ROGERSVILLE, Tenn. (WJHL) – After a series of incidents involving loose dogs led to an attempted murder charge and the death of multiple alpacas in Hawkins County, the Hawkins County Humane Society (HCHS) is calling for change at the county level.

Sandy Behnke, director of HCHS, and Jackie Catterson, the program’s vet tech, sat down with News Channel 11 and spoke about what they’re seeing on the ground.

“It’s a daily thing, it is every single day we receive calls or emails about animals running at large,” Behnke said. “Animals hurting their animals, strays coming into their yard. We had a lady that went to court over a dog attacking her son and her dog. It’s nonstop.”

Behnke and Catterson said Hawkins County has no animal control program, and the Hawkins County Humane Society receives a $30,000 yearly stipend from the county to help keep animals brought in. With only three city animal control departments covering Rogersville, Surgoinsville and Mount Carmel, the vast majority of the area is uncovered. In fact, Behnke said 80% of their intakes are coming from the county.

As a no-kill shelter that operates out of a single house, Behnke and Catterson said that county money goes fast. Recently, the shelter needed to spend $1,500 on one cat’s lifesaving surgery.

Without a central organization, Behnke said the responsibility for loose animals falls on everyone and no one at the same time. Her teams can’t go out and pick up animals without a court order and law enforcement backup since they aren’t a county entity. Instead, the calls end up going to the Hawkins County Sheriff’s Office, which isn’t always the go-to agency.

Behnke said deputies getting dispatched to animal calls end up taking a toll too — many are sympathetic to abandoned and abused animals but can’t do much about it with just a phone call.

More often than not, Behnke said animal calls to HCHS bounce to the sheriff’s office, which then goes out to check the animal and calls HCHS back to see if they can take them. The shelter is already at capacity, and usually the decision to turn away an animal is a tough one. It gets even harder when the person dropping a pet off threatens their staff or the animal to get them to take it, Behnke said.

Behnke said her staff is cursed at on a regular basis by people who feel like they’ve been stuck with an animal, even if they’re the children of a pet they already have and won’t get spayed or neutered. The stress of that decision weighs on her staff, she said, and several animals have been taken in because the shelter was afraid of what the owner might do to them when they leave the shelter.

For aggressive animals that have already hurt people or animals, Behnke said her shelter actually has a dedicated trainer to find a use for them. Rather than euthanizing them, Behnke said her staff will work to train some dogs and offer them as guard animals for experienced owners. Many aggressive animals don’t make it to their shelter, Behnke said, because they end up threatening property owners and deputies.

Despite years of pushing, Behnke and Catterson said there hasn’t been much progress on the creation of an animal control program by the county commission. Budget concerns are reportedly what has kept anything from moving forward. HCHS is applying for COVID-19 relief funds to build an expanded facility, which they say would double their intake capacity, but they aren’t exactly hopeful.

One possible solution offered by Behnke is the creation of a registration system, which could open a revenue stream that would support the shelter. Pet owners would register their animals at a yearly fee, and fines for those who fail to register could provide much-needed funding.