* The Walker County Animal Shelter is at 5488 North Marble Top Road, in Chickamauga. For more information call (706) 375-2100.
* Visit the Friends of Walker County Animal Shelter website at Facebook.com/helpingwalkercountyanimals.
Walker County Animal Shelter manager Alison Smith is celebrating 10 years at the shelter by looking forward, not back. She has big goals.
Sitting in her office surrounded by some of the pets she personally has fostered and adopted, she wonders aloud how many other people in Walker County would be willing to foster animals to help save dogs' and cats' lives if they knew all the benefits.
"I believe in educating and socializing animals so they have human life experience and are able to deal with everyday challenges like being handled by other people or how to deal with thunderstorms," said Smith, adding that she has fostered animals her whole life.
This, she explained, makes the animals more adoptable. And the gift of love one gets from adopting a shelter cat or dog is "better than taking a drink at the end of the day."
"A relationship with an animal gives a person warm fuzzies," she said. "An animal can give a person a sense of purpose.
"I have 50 dogs and 30 cats ready for adoption."
When Smith first started at WCAS, she dreamed of welcoming at least 30 foster families. Unfortunately, she said, the shelter does not have any foster families at this time.
She still hopes people will step forward so that more animals can find homes.
Smith estimates that if 20,000 of Walker County's 64,000-plus residents volunteered to walk animals, foster pets or adopt pets, there would be a waiting list for adoptables.
Her dream is to turn WCAS into a no-kill shelter where animals can live out their lives while they wait for their forever homes. She used the Pet Placement Center in Red Bank as an example.
"If I win the lottery, I will move this facility to Highway 27. We would get more community support there," said Smith. "Our biggest challenge is we are off the beaten path."
This is a particularly busy time for the shelter in terms of pets.
"We have a lot of animals during the summertime," she said. "Animals breed in the springtime, so now their offspring are ready to be placed. We are overrun with puppies and kittens. My biggest frustration here is the lack of community support by way of fostering and volunteering."
According to WCAS animal caretaker Kevin Key, the shelter gets a lot of really good dogs. Some are purebreds. Yet still, some sweet dogs stay at the shelter for months and months waiting to be adopted, he said.
The employees even help raise litters from pregnant cats and dogs that come into the shelter, said Smith.
"We get stray calls, mostly dogs that have shown up in a neighborhood," she said. "Some people leave pets if they can't take it with them. I have had a three-and-a-half-foot iguana, several emus, goats, pigs, horses, donkeys, cows, ponies, parrots, a tarantula, a snake, lizards, hamsters, guinea pigs and bunnies, in addition to cats and dogs. A lot of small exotic pets are from people evicted that leave their animals behind."
Smith has worked with animals for 32 years total and thinks of her personal pets as her family.
"My goal will always be to make this a Pet Placement [Center]," she reiterated, adding, "We are almost there."