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Director makes effort to improve facility

Unicoi County Animal Shelter Director Jessica Blevins, who took over the position at the end of July, has been working on a project list to improve the habitat and life of animals who come through the shelter.
Blevins said one of her goals is to turn the building that was once the shelter into a better environment for their cat population.
“We're starting on a cat house,” Blevins said. “We're converting that into a building for the cats so they have a more quiet space that's less stressful.”
The shelter has plans to include an area for exercise in the new cat house, Blevins said.
“The public can actually get one cat out at a time and play with them whereas now they don't really have a good space to get anybody out,” Blevins said.
Around the first of the year, Blevins said she hopes to see improvements inside the main shelter with additional kennel space for smaller dogs and additional paint.
“We're going to try to get some kennel sponsorships,” Blevins said. “We want to make it a more positive environment. There are lots of renovations coming up.”
Although improvements are needed at the shelter, Blevins said Unicoi County residents have done a great job supporting the rural shelter in the past.
“To be such a small community, it's a really nice shelter,” Blevins said. “There are a lot of resources available to this shelter. The community seems to be pretty supportive.”
Blevins said she has been able to generate extra support for the Unicoi County Animal Shelter with contacts she has made in previous endeavors.
Blevins said her desire to work with animals came from her time at the Washington County Shelter while she attended East Tennessee State University to study public health.
“After that I got really involved with rescue,” said Blevins, who also runs the local rescue called Ziggy's Second Chance Network. “There are several rescues that I also partner with.”
Blevins has also worked with the American Cancer Society (ACS).
“I loved ACS, but this is my major passion,” Blevins said. “I love working with the animals.”
Shelter employee Joann Tatro said she is very excited to see projects initiated by Blevins reach the completion stage.
Tatro said she has noticed many improvements in the way the shelter is managed.
“There have been a lot of improvements,” Tatro said. “She's a very good manager.”
One of the most important improvements Tatro said is looking more closely at adoption applications. For some of the “bully breeds” such as pit bulls, Tatro said employees make house visits to ensure it will be a viable placement for more aggressive breeds.
“We're taking more time in matching the animal and the family,” Tatro said. “It cuts down on returns to the shelter when you get the right family. We want it to be a forever home for the animal.”
Blevins said she wants to dispel any myth that rural community shelters are unpleasant places for animals by improving the rate of adoption at the shelter while maintaining the low-kill status held by the shelter currently.
“I'm really thankful I got the position,” Blevins said. “I really feel like I have the potential to expand the shelter not only in terms of space but resources, volunteers and partnerships. I really want to see the shelter grow.”
Blevins said individuals interested in volunteer work at the shelter may attend a training event on Sunday, Dec. 16. For more information contact the animal shelter at 743-3071.

By Kayla Carter
Staff Writer
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