NASHVILLE — A new report says Tennessee’s lack of statewide standards or training requirements for animal shelters could lead to problems like overcrowding and disease.
The May report follows cases of abuse and neglect at several Tennessee animal shelters. In Benton County, misdemeanor animal cruelty charges were filed against the county mayor and two former shelter employees after eight dogs were found dead at the shelter.
In 2005, the former director of the Perry Link Memorial Humane Society in Marion County was charged with 68 counts of aggravated animal cruelty after Marion County Sheriff’s Department investigators raided her Highway 41 animal shelter and her home.
Officers found dozens of sick and dead dogs and cats in the shelter and in cages outside her home, according to records. Ms. Mobley was convicted in January, 2007 of two felony counts and 36 misdemeanor counts but a judge later reduced the felonies to misdemeanors.
The same year, the Warren County Humane Society closed its shelter although supporters warned the act would leave most of the Cumberland Plateau without animal services.
ON THE WEB
Tennessee Comptroller’s report on animal shelters: www.comptroller1.state.tn.us/repository/RE/AnimalShelters2008 .pdf
The Comptroller of the Treasury’s report is recommending the state take a stronger role in oversight of animal shelters, including establishing minimum standards of care, enforcement and training.
“Lack of written guidelines and standards paired with insufficient resources and an untrained small staff could lead to potential overcrowding, poor animal care and the possible spread of disease,” according to the report.
The report says Tennessee has traditionally treated animal control and sheltering as a local issue supported by local government funds. As a result, quality varies considerably across the state.
A raid on the Benton County shelter in January found animals without food or water, and 25 puppies had to be euthanized because of exposure to disease and malnutrition.
The state Department of Agriculture has no oversight of animal shelters in Tennessee and no authority to investigate allegations of animal abuse or neglect, says spokesman Tom Womack.
Several surrounding states, including Georgia, Virginia and North Carolina, require animal shelters to follow minimum standards of housing and animal care. Many other states also require training for animal control officers in areas such as animal identification, behavior, care, disease, euthanasia and public safety.
“Untrained officers could pose a risk to public safety, as well as to animals and themselves,” the report said.
However, Womack said the General Assembly would have to decide whether to give the department additional responsibilities over shelters, either public or private or both.
“If we’re talking about oversight for facilities in all 95 counties, that could run into considerable staffing and resources that we currently do not have,” Womack said.
Without licensing requirements, there are an unknown number of animal shelters in the state, both public and private. One estimate said that at least 23 counties do not have animal control offices and most cities do not clearly require animal shelters to follow care standards.
“If you are going to shelter animals, there needs to be some minimum standard of care,” said Leighann McCollum, state director for the Humane Society of the United States. “Anyone can set up a shed with crates in it and call it a shelter.”
Staff Writer Judy Walton and The Associated Press contributed to this story.