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A family drags their feet toward the doors of Memphis Animal Services in 2015, clinging tightly to their dog, Bagel. They hand him over to an employee and turn away with eyes full of tears, never to see the dog again. Little did they know that Bagel would end up at an East Tennessee animal rescue center days later, with his kidneys shut down and spirit broken due to the emotional strain of coming to the shelter.
“It can happen in 30 minutes,” said Posada. “If somebody brings one in sick or hurt, we won’t turn it away, and then we’re full.”
While the spaces do get tight, and are tight often, this shelter is labeled as “no-kill.” This means that fewer than 10 percent of the animals brought in will be euthanized. The only time an animal is euthanized at the Carter County shelter is under a veterinary recommendation due to sickness or severe aggression.
“Never will we euthanize for space,” said Posada. “I know they used to before I took over [in November 2016], but I never will.”
“The big thing is that their heartbeats are still going,” said Hopson about his rescue efforts. “When dogs become an inconvenience, they become disposable.”
Not only does the couple run a rescue out of their home, but they also own a business transporting both cats and dogs up North to find homes. This business is entirely separate from the rescue, although the money made here often goes toward dog food and other amenities.
“We started with nothing,” said Hopson, “and then two weeks later we had a 40-foot trailer, and a week later we had a Ford Dooley sitting in the driveway and we were like ‘Wow, this really spiraled out of control,’ and here we are.”
Every two weeks, the Hopsons will load up 65–75 dogs and drive them to seven different drop-off locations in Northern states like New York, Connecticut and Pennsylvania. Hopson said he puts about 6,400 miles on his Ford each month.
Around 70 percent of the dogs transported are on their way to a home where they have already been adopted. The final 30 percent are taken to other shelters that are not so crowded. Every dog transported started out in a shelter for the mandatory amount of time needed for an owner to find and reclaim it.
“We have shelters up North recruiting dogs from the South just so they have some in their shelter,” said Hopson. “When you go in there are huge buildings that are fully equipped and fully staffed with only two dogs in it.”
In Carter County, spay or neuter contracts are signed upon adoption, and the employees of the shelter are persistent in ensuring that the pet owner actually follows through by calling the vet to verify the surgery. If an owner does not get the pet fixed, the shelter will repossess it.
“Basically if we have an animal come in that’s not spayed or neutered and hasn’t been owner reclaimed, it has to be spayed or neutered or it will not leave the shelter,” said King. “I don’t want 9,000 animals running around. I will not contribute to the problem. It’s the only way to do it.”
In the North, however, laws are much more strict and owners are held accountable. Pet owners must pay an annual license fee, similar to buying vehicle tags.
“When implemented correctly it works really well,” said Hopson.
“The South is a different breed, and a little education goes a long way,” said Heidden. “The overpopulation problem is now everybody’s problem.”
The organization offers discounted spay and neuters for pets, vaccinations provided in the home of the animal and a puppy pantry for families who love their pet but cannot afford to feed it.
“Most everything is preventable,” said Heidden. “You can tell people but you can’t make them do something.”
All four of these people believe that spaying and neutering pets will solve a lot if not all of the overcrowding problems in shelters.
“[Bringing your pet to a shelter] needs to be a method of last resort,” said Heidden, “but if it happens, we want to know that the shelter is open to people who need it.”
The Hopsons saw Bagel’s story on Facebook and brought him to Bright Hope Animal Rescue for about a year and a half before finding his forever home. He is now happy and healthy, thanks to a better living environment and more one-on-one attention that could not be provided by the overcrowded Memphis Animal Services facility. There are animal advocates in the South like the Hopsons who desperately want to see pets taken care of.
“Do anything,” said Hopson. “If you can rescue, rescue. If you can’t rescue, foster. If you can’t foster, volunteer. If you can’t volunteer, give money. If you can’t give money, just tell somebody who can.”
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