By: Paula Walter
Anneli Robles and her family live in one of the many rural locations in Johnson County. It’s not uncommon for people to drop off homeless and unwanted dogs on their property. It’s not just dogs that are abandoned, but she has come home to find donkeys, bears, cows and pot-bellied pigs trying to claim the Robles property as their own.
Currently Robles has six dogs that she has taken under her wing that were found abandoned on the family’s property. Recently one of the dogs bit the bumper of a car and did some damage to the grill. According to Robles, she was served with papers to appear in criminal court, despite trying to settle outside of court. She was charged with a Class C felony for dogs at large.
According to Robles, the largest number of abandoned animals she and her family have provided food and shelter for was 13 at one time since moving to the county in 1992. Not only has the county seen a rise in the number of animals abandoned in rural areas of the county, but a woman in Trade who was bitten by a rabid cat had to undergo rabies shots. A dog, also in the Trade area, recently mauled another woman. Her injuries were severe, as she required over 300 stitches and surgery.
According to Al Gryder, who served as the animal control officer for Mountain City for four and a half years, there are 29 counties in Tennessee without animal control, including Johnson County. There are three counties that have either have an agreement with private shelters, the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals or local sheriff departments. Gryder, who has access to incident reports from the sheriff’s department, says there have been at least 22 incident reports so far this year involving dogs at large, dog bites and missing animals. According to Gryder, if animal control were implemented in the county, any shelter would have to be a kill shelter. “The longer you have a good animal control program, the less you have to put down,” he said.
Currently, the Johnson County Sheriff’s Department is responsible for calls that come in regarding issues with animals in the county. “I’ve tried to stress we need animal control badly,” said Johnson County Sheriff, Mike Reece. “My people are not qualified or trained to handle these animals.”
According to Reece, when the department retrieves animals, they are taken to the Mountain City Animal Control facility. “There are only so many slots,” Reece said. “It’s just an ongoing problem with us. We’re in a mess.” According to Reece, if someone is arrested and there are adults in the car, children or pets, they are responsible for those lives. If something happens to them, the county is liable. “The problem is more than just a dog at large,” said Reece. “One of these days, it’s going to cost us. We’re going to get sued.”
Once an animal is seized for any reason, the county is responsible. Currently there are four dogs and two cats that are being held at Mountain City’s animal shelter. They have been there approximately two months and the cost is roughly $1500. The owners of the animals were bonded out of Johnson County jail and absconded into Ohio, where they are now in jail for another issue.
According to Reece, the district attorney will not let the county dispose of the animals.
“I think it was a bad mistake to let the animal shelter on Pine Orchard Road go,” Reece said.
Any decisions regarding animal control would come from the county commissioners.
Mayor Larry Potter had no comment at this time.