ELIZABETHTON, Tenn. (WJHL) – Carter County 911 officials said citizens are abusing the 911 system over some animal-related calls, and they could incur criminal penalties if those calls persist.

At Tuesday night’s meeting of the Elizabethton Carter County Animal Shelter Board, several members of the 911 Board came to express their frustration with receiving calls that should be going to county animal control.

Those non-emergency calls involve situations like stray animals and disputes between neighbors. 911 officials said having to respond to those calls bogs down first responders.

Board members on both sides agreed that a public information campaign about who to call in an animal-related situation was necessary.

But they said incurring criminal penalties for people who call 911 over an animal in a non-emergency situation could result in a misdemeanor.

They said if the call volume does not decrease they may have to look at enforcing that penalty, a crime already written into Tennessee state law.

“If we keep getting 911 overloaded with non-emergency calls, then I’m sure that it’s going to come to a point to where the citations will be warranted,” said animal shelter Director Shannon Posada.

A single offense of calling 911 in a non-emergency results in a Class C misdemeanor. Multiple calls can result in a Class A misdemeanor.

The shelter runs animal control, but it only has one animal control officer for the entire county.

Posada said it takes a while for that officer to get around to calls due to travel time, but people get impatient and call 911 hoping for a quicker response to a non-emergency.

“People are calling just because it’s convenient to call 911 in hopes of getting a quicker response rather than going through the shelter and waiting until he gets off of another call,” Posada said.

She said it is often the same people that will abuse the 911 system in non-emergencies, and people have sometimes misled 911 operators to trigger a law enforcement response.

The public information campaign would involve letting people know what constitutes an animal emergency.

Carter County 911 Director Dale Blevins said citizens should only call 911 in situations involving animal abuse or neglect, aggressive animals, or injured and at-risk animals.

“All other animal issues, a stray you’ve got contained or an animal you’re needing to turn into the shelter, those need to be taken care of during the business hours of the shelter,” Blevins said.

Blevins said the volume of calls for animal non-emergencies has gone up month after month.

“For the month of May, we had 68 of those calls. Large majority of those of non-emergency calls,” Blevins said.

Blevins said responding to those calls keeps Carter County sheriff’s deputies and Elizabethton police officers from doing their jobs.

“It takes that deputy away from a possible emergency,” Blevins said. “They’re having to spend time and the county’s money trying to check out a non-emergency call that really doesn’t require law enforcement.”

Posada was hopeful the campaign could result in a decrease in those 911 calls.

“I think if people would adhere to what we’re asking, to call the shelter for your routine needs, then I don’t think there will be a need for citations and prosecuting on through court,” Posada said.

The Animal Shelter Board and 911 Board said they would re-assess the situation in a couple months.

Animal non-emergencies should be handled by Carter County Animal Control during business hours Monday-Friday from 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.