Now, the shelter is trying to hold animals as long as possible. However, the shelters 12 small four feet by fifteen feet kennels cannot hold a large number of dogs. Each kennel can hold one large dog, two medium dogs, or about five puppies. The maximum capacity depends upon the size of dogs dropped off or picked up, but as of press time only one kennel remained empty. A large pick up has been scheduled for Friday, so the shelter will have to put nearly all the animals they have on hand to sleep to make room for the new dogs.
"Some days we go out and pick up twenty dogs," said animal control official Daniel Lamb. "We picked up 10 dogs in an hour and a half in Middlesboro this morning."
At times, the job can become dangerous. Some animals picked up by animal control are very aggressive toward humans, often coming from abusive or neglectful situations.
When relating the story of Tuesday's pick up, Lamb says he "had to walk through sewage this deep," indicating that it was over two inches deep, to get to one of the dogs. It was so violent that it took both animal control officers to remove it from the truck. Thrashing against the reinforced aluminum pole designed for aggressive dogs, the dog broke its teeth out on both sides of its mouth and bent the pole.
"I once picked up a pit bull that bent the pole back toward me as it came after me," Lamb said.
Many shelters use gas chambers or simply inject the dogs to put them down. The Bell County Animal Shelter first tranquilizes the dogs and then injects the fatal drug euthanize them.
"The worst thing about it is putting them to sleep. It's rough any way you go," said Lamb. "It's great when you don't have a lot of calls and you can keep a dog for a long time."
Often, according to the shelter, they even have full-blooded animals on-hand for adoption, but few people take advantage of it.
"We recently had a full-blooded St. Bernard dog, but it was adopted," said Lamb. "Most dogs that we get, there's nothing wrong with them ... We probably put down over 1,700 dogs last year, and only adopted out about 36."
Friends of the Shelter is a non-profit volunteer group that assists the shelter with adoptions. Representatives of the group come by the shelter on a regular basis to screen for mild tempered dogs that would be able to be adopted. Then, the group adopts the dog themselves, places the dog in a foster home, and then sees to the care of the dog until someone agrees to adopt it. They hold monthly adoption days at the Middlesboro Elks Lodge and place the animals on www.petfinder.com <http://www.petfinder.com/> . They are only reimbursed the $60 adoption fee, not the cost of the dog's care, which can be several months worth of food, toys, and vet visits.
Unfortunately, the number of foster homes are limited, so the number of dogs they can adopt are limited as well, so the group is working with the shelter to help them get Internet access so that they can place the animals on Petfinder as soon as they get them. They hope that this will help increase the low adoption rate. The shelter does not yet have a computer that would be Internet capable, but are hoping to receive a donation soon.
Although several improvements have been made at the shelter over the last few years, workers there see the need for even more improvements there and in the surrounding counties before the animal population can be brought under control.
"I wish it were a bigger place," Lamb said. "We'd probably be in pretty good shape if we had 12 more kennels."
The shelter puts an average of about 2,000 dogs to sleep each year. To donate to the shelter, or to ask about adoption, call the shelter at 337-6331. To view animals currently in foster homes with the Bell County Friends of the Shelter, visit www. petfinder.com and do a search using the Middlesboro or Pineville zip code.