ERWIN — Some used the opportunity to ask questions while others urged continued support of the Unicoi County Animal Shelter.
Thursday evening, the Unicoi County Humane Society sponsored a public forum at the Erwin National Guard Armory for members of the public to obtain information and state their opinions on the Unicoi County Animal Shelter.
On June 10, the Erwin Board of Mayor and Aldermen voted not to contribute to the shelter in the 2013-14 fiscal year and instead have the town move forward with operating its own animal shelter. Those involved with the county shelter feel this funding cut of nearly $23,300 would threaten future operations of the facility.
“I just want to point out — it’s difficult for me to know where the Erwin town limits are,” said Unicoi County Humane Society President Ellen Reinhardt said. “I can guarantee you most of the dogs and cats won’t know.”
Reinhardt told the approximately 60 in attendance that the county shelter has taken in around 9,000 animals since it opened in 2008. She said the shelter also provides resources, including a registry for lost/found dogs, resources for citizens on animal health issues, a food pantry to assist citizens who need help providing food to their pets and a new microchip service.
“For the shelter to be only five years old, it’s been amazing what we’ve accomplished,” Reinhardt said.
She also said the county shelter has “set the bar” for other shelters in surrounding communities.
“People trying to improve theirs have actually come to visit us,” she said. “That’s impressive. We should all be very proud of that.”
Reinhardt said those involved with the shelter are awaiting word on proposals that could resolve the shelter’s funding issues. She said until a proposal is passed, those who support the county shelter should continue to be vocal and make their opinions known. She also said the shelter benefits all of Unicoi County’s residents, even non-animal lovers.
“Probably all of us care for animals, that’s why we’re here,” she said. “But for the people that don’t want a cat, don’t want a dog and don’t want a stray cat or a stray dog, the shelter serves them, too. They have somewhere to take that stray cat or that stray dog, so you don’t have to be an animal lover to get service from the shelter, and I don’t think a lot of people think about that.”
Erwin resident John Edwards said when discussing the shelter situation with one of Erwin’s officials, the officials asked him if it was fair to the town’s taxpayers to pay as much toward the shelter as Unicoi County’s other governmental bodies since most animals come to the shelter from outside of the town’s limits.
“My answer to that was ‘Yes, it is because the town of Erwin receives a great service from the animal shelter,’ ” Edwards said. “Whether or not any of this comes through, the animal shelter will still benefit the town of Erwin, even if the town of Erwin is not putting funds in and not supporting.”
Jessica Carter, assistant manager of the Kingsport Animal Shelter, said she recently visited the county shelter and was impressed by what she saw.
“The animals are all happy,” she said. “Anything that might be sick is separated. We don’t even have an isolation area at our shelter. We don’t have anywhere to put sick animals.”
Carter also said those in attendance must make Erwin officials aware of the risks associated with operating a “pound as opposed to a shelter,” including the risk of diseases transmittable between animals and humans becoming more prevalent.
“What you risk when you have a pound versus an animal shelter, it’s not only the welfare of these animals, it’s the safety of your citizens,” she said.
County resident Judy King, who is the founder of Appalachian Feral Cat Allies, said the county shelter is a “necessity.”
“I didn’t realize the county did not have a shelter when we moved here,” King said. “I don’t know that I would have been so enthusiastic about moving here. I think I may have looked at other places a little more carefully if I had known that or understood that.”
As those involved with the shelter await a possible resolution to the shelter’s funding situation, Unicoi County Animal Welfare Board Chair Kari Pfaender urged those in attendance to continue to contact town officials to voice their opinions.
“It sounds like things are starting to move, but we don’t want to give up,” she said.