Cats dying at new Johnson City shelter after influx of animals from other counties

WASHINGTON COUNTY, TN (WJHL) – Johnson City and Washington County taxpayers spent a combined $2 million building a new animal shelter to care for their animals, but a Community Watchdog investigation revealed in the two years since the shelter opened, people from other counties have dropped off more than 1,400 animals, which is the equivalent of two a day.

Washington County-Johnson City Animal Shelter Executive Director Cara Ledbetter said not only are those out-of-county animals putting a strain on resources, they’re also now resulting in some of the animals, specifically cats, dying.

For the first time since she took over as executive director in October, Ledbetter said the shelter had to euthanize 19 kittens in June due to lack of space.

“We have so many cats here already that we’re at full capacity, so when they are brought over from other counties, it really kind of seals their fate,” Ledbetter said. “We don’t want to have to put any of these animals to sleep. They’re wonderful and sweet. They’re great pets, but if we don’t have room to keep them, we don’t have any other option.”

Since the shelter opened, intake records show 1,450 animals from outside Washington County arrived at the facility. Ledbetter said their county of origin is identified using the driver’s license of the person dropping them off, but that number does not include the hundreds of other animals dropped off overnight from unknown locations.

The shelter put up a sign in recent months to make it clear Washington County would not accept other counties’ animals, but records show in some cases the shelter is still taking in unwanted animals. Ledbetter said it is out of sympathy.

“We feel obligated to take the animal, but under what circumstances?” she said. “To put the animals here in Washington County at a risk of not being able to come in if they need a place to go?”

“Isn’t it unfair to Washington County and Johnson City?” we asked.

“I think so,” Ledbetter replied. “I think it’s very unfair. I think the other communities should step up.”

Our investigation found most of the out-of-county dogs and cats come from one county in particular. Almost 800 of the 1,450 came from Carter County, according to intake records.

Washington County Intakes from Other Counties

County Number of Animals
Carter 786
Sullivan 278
Other 133
Unicoi 118
Greene 111
Johnson 24

Source:  Washington County-Johnson City Animal Shelter

For the last year, Carter County’s animal control problems have remained the focus of controversy, including concerns about suspected wrongdoing, funding shortcomings and lack of space.

“Do you think it’s fair that Washington County has to address Carter County’s problem?” we asked Carter County Mayor Leon Humphrey.

“At no point in time should Washington County have to address Carter County’s animal problem,” Humphrey said. “That’s something we have to take care of here, but it’s going to take everyone.”

The most recent controversy involved Humphrey’s decision to step down as head of operations at the Elizabethton-Carter County Animal Shelter. He said the shelter only accepts animals from Carter County and finds itself taking in and caring for significantly more animals than it adopts out.

With three times less capacity than its neighbor in Washington County, before his departure, the mayor said the shelter had partnered with rescue organizations. He said the hope is to move even more animals out, so the facility can shelter other animals in need without euthanizing any of the ones that are healthy and well-behaved.

“We are addressing it as aggressively as we can and are doing the best with the resources that we have,” Humphrey said.

“Is there anything else you can do to try and help keep the Carter County animals here in this shelter instead of being sent to other shelters?” we asked.

“That’s gonna take time,” he said. “It’s gonna take a total change in mindset. It’s gonna take totally different behaviors on the part of the population here. It’s just gonna take time.”

Shelter Director Shannon Posada said Carter County never encourages Carter County residents to bring animals to other counties.

“The only time we would tell them to take them to Washington County is if they’re a Washington County resident,” Posada said.

Ledbetter said she has met with Carter County’s mayor to express her concerns about the influx of Carter County cats and dogs.

Johnson City Commissioner Ralph Van Brocklin is a Washington County-Johnson City Animal Shelter board member. He said this is a complex situation without a simple solution.

However, he said it would help if other counties entered into an agreement to pay Washington County every time one of their animals entered the shelter.

“We would like to see the same level of commitments,” Van Brocklin said. “It is a problem when we have to start taking animals from adjacent counties. It takes us away from adopting out animals to moving to euthanizing. It’s a real problem.”

Our investigation found after Carter, people from Sullivan County brought in the second most animals to Washington County. SBK Animal Center President Tom Parham said SBK is planning to build a new shelter in Kingsport, similar in size to Washington County’s shelter, which will double the capacity. He said the shelter won’t open for another 18 months or so.

You can help in the meantime by spaying or neutering your animals and only dropping off animals to the shelter that serves your community. Both Carter and Sullivan counties report, although space is limited, their shelters have room to take in some animals.

Copyright WJHL 2017. All rights reserved.

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