April 1, 2019
Dear Mayor Gist, and Jackson City Council members:
Nearly three years ago, I wrote a letter to the Jackson Sun (5/18/16) expressing my and others' concerns about the Jackson Animal Care Center proposal. The plan then, as it appears to be now, is to scale up and elaborate on the Humane Society business model that has existed for decades, and was not ultimately self-sustaining. https://www.westtnspayneuter.org/news/archives/05-2016
Soon after, I met with two important members of the committee of this project. I introduced them (by conference call) to Julie Jacobson of Spay Tennessee, and Natalie Corwin, Director of the Pet Community Center spay/neuter clinic in Nashville, both of whom were very willing share their experiences and knowledge with the Jackson committee. Unfortunately, this meeting lasted only thirty minutes and the committee didn't agree to any further discussion with me or the others.
In July 2016, I spoke with the Jackson Sun about the issue of pet over-population, trying to make the case for prevention, and also expressing my concerns that getting city government into the rescue business would NOT be an efficient way to spend precious taxpayer funds and limited animal welfare resources. https://www.westtnspayneuter.org/news/archives/07-2016
Finally, in September of 2016, Sally Alexander Graves and I formed West TN Spay Neuter, which has since helped fix over 1,500 area cats and dogs that were at risk of having unwanted litters. We have spoken with and helped hundreds of families - animal lovers burdened by strays, who want to do what is right for their pets, but simply cannot afford a retail vet experience or have other obstacles to service (transportation, access to affordable vets, just too many animals, etc.)
We have encouraged the employees at the Animal Care Center and JMC Rabies Control to share our WTSN hotline with pet owners, and we are happy to help those they refer. Roughly twenty percent of our assistance in 2018 was for referrals from these entities; meanwhile, we have received NO subsidy or assistance from the City of Jackson, Madison County, nor the West TN Healthcare Foundation. While our opposition to this project is not about our funding (WTSN), I bring this up to say that this need for low-cost spay neuter will not go away nor will it be addressed by the new Animal Care Center as currently conceived.
I have written letters, attended City Council meetings, and have approached many of you. All along, I was told that the Animal Care Center is a "done deal". Now there is a press push that seems to be appealing for support or celebration of Tuesday's vote. Having attended the recent local election debates, hearing calls for accessibility, transparency and fiscal accountability in our government, I cannot help but share my story. Everyone voting needs to know that there is sophisticated and fair opposition to this plan from folks who do indeed love animals and are working hard in the trenches to improve pets' lives. There has been NO public discussion of this, and other options have not been openly considered. And while ours has been perhaps a lone and largely unheard voice, I submit that the narrative I describe is shared by many - veterinary and city workers, rescuers, and pet lovers.
We believe that a full and expensive shelter is not attractive to businesses looking at our community. Warehousing animals is very costly to taxpayers. My quick math on this facility figures that each animal will cost at least $250 for the next 20 years. In contrast, our spay/neuter subsidies average around $25 per cat and $50 for dogs - and they already have families! Replacing Myth with Math - Well-Designed Intervention Plans are Preventative
Our community's goal should be LESS rescue. Building MORE kennels in a community already saturated with pets will mean that less desirable animals will remain in cages for even longer (weeks, months and years) which is called by some animal advocates "a fate worse than death" for a companion animal. In fact, the term "no-kill" is considered by some in animal welfare to be outdated, misleading and inhumane. We cannot adopt, warehouse or rescue our way out of dog & cat overpopulation!
For example, it is disingenuous to call a facility "no-kill" when it is turning away animals at the door and there is kill facility nearby. When the shelter is full, many animals that are turned away will remain in over-populated homes, un-sterilized and reproducing, or left to run loose to be a burden or hazard, or end up in shelters and eventually euthanized. There are simply not enough homes for the number of animals that are being rescued in this area now, and there won't be more homes in the future. Sending animals "up North" is not a cost-effective solution for any but the most desirable pets, and is not an option for cats at all.
Issues of animal cruelty, disease, and public safety are also addressed by reducing the number of homeless animals on our streets through accessible and affordable spay/neuter. Perhaps surprisingly, many or most in the s/n community do NOT support mandatory spay/neuter laws in areas such as ours (areas with few s/n options). Such laws are largely unenforceable, or if enforced are likely to punish the most vulnerable pet owners, and can have the unintended consequences of driving shelter intake and euthanasia up. This paper from the ASPCA - Position Statement on Mandatory Spay/Neuter Laws says "the only humane method of population control that... significantly reduces the number of animals entering animal shelters is the voluntary sterilization of owned pets."
The spay/neuter solution works in other areas of the state and across the country. Shelters in East and Middle Tennessee see significant reductions in intake where spay/neuter is a priority. So while we appreciate the spirit in which the City has been moving forward with the Animal Care Center, we believe a high-volume, low-cost, spay/neuter clinic would be more effective than a rescue building. Our area falls well within the demographic requirements to support a clinic. A s/n facility can be set up and run for a fraction of this plan and can run in the black. It would be an economic generator as pet owners (and s/n volunteers) from all around the area would bring their pets to Jackson for the day. A clinic could be a resource for rescues and animal controls so that they DO NOT adopt out intact animals. Municipalities can support a non-profit clinic with grants (as Nashville does with Pet Community Center).
Thank you for your time and consideration of these points.