How much is that doggie in the browser?

J. H. Osborne • Feb 8, 2018 at 11:56 AM

BLOUNTVILLE — The Sullivan County Animal Shelter has a brand new website where you can see pictures and a little biographical information about each dog and cat available for adoption. It’s just the latest in ongoing improvements since the county resumed sole control and operation of the facility on January 1.

Check out the website at http://sctngov.com/ASDefault.

Sullivan County Mayor Richard Venable met earlier this week with three representatives of a group of community members interested in volunteering at the recently reopened facility.

“I’m asking their advice,” Venable said Friday. “I said, ‘You’re passionate about this. What do you think should be done?’ They suggested we need a committee set up. We had already started setting up a committee, and now we will be including some of these volunteers. Volunteer leaders, we hope, who will be able to help us with oversight.”

After Venable’s meeting with the three, about two dozen people attended two committee meetings of Sullivan County commissioners to express concerns, ask questions and offer to help out at the shelter. One person told commissioners that cleaning animal holding areas is key to making the shelter resistant to outbreaks of disease and suggested a new, stronger type of cleaner be used. She said its proper use would prevent far more diseases than covered by the cleaner currently in use.

Another expressed a desire to see the county channel as much of the volunteer help being offered as possible to good use and soon.

A third asked that the volunteers and the public be given an easy way to “inventory” the animals available at the shelter.

Talking with the Times News on Friday, Venable said he and other county officials working to get the shelter back on its feet are delighted by the amount of interest shown by the current and would-be volunteers — and he thinks many of their concerns are already being addressed or will be soon.

The shelter was  closed temporarily in early January so county workers and volunteers already involved could clean the facility and begin improvements to its infrastructure. New computers, a new telephone system, an aggressive pest-control effort and removal of old and installation of new cabinets and other furnishings were completed during the closure. Animal holding areas also were cleaned. No animals were removed during the process. The timing of the work coincided with the county resuming sole control of the shelter after dissolving its 7-year-old partnership with PETworks, formerly known as SBK Animal Control. The Sullivan County Commission voted to end that partnership (with the cities of Kingsport and Bluff City — and with the city of Bristol, Tenn., participating on a pay-per-animal contract basis) as of Dec. 31.

“We agreed to take over the shelter on January 1, and from that point on, it’s been a work in progress. Not just with the animals, but with the physical facility. If you think we were starting at zero on January 1, we weren’t. We started at 10 below. And now we’ve devoted three or four people full time just to get the facility as clean as we could get it to make sure the operation continued. We were closed down for a couple of weeks, but we’re adopting animals and taking animals in. Last week we took in 19 dogs from Bristol. We’re still operating a shelter while trying to rebuild it. It’s like fixing an engine while it’s still running. That’s the best analogy I can give.”

Although the shelter had been operating through December 31 as part of SBK/PETworks, the switch to county operation meant it had to be licensed anew by the state as a “new” shelter. That meant a visit from state inspectors.

“The state inspector came in and inspected our facility and checked that our protocols and procedures were correct,” Venable said. “And we’ve been approved. We’ve met all the state requirements. We’ve contracted with various veterinarians in the county, people who have experience at this shelter.”

Venable said he expects to see an increase in the facility’s space within the next couple of weeks with the installation of a couple of modular units typically used to provide extra classroom space to crowded schools. Those will offer a new front office and reception area for the animal shelter as well as other uses to lessen the interaction between animals screened and those not screened for disease.

As for the type of cleaner being used, another county employee who is working on the shelter’s rehabilitation told the Times News the stronger disinfectant the volunteer suggested to commissioners has already been ordered.

And the public “inventory”?

Venable said the new website should help the public, county workers and volunteers keep track of how many dogs and cats are at the shelter.

“We’re all learning and we’re learning from volunteers and the state,” Venable said.