By Kendal Groner

Following investigations into the Carter County Animal Shelter and disease outbreaks at the Hawkins County Humane Society, the Unicoi County Animal Shelter has seen high intake numbers that has put a strain on their resources, staff and facility.

On Thursday, Nov. 9, the Unicoi County Animal Welfare Board met to discuss ways to reduce the number of animals in their facility as well as how they can cut shelter costs and raise much-needed funds. With 193 cats and 45 dogs already at their facility, the shelter has decided to not accept anymore animals for the time being.

“I don’t see us being able to house and care for the number of animals we’ve been taking in,” said Joann Tatro, chairman of the Animal Welfare Board. “Our biggest issue now is the number of animals we have in house and how to care for them.”

They shelter took in 2,100 animals the first year they opened and have since been able to successfully whittle that number down each year. However, the board is concerned that at the rate they’ve been receiving animals they could end up with more than 2,000 animals a year again.

“Our spay and neuter programs were working; it’s just the influx of animals from other counties that’s burdening our shelter,” said Billy Harkins, Animal Welfare Board member.

The board discussed having a goal for the next three months to significantly reduce the number of animals in their facility. In the last month the shelter has received 103 animals, but they have also moved 138 animals out.

“We really move out a lot of animals for a shelter of our size, but it’s the number of animals coming in that’s the issue,” said Jessica Rogers, Unicoi County Animal Shelter director.

Rogers said that it was hard to determine exactly how many animals they can house because some spaces can house multiple puppies or kittens, but only one or two adult animals. With only eight employees, the large number of animals is demanding on the staff as well as the facility.

“I don’t think we’ll ever have another shelter, and the physical shape of the shelter is a concern for me,” said Linda Mathes, Animal Welfare Board member.

The $9,284 deficit of the shelter brought about a lengthy discussion of how to cut costs and save money. The deficit represents the amount that has been overspent from July up until now.

“According to our budget, we haven’t brought in the income that we would have expected to by this point,” Tatro said.

They shelter has about $17,000 in the bank and owes close to that same amount as a result of their multiple overhead costs – mostly from veterinary costs.

“We’re going to have to pick and choose what we pay, but we can only pay half. We can’t let this keep snowballing .. .this needs to be a priority for all of us as a team,” said Tatro.

The board currently owes $7,000 to Robinson Animal Clinic and they still haven’t received the bill for October yet. The board approved the financial report and agreed to pay close to $8,000 worth of their incurred expenses.

It takes the shelter three months to receive the Robinson’s vet bill, which has had unauthorized or incorrect charges in the past. Tatro noted that it’s difficult to go back after three months and remember every charge that was made.

“We are going to start getting individual animal invoices. Beginning in January we will get individual animal invoices sent to us every two weeks,” Rogers said. “We’ll remember what we’ve done in those two weeks.”

They will also start using a fixed price sheet for all services so there are no surprises when they receive their bill.

“We need to track this to see if this gives us substantial savings over time, because it seems like it might,” said Harkins.

The board agreed the halt of any medical services for the months of November and December in an effort to cut costs.

“We’ll be euthanizing more animals unfortunately, but it will help us by saving on those medical costs,” said Rogers.

The cost of vaccines, medications and microchips also posed a concern for the members of the board. The shelter has already spent hundreds of dollars on vaccines and medications for this year, and it’s not that the vaccines themselves are expensive, but the fact that they have had so many animals to vaccinate.

“Since we won’t be taking in any new animals, we can refrain from buying any more vaccines or medications until we use everything we have,” said Tatro.

With three trays of cat vaccines, which contains 25 doses, and almost two trays of dog vaccines, plus a gift of 90 dog vaccines they recently received from the University of Tennessee, Rogers felt they had an ample supply to last through the rest of the year.

After discussing the costs of microchipping, which is about $10 per animal, the board decided to hold off on microchipping unless someone is paying the full adoption fee. At discounted adoption fees, usually around $45 at adoption events, they are losing money after factoring in the microchipping cost.

The Unicoi County Animal Shelter will be hosting the following upcoming fundraising events:

• Nov. 20 – Fatz Spirit Night at Fatz Cafe in Elizabethton from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m.

• Nov. 25 – Yoga, Kittens and Coffee at Downtown Yoga in Johnson City from 2-3 p.m.

• Dec. 2 – East TN Jeep Club Fundraiser at East Coast Wings in Kingsport at 1 p.m.

• Dec. 2 – Holiday Fundraiser at Main Street Cafe in Jonesborough

• Dec. 9 – 5th Annual Christmas Cookie Extravaganza at Fizz Soda Bar in Johnson City from 1-7 p.m.

• Dec. 16 – Shelter Open House.