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VOL. 40 | NO. 40 | Friday, September 30, 2016

Proverbs 12:10, other animal foster, adoption groups step up to fill void

By Joe Morris

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A litter of redbone coonhound puppies, as well as a beagle lab mix and shepherd hound mix, await adoption at Proverbs 12:10 Animal Rescue.

-- Michelle Morrow | The Ledger

It’s the rare person who, confronted with a puppy or kitten, doesn’t stop to pat or play.

Problem is, Middle Tennessee is overrun with puppies and kittens, plus dogs and cats of all ages, sizes and health conditions.

Finding good, safe homes for them has become a vocation for an increasing number of people and organizations in recent years. Some even refer to the adoption and fostering scene in the area as a cottage industry – and they’re not wrong.

Take Proverbs 12:10 Animal Rescue in Williamson County, one of the, if not the largest, no-kill shelters in the region. Proverbs provides services to more than 1,000 animals a year, and offers everything from care and veterinary treatment to adoption services and population control efforts.

Its volunteers and foster network bring in animals that have been abused, abandoned, surrendered or scheduled for euthanasia in packed shelters. It also operates a hospice program for animals who are nearing the end of their life and cannot be placed for whatever reason.

“It began with my daughter and myself, and we started more than 10 years ago because we didn’t see a true no-kill rescue in the area,” says Lavonne Redferrin, director and founder.

“We don’t have a facility; we are strictly a foster-based program. I do live on a farm, however, and some who are unadoptable because of training or fear and aggression issues, or who are just ancient when they get to us, stay with me.”

Like others involved in the rescue community, Redferrin is quick to point out that the publicly run shelters are overstressed and are euthanizing animals only when they must.

“They do all they can do. When someone shows up with a stray, they have to take it. If there’s not room, they have to make room. They reach out to us and many other rescues to take them. We’re known for taking the ones that are costly. We take the ones that need an amputation or something major, for example.”

There also are the costs of animal care that result from neglect.

Redferrin says Proverbs relies heavily on several veterinarians, particularly Cornerstone Animal Hospital in Dickson, as well as a network of volunteers who ferry animals to and from vet visits.

To date, Proverbs has covered treatment for 31 animals for heartworm, which can run up a $900 vet bill, while a monthly preventative medication runs about $10, Redferrin says.

Robbin York with Proverbs 12:10 Animal Rescue shares a little hug with Wilene, a 9- to 10-year-old female red healer mix who came to Robbin very sick. She’s hoping to get well enough to be adopted.

-- Michelle Morrow | The Ledger

“It’s not just the strays that have issues,” she says. “We get so many animals that have been neglected, where their owners have gambled with their lives. Shelters can’t take care of that, because it’s expensive. And if they try, the animal can’t really convalesce properly because it’s a loud, crowded situation.”

Agencies working together

‘Crowded’ is a word that comes up a lot in the rescue community, along with ‘epidemic.’ That’s to be expected from people who see a constant flow of animals needing housing or rehousing, but it really doesn’t exaggerate the issue, says Stephanie Willis, community relations spokesperson for Agape Animal Rescue.

“We’re not even in the worst area of the country for this, but Middle Tennessee is more aware of the issue and so you hear about it more,” Willis says. “We’re blessed with an abundance of people doing the same work, trying to help animals, so that brings a lot of awareness.”

Different groups have different approaches, on how to reach the end goal of a properly sheltered animal, but that doesn’t interfere with their ability to work together, she notes.

“We all have different ideas on the best way to get dogs and cats into homes, and what that process should be, but there’s a real sense of camaraderie between the organizations,” Willis says. “We’re really like a big league, for lack of a better word. It’s a lot of fun when we all get together at big community events where we are exhibiting and meeting the public.”

Many rescue organizations are in orbit around municipally run facilities, where they take animals who are likely to be euthanized. They also team up with entities such as the Nashville Humane Association, which has been in the business of finding homes for animals and working to control overpopulation since 1946.

“Our main thing is spaying and neutering,” explains Kenneth Tallier, public/media relations director for the Nashville Humane Association. “We get animals from owner surrenders or strays that are brought in, but we also reach out to some of the outer counties in Middle Tennessee where the facilities have high kill rates and bring those pets to our shelter. We reach out to them often just to see how their animal load is, and then have them send many of them over to us.”

There are only 24 municipal shelters in Tennessee’s 95 counties, Proverbs’ Redferrin says. Most of those are small, Tallier adds, which means there’s literally no room most of the time.

Robbin York receives kisses from one of the redbone coonhounds she’s fostering at her home in Burns.

-- Michelle Morrow | The Ledger

“We are very lucky in Davidson County to have a big shelter, but those smaller ones just can’t handle the volume they sometimes see,” Tallier says. “So in addition to our population control work, we really try to partner up with them so as few animals are euthanized as possible.”

Metro Nashville/Davidson County does indeed have a bustling shelter, with as many as 40 to 60 animals on any given day during the peak summer months, says Rebecca Morris, spokesperson for Metro Animal Care and Control.

“We are an open-admission shelter, which means we can turn no animal away that’s brought to us, whether we are full or not,” Morris says. “Our goal is to place as many of those into loving and forever homes.

“In the meantime, we have configured our space to hold between 300 and 350 animals. We’re mostly built to house dogs, but we have just recently redone our cat rooms and we’re very excited about that.”

The shelter aggressively seeks community partners to help it place animals in addition to running its own adoption program. It now works with more than 40 of those partners, and has been successful in drastically lowering its euthanasia rate from 86 percent down to about 16 percent as those groups take animals out into the community and place them in foster and permanent homes. That includes some of the more exotic creatures that come through its doors.

“We recently had two parrots who resided in our director’s office, and at any given time we can have goats, chickens, snakes, hamsters, guinea pigs, bearded dragons … you name it, we’ve seen it, we’ve cared for it and we’ve found it a forever home.”

On the job training

That combination of finding good homes for pets along with owner education is just one aspect of the work done at Crossroads Campus, which also works to help young adults aging out of the foster-care system or otherwise at a higher risk of homelessness.

“We go every week to pick out dogs from the Metro shelter, and then we adopt them out,” says Lisa Stetar, executive director. “But we also use our adoption facility as a pet store to provide job training and employment to young people.

“We operate Caring Connections: Humane Education Outreach Program to focus on responsible pet ownership. A lot of these animals get surrendered because the owners can’t care for them. We want to provide the support and education so that pets can stay in the home, so we reach out and get to them while they’re all still together.

Robbin York takes Wilene a 9- to 10-year-old female red healer mix out to go potty.

-- Michelle Morrow | The Ledger

“Education is a very powerful tool, and we need more of it so that people understand spaying and neutering, as well as responsible pet care. That will help so much when combined with all the hard work that the rescue agencies and animal shelters are doing.”

For Redferrin, it’s about caring for another living being, regardless of its number of legs.

“I worked my way through college at a nursing home, and was devastated by what I saw,” she recalls. “People being left and families not visiting. That spills over. Children learn compassion by seeing how their parents treat people, but also how they treat animals. You can teach a lot of life lessons by taking care of an animal, not just taking it to the pound.”

Legislative involvement

Many in the animal-rescue community point to other parts of the country as models of legislative excellence when it comes to pet care. Still, they do not all speak with one voice as others say government regulation might have limited effect.

“In parts of New England it’s illegal to have an unaltered pet, and you can be fined and the animal seized,” says Proverbs’ Redferrin. “We have a partner up there who I went and visited, and the shelters were empty. We spent a day driving around rural New Hampshire and didn’t see a single stray.

“It’s a totally different mentality. Here we can’t get legislators to sponsor anything, and we would love to see legislation that says an animal must be spayed or neutered unless you’re a legitimate, licensed and inspected breeder.”

“We do have some work to do regarding regulation of breeders and trying to stop puppy mills,” adds Agape’s Willis. “There are some laws there, they’re just not enforced. We have worked with a group called Animal Rescue Corps, which is called by local law enforcement for big operations like breaking up puppy mills, dog-fighting groups or hoarding cases. Sometimes there are more than 130 dogs from one bust, and they need a lot of manpower. Those are the things that need to be stopped.”

The Metro Nashville standpoint is that new laws would be fine, but education needs to be enhanced and ongoing, Morris says.

“We would want to make sure no new legislation adds to the problem by not just calling for spaying and neutering, but also making sure that people have appropriate access to care,” she says.

“Legislation and laws have an important place in the pet ecosystem, but they have to be crafted carefully and work for the whole community,” adds Corwin.

Finding the right mix of owner vetting, education and time frame can be a tricky business.

“We take a great deal of pride at Agape that we work really hard not just to help the dogs, but to help the humans make the decision about bringing an animal into their lives,” Willis says.

“We’ve had people call us the FBI because we do really screen and get to know the family. We go to the house, meet their dogs and children if they have them and might make as many as three visits before we permanently place in that home. We just want to make sure it’s a great match, because a big part of the problem is rescue dogs ending up back in shelters and rescues after being adopted.

“Those dogs are already damaged, and the stress of going to a home, getting used to a family and starting to settle in, then ending back up where they were, is a big deal.”

Over the organization’s 12-year history, she says, fewer than 1 percent of dogs have been returned.

“We don’t want to be difficult, we just want to make sure it’s a good fit for both sides,” she says.

The Nashville Humane Association and Metro Animal Care and Control do offer same-day adoptions, but those come with a great deal of on-site education and support, the agencies note.

“We’ve got a four-page adoption application and if you fall in love with a dog you can adopt him that same day,” Tallier says. “But we’re just not set up for home checks and that level of verification. We work with the new owners while they are with them to provide some education and support during the process.”

At Metro there are counselors on site, as well as staff and others who answer the most common questions about pet costs and care. The facility also allows would-be owners to bring in their current pets to make sure everyone will get along, Morris says.

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