Thursday, July 31, 2008

Run to Save a Shelter

…to offer refuge, medical care, nourishment and an opportunity for a second chance for life to injured and abused animals. To foster a public sentiment of humanity and gentleness toward animals and protect them from cruelty, neglect, carelessness and ignorance. To promote responsible pet ownership through humane education. To enhance the quality of human life with animal companionship. This is FCAR’s mission statement.

The Fayette County Animal Rescue shelter (FCAR) embodies the true nature of the puppy up! spirit. But it has been handed some serious trouble. The shelter, located in Rossville, Tennessee, and started in 1998 by Yvette Gilbert and Delores Provow, sits on 5 acres of private land, owned by Ms. Provow. In ten years they have turned what started as two kennels in a garage into a sanctuary that houses over 100 animals — one of the largest no-kill organizations in the Mid-South area. But recently a neighbor has been making trouble for this successful sanctuary. I interviewed Gina Thweatt, President of FCAR and Ammie Haggard, long-time volunteer with the shelter, and they gave me the lowdown on the problems the shelter is facing.

Apparently a neighbor who has lived near the shelter for as long as it has been in operation began complaining last year of the alleged “24/7” noise made by the dogs. He complained to the County Commission, and when they didn’t do anything about it he went to the Planning (Zoning) Commission to see if FCAR was violating any zoning laws. From their web page, FCAR states: “It is important to note that the previous and current Planning Director determined that FCAR was not in violation of zoning.”

Now the Planning Commission, in spite of its original decision 10 years ago, has decided FCAR is violating what’s called “the R1 Zoning Code,” which is government-speak meaning businesses cannot operate in residential areas. And, despite the fact that FCAR is a non-profit organization, and the Planning Commission has known this all along, they have now decided that FCAR is operating as a business. Gina explained that, “Originally, the owner of the property, when she started the shelter, went to the Planning Commission and asked if she needed any sort of permit for the building or for anything, and she was told no. She went on and built the shelter, and they have never had a question, never had a problem, until this man started complaining.”

In the meantime, FCAR has gone to great lengths to appease this neighbor. They built a privacy fence and planted many trees so the dogs wouldn’t be disturbed by passers-by. They installed vinyl noise-dampening material on a number of the kennel fences. They have even invested in anti-barking collars and put them on some of the dogs, and put music in the kennels.

Gina told me that the claim that the shelter dogs were making noise “24/7” was just not true. And she went on to say, “There are businesses operating within a couple miles of us that do not have any special exception.” As a matter of fact, there’s a Beagle Club (with several dozen Beagles), operating right behind the shelter. They’re a business and have been for 6 years. But when the Beagle Club went before the Planning Commission to ask if they needed a special exception, they were told no. Interestingly, the Planning Commission seems to have no trouble with the noise from the Beagle Club.

The story gets even more exasperating. As President of FCAR, Gina has naturally attended Planning Commission meetings to defend FCAR and point out its many benefits to the community, which the town and the county both enjoy. However, when she stood up at a recent meeting to state her case, she was told to sit down because “she was out of order.” The bottom line? Ten years into its service to the community, FCAR goes before the Planning Commission and “they just automatically say, you’re a business, you can’t operate in an R1 Code, you’re in violation, you must close by September 30th, or Miss Provow will be arrested... FCAR is operating illegally.”

But FCAR isn’t taking this lying down. They have hired an attorney who has already filed an appeal against the Zoning Board, arguing that what the Board did was illegal and they don’t have the authority to shut FCAR down. And he’s going to subpoena the Sheriff and the DA. And since their shelter is being used for the public good, and according to zoning laws one cannot shut down a facility that is being used for the public, their lawyer feels this is a compelling argument in their favor.

Gina did say the County is “acting like it wants to help,” and the mayor said he would offer FCAR some land if they could move. But there are several problems with this, the first being that the facility they have now was designed perfectly to suit their needs. “We have a beautiful facility” Gina said. “We have put in 10 years of hard labor — it is nice, the animals are used to it; the dogs need to stay where they are and not be uprooted and go somewhere else where it’s going to be hard on them. We have a pet cemetery there. We don’t want to move.” She went on — “The land they’re offering us is in a very bad neighborhood, it’s by a landfill, and it’s in a crime-ridden area.” And even if they are given the land? FCAR simply doesn’t have the funds to move and create a comparable facility in the new area.

FCAR doesn’t sit on its laurels all day. Besides its 10 years of rescuing neglected or abused animals, taking them in and rehabilitating them and finding them new homes, and providing a no-kill sanctuary to many who will never be adopted, FCAR also responds to animal cruelty calls. One case in particular has been covered in the news lately — a case involving over a dozen starving horses. FCAR, with the county’s blessing, rescued many of the horses themselves and the rest ended up in a Texarkana shelter. But because of FCAR's current situation, they have been forced to discontinue their animal cruelty investigations altogether. This means, while the calls for help keep coming in, Gina and FCAR “can’t do anything about them except call animal control who will probably pick them up and euthanize them.” They have also stopped receiving rescues, as they are unsure of the shelter’s fate and cannot in good conscience take in more animals at this time.

“We have found homes for between 1,000 to 2,000 animals” Gina said. “We’re a sanctuary, meaning that we have dogs that may never get adopted, but they will live their lives out at the shelter. We never euthanize what some might call an unadoptable dog to take in a more adoptable dog. We have a lot of dogs that may only like us! We play with them, we give them big yards, and we love on them.”

Gina said, “If FCAR has to close down, there will be nobody else to rescue animals in Fayette County and give them a second chance to have a loving home. If we are shut down there will be nobody else out there on the street rescuing these animals that have been abused and abandoned. We really need support from people to participate and volunteer in the race to help raise awareness about homeless animals and help FCAR continue its work. Fundraisers like this and donations are the only way we can remain open and do our work.”

Luke, Hudson, and Murphy will be at the 5k and 1 mile fun-run FCAR will be sponsoring this weekend, Saturday August 2nd at Shelby Farms, and Luke will be participating in the 5k run. If you’re in the area, please come out to the Dog Days of Summer 5k Run to support FCAR. If you’re not in the area, please consider making a donation or writing in support of their efforts.

puppy up! FCAR!

Dog Days of Summer Run link:
FCAR’s email:
phone number and address: Fayette County Animal Rescue
P.O. Box 44, Rossville, TN 38066
Phone: (901) 854-2565
Fax: (901) 854-2202
Shelter Hours: By Appointment

Special thanks to Gina Thweatt and Ammie Haggard of FCAR for taking time to do the interviews.

Blogger's note: Some of you may be wondering, "What does this have to do with K9 cancer?" Nothing, directly. But an animal in need is an animal in need -- whether he suffers from cancer or from neglect or abuse. And sadly, FCAR's story is not an exception. There are many shelters around the country that face similar problems. Won't you please pick a shelter and help? We can't take home every dog or cat we fall in love with (although some of us certainly try), but we can make their lives, and the lives of those who take care of them, a little easier by donating time, money, supplies, and just plain old-fashioned support. And that, after all, is what puppy up! is all about.


Vicki Tankersley said...

Like you say, Erich, this story may not have anything to do with K9 cancer, but it is a story of desperation for the animals and I'm glad you posted it. I think it's great that Luke & the Boys will be a part of this fundraiser and I hope the Fayetville Animal Rescue gets the funds they need to either fight the planning board, or move and rebuild. I'm glad they now have an attorney to help them with this; the planning board sounds like they're being paid off (don't think that doesn't happen!). Two planning commissioners in Florida were convicted when it was discovered they were taking money from builders to vote for controversial subdivision plans. And, with the way the Supreme Court changed the eminent domain laws to allow govt. seize people's property for "private" use, it can be pretty scary for the people who are affected by it. Everyone who owns property is now at risk, more than ever. Vicki Tankersley

Vicki Tankersley said...

Is it really true (from the map) that Luke & the Boys are in Brinkley, AR at this time (Aug 1st)? My god, I hope someone gives them a ride to Memphis so they don't kills themselves trying to get there. I looked Brinkley up on my handy Road Atlas and Memphis is way more than a step, or two from Brinkley. God, please bless these wonderful souls and give them a ride. A ride that has air-conditioning and soft cushy springs so they can rest their feet, minds and souls for just a bit. I wouldn't blame them at all. Luke is trying so hard & I am truly concerned for their safety in this arduous trek. I know he has lots of support and very good friends there, but here I am 2,500 miles away an I worry constantly. Just call me the "neurotic" in Portland.