooga. We’re hoping to pull those people back home.”
Regarding the animals this shelter will house, Wooten said, “Typically, shelters start out with dogs and cats. Some shelters, especially in rural areas like ours, provide assistance for other animals. We are not at that point yet, but normally you can reach out to bigger shelters about other animals.”
Regarding animal collection and adoption, Wooten explained that unclaimed animals will be available for adoption through this shelter. County and city residents alike will be able to call someone to pick up strays. Wooten believes a city employee will handle this.
Regarding animal drop-off, Wooten reported that citizens will be able to drop off animals. However, restrictions will be put in place to minimize situations in which citizens have not spayed or neutered their animals and, therefore, repeatedly drop off unwanted litters.
Simply stated by Wooten, “It is not other taxpayers’ responsibility to continue to care for the animals you are not caring for. If your dog is not spayed and continues to have puppies and you want to drop them off at the animal shelter, it is not the other taxpayers’ responsibility to continue to provide that service.”
The city and county encourage a proactive approach to animal control. Wooten personally started the Dade County Pet Project to address the root problem – animals that are not spayed or neutered. She noted that some people are willing to help fund this effort. For example, Tyler Hughes who owns Integrity Properties made a large donation to the Pet Project in June. Wooten said, “He has several properties, so he’s very well aware of the feral cat population problem.”
Rumley and Case noted that the animal shelter will be a simple building, with Rumley saying, “We’re not going to build the Taj Mahal; we’ll build what Dade County needs. It needs to be sanitary with the ability to wash it down regularly.”
Case summarized the necessities as: “We’ve gotta have spaces for animals to be separated until they’re tested. We’ve gotta have somebody to keep it clean. We’ve gotta be cleaning, feeding, and checking on animals.”
Wooten said that the floor plan has been solidified. Instead of starting from scratch, the county and city looked at examples of other shelters.
Case noted that they are looking at budgets from other shelters to get a sense of operating expenses. Adoption fees, low cost spay and neuter clinics, and fines for people who have recurring unwanted litters may help recoup costs.
Case concluded, “There’s a lot of things we’re not doing right that we’re finding out, which is why we’re taking our time. You gotta do your research and have numbers to back it.”