CLEVELAND, Tenn. — An online petition now under way calls for the return of animal control services to Bradley County residents who living outside the Cleveland city limits.
Access to Cleveland Animal Shelter pickup and drop-off services has been restricted to city residents since July 1 because the Bradley County Commission and the Cleveland City Council failed to reach agreement on the county's share of the animal control budget.
The Change.org petition, created by Cleveland animal rescuer Rachel Veazey, asks "local legislators to do their jobs and work out a solution." It states that the lack of animal control in the county means no animal cruelty protection, no adoptions for unwanted animals and health and safety risks resulting from "diseased, injured, aggressive, deceased, stray and lost animals."
More than 400 signatures -- each of which has generated email notifications to a number of county and city officials -- were placed on the online petition within four days of its creation. Signers identifying themselves as Bradley County residents made up between 40 and 50 percent of the signers during that time.
Veazey discussed the matter recently with Bradley commissioners.
"The answer is we have no plan right now," Commissioner Jeff Yarber said. "That's the bottom line."
Nonprofit organizations are the best answer in matters not determined by statute, said Commissioner Adam Lowe, citing better efficiency and effectiveness in comparison to governmental action.
"I have children in this community who don't have clothes and food to eat, and nonprofits band together to feed them and clothe them," Lowe said.
"These animals are suffering right now ... you don't have the people to do it right now, that's the bottom line, that's common sense," Veazey said.
Local animal rescue groups are at capacity, according to their representatives. Most operate through networks of foster homes.
Except for The Ark of Cleveland, which operates out of a repurposed house downtown, none have anything close to a shelter facility. Even then, it handles no more than 30 animals at a time, volunteer Dalton Thomas said.
Adoptions are slow, but demand for space is high, she said. Out of 25 calls received on a given day, two are about adoptions and the rest are people who want to drop off animals, she said.
The lack of animal control presents a challenge to law enforcement, according to Joe Renner, who recently served as the county's environmental officer. He said he had no way to remove an animal from a situation involving cruelty, he could only issue a citation to the animal's owner.
Commissioner Mark Hall said he would like to arrange a joint meeting between Bradley County and Cleveland officials to address the animal control issue again.
Paul Leach is based in Cleveland. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.